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Eternal glamour: Bulgari goes baroque

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The Fountain of the Four Rivers, smack bang in the middle of the grand Piazza Navona in Rome, is a chaotic mass of human figures, flora and fauna, set about an imposing obelisk. The sculpture, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, is typical of the expressive, overly decorative style of baroque that has shaped the Eternal City – from statues to balustrades to table legs.

Lucia Silvestri came across this scene one morning while searching for ideas for Bulgari’s latest high-jewellery collection. The creative director was drawn to the roughly hewn rock on which the figures sit, calling to mind the contrast between the uncut gems and the final, polished stones in each of her pieces. Among the commotion she also spied a snake, a motif intertwined with the house’s codes. She immediately pulled out her phone and sent pictures to her creative team. 

Etro cotton shirt, £305. Bulgari Barocko gold, amethyst, tourmaline, pearl, rubellite and diamond Gem Constellation necklace, POA 
Etro cotton shirt, £305. Bulgari Barocko gold, amethyst, tourmaline, pearl, rubellite and diamond Gem Constellation necklace, POA  © Alessio Boni
Dolce & Gabbana crêpe coat, £2,350, and cotton poplin tunic shirt, £695. Bulgari Barocko white-gold, Paraíba tourmaline, onyx and diamond Exotic Love earrings and matching Exotic Love necklace, both POA
Dolce & Gabbana crêpe coat, £2,350, and cotton poplin tunic shirt, £695. Bulgari Barocko white-gold, Paraíba tourmaline, onyx and diamond Exotic Love earrings and matching Exotic Love necklace, both POA © Alessio Boni

The resulting collection, Barocko, morphed into a celebration of the sumptuous curves, vivid hues and arabesques of the 17th- to mid-18th-century movement. Baroque as a style isn’t something Bulgari has frequently explored, even though it is as intrinsically linked to Rome as the jewellery house itself. “The theme was one that we had in mind a few years back, but we thought maybe it was too obvious,” says Silvestri. “But we are baroque, and we’ve never done something specifically on it, so it was a natural evolution.” 

Although it was conceived well before the turmoil of this year, the theme comes at a time when calls to support Italy and its craftspeople are more urgent than ever. The collection totals more than 120 one-off jewels (all POA) and spans three series: Meraviglia, Luce and Colore. It also pays tribute to the specific artists who shaped the baroque movement – Bernini, but also architect Francesco Borromini and painter Caravaggio. One necklace, the Chiaroscuro, is a geometric tiling of round, brilliant-cut and pavé diamonds punctuated with seven vibrant gemstones – including rubellite, green tourmaline and tanzanite – and is named after the technique employed by painters to contrast light with dark. Another piece, the Festa ring, features a 7ct mandarin garnet at its centre, designed to imitate the succulent fruit in Caravaggio’s still-lifes. And the Pink Twists necklace, a cushion-cut 58ct rubellite suspended on a chain of curling pavé-set diamonds, references the gilded frames and mirrors typical of the period.

Bulgari Barocko gold, 58ct rubellite, emerald and diamond Pink Twist necklace, POA
Bulgari Barocko gold, 58ct rubellite, emerald and diamond Pink Twist necklace, POA
Bulgari Barocko pink-gold, ruby, mandarin-garnet and diamond ring, POA
Bulgari Barocko pink-gold, ruby, mandarin-garnet and diamond ring, POA

In the Luce series, necklaces and earrings mimic the tapering shape of feathers – inspiration plucked from the plumage of peacocks. Such non-native plants and animals were a point of fascination after the Romans began trading with east Asia, and were often depicted in baroque paintings or represented as motifs in decor. The Wonder Peacock necklace is an ornate example, with teardrop tanzanites and circle-shaped emeralds studded with diamonds to mimic the “eye” of the feathers. This is one of Silvestri’s favourite pieces. “I love the combination of colours and the different shapes – pear, round, cushion. There is everything, but in a very harmonical way,” she says. “It was a piece that I followed from the very beginning of the process, and the craftsmanship took more than 1,500 hours.”

Bulgari’s iconic Serpenti is naturally present: a white‑gold and pavé-diamond bracelet coils around the wrist, with an elongated tongue that protrudes across the hand and connects to a ring. The snake’s head is also embellished with a mighty, 10.14ct teardrop diamond. 

Dior silk shirt, £1,503 and wool trousers, £1,093. Bulgari Barocko High Jewellery white gold, onyx, pearls and diamond Hypnotic Pearls’ earrings, matching necklace and bracelet, all POA 
Dior silk shirt, £1,503 and wool trousers, £1,093. Bulgari Barocko High Jewellery white gold, onyx, pearls and diamond Hypnotic Pearls’ earrings, matching necklace and bracelet, all POA  © Alessio Boni
Bottega Veneta teddy shearling coat, £6,545, cotton shirt, £750, and denim trousers, £905. Bulgari High Jewellery pink-gold sautoir, Roman bronze coin (c41-54AD), malachite and diamond Monete necklace (all one piece), POA
Bottega Veneta teddy shearling coat, £6,545, cotton shirt, £750, and denim trousers, £905. Bulgari High Jewellery pink-gold sautoir, Roman bronze coin (c41-54AD), malachite and diamond Monete necklace (all one piece), POA © Alessio Boni
Max Mara cotton shirt, £380. Salvatore Ferragamo wool/silk/cotton trousers with belt, £705. Bottega Veneta calfskin boots, £940. Bulgari Barocko white-gold,  rubellite, green tourmaline, amethyst, citrine, yellow-quartz, aquamarine, tanzanite and diamond Chiaroscuro necklace. Bustier, stylist’s own
Max Mara cotton shirt, £380. Salvatore Ferragamo wool/silk/cotton trousers with belt, £705. Bottega Veneta calfskin boots, £940. Bulgari Barocko white-gold, rubellite, green tourmaline, amethyst, citrine, yellow-quartz, aquamarine, tanzanite and diamond Chiaroscuro necklace. Bustier, stylist’s own © Alessio Boni

If high jewellery showcases the top tier of skills, gemstones and design a house can wield, then Barocko is Bulgari’s most impressive to date. “Value-wise, it’s probably the richest we’ve ever put together,” says CEO Jean-Christophe Babin. “If you look at the cost of the gems and of the craftsmanship, which we measure in the thousands of hours per piece, if we combine those two parameters, it is the richest we have ever displayed.” 

And demand for such extravagant pieces still exists. What has changed, Babin says, is the way in which their customers are buying such jewels. “The way to access luxury, to process luxury, to live it, is changing. The bestseller is the pendant – this has not changed. What has changed is the country where you buy and the channel you use.” This is in line with the LVMH-owned house’s new strategy to focus on selling in local markets – especially China – instead of relying on existing customers to travel to Europe for their purchases.

But that didn’t stop the house from launching Barocko with a suitably grand salon-style show and dinner in Rome in September, even if some of their usual high jewellery clients couldn’t travel to be there. The event, held in the privately owned Palazzo Colonna, was about painting the whole picture of the collection and bringing glamour back to a year in which such things have been lacking. “We need beauty after this time and to enjoy the quality of life, of course,” adds Silvestri. “I hope people wear the collection with joy.”

Casting, Cicek Brown. Model’s agency, Modelwerk. Hair, Sebastien Bascle at Calliste Agency. Make-up, Martina Lattanzi using Les Chaînes d’Or de Chanel and Chanel Le Lift Crème de Nuit. Nails, Martina Lattanzi using Chanel Le Top Coat and Chanel La Crème Main. Photographer’s assistants, Alessio Keilty and Andrea Luna. Stylist’s assistant, Marie Poulmarch 

 



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Missing Belarus activist found hanged in Kyiv park

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Belarus updates

A Belarusian opposition activist has been found hanged from a tree in a park near his home in Ukraine, a day after he was reported missing. Local police said his death could have been made to look like suicide.

Vitaly Shishov, who led the Kyiv-based organisation Belarusian House, which helps Belarusians fleeing persecution find their feet in Ukraine, had been reported missing by his partner on Monday after not returning from a run.

Shishov’s death follows weeks of increased pressure in Belarus by authorities against civil society activists and independent media as part of what the country’s authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko has called a “mopping-up operation” of “bandits and foreign agents”.

Many Belarusians have fled the country since Lukashenko launched a brutal crackdown last summer after nationwide protests erupted following his disputed victory in presidential elections. About 35,000 people have been arrested in Belarus and more than 150,000 are thought to have crossed into neighbouring Ukraine.

Franak Viacorka, an aide to Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya who met UK prime minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday in London, said Shishov’s death was “absolutely shocking and unexpected to all of us”.

“He [Shishov] and his friends helped people who were moving to Ukraine,” Viacorka told the Financial Times. “They were very helpful, especially for those who have just arrived and didn’t know what to do.”

Viacorka said many activists living in Ukraine, such as Shishov who fled Belarus in 2020, had “complained about possibly being followed, and receiving threats”.

Kyiv park where Vitaly Shyshov’s body was found
The Kyiv park where Vitaly Shishov’s body was found after he failed to return home following a run © Gleb Garanich/Reuters

Downing Street said that after meeting Tsikhanouskaya, Johnson condemned the Lukashenko regime’s severe human rights violations. “The UK stands in solidarity of the people of Belarus and will continue to take action to support them,” a spokesperson said.

Ukrainian police have now launched a criminal case for the suspected murder of Shishov, including the possibility of “murder disguised as suicide”.

Yuriy Shchutsko, an acquaintance and fellow Belarus refugee who found Shishov’s body, ruled out suicide, pointing out that Shishov’s nose was broken.

“I suspect this was the action of the [Belarus] KGB . . . we knew they were hunting for us,” he told Ukrainian television.

Ihor Klymenko, head of the National Police of Ukraine, subsequently said Shishov’s body had what appeared to be “torn tissue” on his nose and other wounds, but stressed it would be up to medical examiners to determine if these were caused by beatings or the result of suicide.

There was no immediate comment from Lukashenko or his administration.

Belarusian House said: “There is no doubt that this is an operation planned by the Chekists [the Belarusian KGB] to eliminate someone truly dangerous for the regime.

“Vitalik was under surveillance,” it added. “We were repeatedly warned by both local sources and our people in the Republic of Belarus about all kinds of provocations up to kidnapping and liquidation.”

Adding to the swirl of attention on Belarus this week, Tokyo Olympics sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya on Monday took refuge in Poland’s embassy after alleging she had been taken to the airport against her will, having criticised her Belarusian coaches.

The athlete has said she feared punishment if she went back to Belarus but has so far declined to link her problems to the country’s divisions.

Shishov’s death comes five years after Pavel Sheremet, a prominent Belarus-born opposition figure and journalist, was killed in an improvised bomb explosion in downtown Kyiv while driving to work at a local radio station. Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994.

Ukrainian authorities at first suggested Belarusian or Russian security services could have been involved in the hit, as Sheremet was close to opposition movements in Russia as well.

Instead, officials charged three Ukrainian volunteers who supported war efforts against Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine — although they steadfastly denied involvement and authorities were unable to provide a motive in what has been widely described as a flimsy case.

Additional reporting by Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe in London



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EU pledges aid to Lithuania to combat illegal migration from Belarus

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EU immigration updates

In the latest sign of deteriorating relations between the EU and Belarus, Brussels has promised extra financial aid and increased diplomatic heft to help Lithuania tackle a migrant crisis that it blames on neighbouring Belarus and its dictator Alexander Lukashenko.

Lithuania detained 287 illegal migrants on Sunday, more than it did in the entirety of 2018, 2019, and 2020 combined, the vast majority of them Iraqis who had flown to Belarus’s capital Minsk before heading north to cross into the EU state. Almost 4,000 migrants have been detained this year, compared with 81 for the whole of 2020. 

“What we are facing is an aggressive act from the Lukashenko regime designed to provoke,” Ylva Johansson, the EU commissioner for home affairs told reporters on Monday after talks with Lithuania’s prime minister Ingrida Simonyte. “The situation is getting worse and deteriorating . . . There is no free access to EU territory.”

The EU imposed sweeping sanctions against Lukashenko’s regime in June, after he fraudulently claimed victory in last year’s presidential election and then led a brutal campaign to violently suppress protesters and jail political opponents. Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994.

The rising concern over the migrant crossings, which EU officials say is a campaign co-ordinated by Lukashenko’s administration, comes as one of the country’s athletes competing in the Tokyo Olympic Games sought refuge in Poland after team management attempted to fly her home against her will after she publicly criticised their actions.

Johansson said the EU would provide €10m-€12m of immediate emergency funding and would send a team of officials to the country to assess the requirements for longer-term financial assistance, including for extra border security and facilities to process those attempting to enter.

Simonyte said that Vilnuis would require “tens of millions of euros” by the end of the year if the number of people attempting to cross the border continued at the current pace.

Lithuania’s foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told the Financial Times in June that Belarus was “weaponising” illegal immigration to put pressure on the Baltic country over its housing of several opposition leaders. Since then, the flow of illegal immigrants from Iraq, Syria, and several African countries has increased sharply.

Iraqi diplomats visited Vilnius at the end of last week after Lithuania’s foreign minister flew to Baghdad in mid-July. Johannson said on Monday that EU diplomats were engaged in “intensive contacts” with Iraqi officials, which she said were “more constructive than we had hoped”.

State carrier Iraqi Airways offers flights from four Iraqi airports to Minsk, according to its website. Former Estonian president Toomas Ilves suggested on Twitter that the EU could cut its aid to Iraq “immediately until they stop these flights”.

Speaking at the border with Belarus on Monday, Johansson added that the tents provided by Lithuania were unsuitable for families. Lithuania’s interior minister Agne Bilotaite said she hoped the number of illegal migrants would subside in the coming months but that Vilnius was planning to build some housing to accommodate them over the upcoming winter.



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Britain’s wrong-headed approach to refugees

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UK immigration updates

Thanks to the bravery of volunteers who run towards storms at sea to rescue ships’ crews, few British institutions command as much respect as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. The charity, however, has recently had to negotiate a different kind of storm, over its efforts to help refugees who get into difficulties crossing the Channel from France. Nigel Farage, the former Brexit party leader, accused it of running a taxi service for illegal trafficking gangs. Last week, the RNLI said it had received hundreds of thousands of pounds of extra donations in response.

The RNLI has become embroiled in a now familiar story when the summer months allow more small boats to make the Channel crossing. Compared with the flows to other countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece, only a handful of migrants attempt the journey. That makes the UK’s inability to control the border in an effective and humane way — and shabby treatment of those who do make it across — no less of a scandal.

Britain’s strategy for stemming the flow has relied mostly on paying the French authorities to limit the number of boats crossing and return any that leave to France, while deterring would-be migrants through the unwelcoming environment that awaits them. Just as EU countries are dependent on their neighbours for keeping entrants down — whether Morocco for Spain or Belarus for Lithuania — the UK needs French co-operation to control the mutual border. Diplomatic spats, whether over Brexit or extra Covid quarantine restrictions on arrivals from France, have made that harder.

The UK approach manages to be simultaneously ineffective and cruel. Yvette Cooper, chair of the home affairs select committee, wrote last week to home secretary Priti Patel to complain of unacceptable conditions in the holding facility for migrants who make it to the Kent coast. A recent unannounced visit by MPs found most of those remaining in the overcrowded facility sitting on a thin mattress on the floor, with women and children in the same room as adult men.

Earlier this year, the High Court ruled that “squalid” conditions in the Napier Barracks, a temporary centre set up last year to house asylum seekers during the pandemic, were so bad as to be unlawful. While arrivals have declined since the peak seven years ago, cutbacks have led to a backlog in processing claims, leaving more in a legal limbo.

Since the start of the pandemic Britain has shut down other paths into the country, ending a resettlement scheme. This has ceded the ground to people traffickers. The “push factors” of the risk of violence and torture at home and “pull factors” of higher living standards mean many are still willing to resort to risky and illegal methods to try to reach the UK. Creating a harsh environment for those who make it has done little to dispel the widespread belief among migrants that Britain is a better destination than other European countries, and stem the flow.

That will not stop the government trying. Barristers have warned that a clause in draft border legislation could potentially make it a crime to help asylum seekers arrive in the UK, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment; at present it is illegal to do so to earn a profit. The Home Office says the clause is aimed at criminal traffickers. But along with a suggestion to set up offshore processing centres, the provision has rightly earned criticism from human rights groups. If the government is unwilling to create safe and legal routes, its only option is to prevent people from coming in the first place. That, ultimately, will mean relying on France.



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