How luxury brands became the face of cultural conservation
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On Wednesday, Pomellato will gather some of its clients in Venice to unveil a project it has been working on for some time: a new, high-tech illumination system for the marble facade of the Ca’ d’Oro (pictured above), a palace first commissioned in the 15th century by Venetian merchant Marino Contarini and that now houses the Galleria Giorgio Franchetti art museum.
It is the third project the Milanese jeweller has undertaken with the non-profit Venetian Heritage to support conservation projects. In 2021, Pomellato funded the full cost of restoring the funerary monument of Doge Francesco Morosini in the Church of Santo Stefano in Venice, and last year financed the refurbishment of the Epistle Ambo, one of the pulpits of St Mark’s Basilica, which was damaged during the 2019 flood, the worst to hit the city in 50 years.
“It is not only about contributing to the safeguarding of the immense Venetian cultural legacy, it also means supporting the crafts and artistry involved in the restoration,” says Sabina Belli, Pomellato’s chief executive.
Pomellato is not the only luxury house committed to preserving monuments and other cultural sites. Indeed, brands’ participation in such projects is accelerating.
Last year, Cartier refurbished the former British embassy in Madrid, while Bulgari has stepped up its financial support for the city of Rome after donating €1.5mn for the renovation of the Spanish Steps, completed in 2016. Speaking about funding new lighting for the Ara Pacis monument in 2021, Bulgari chief executive Jean-Christophe Babin said it was “a way to give back something tangible to the Eternal City”, where the brand was founded in 1884.
Bulgari also financially supported the restoration of 92 of the 620 marble statues in the Torlonia collection, sponsoring an exhibition of them at Rome’s Musei Capitolini in 2020.
“Such initiatives are essentially charitable work, which projects the positive values of a brand, and makes it feel part of the society, especially as they are often perceived as ‘for rich only’,” says Danilo Venturi, director of the IED institute of design in Florence. But financing the restoration of public monuments goes beyond the familiar formula of associations with the arts — it also “helps the brand to be perceived as eternal, just as the monuments they are associated with”, says Venturi.
Moreover, this philanthropic work places brands in the fashionable arena of urban regeneration as they send out messages about the quality of life, time and spaces we are part of.
Luxury houses’ interest in conservation projects is undoubtedly a boon for culture. “Our government is not able to face all the never-ending campaigns of renovation, restoration and promotion of our endless artistic legacy,” says Toto Bergamo Rossi, director of Venetian Heritage.
Some brands prefer to keep a low profile when it comes to charitable work. Cartier does not actively promote the work of its Cartier Philanthropy initiative, which supports economic development in more than 40 countries. Paris-based jeweller Messika has yet to make any official announcements about the foundation it created in 2021, but diamond company De Beers quietly announced in the same year that it would invest an additional $3mn in its Accelerating Women-Owned Micro-Enterprise programme in southern Africa, aiming for 10,000 beneficiaries by 2030.
Cultural projects also serve as an inspiration for future collections and can be used as exclusive backdrops for promotional or selling events. Cartier exhibited its Beautés du Monde in Madrid in the building it refurbished, and a Torlonia marble statue is on display in the Bulgari hotel (which is located opposite the renovated Ara Pacis) that opened in Rome in June.
The facade of the Ca’ d’Oro, whose Venetian Gothic architecture is influenced by Byzantine aesthetics, inspired Pomellato creative director Vincenzo Castaldo to create the Venetian Dream necklace — a one-off creation mimicking the style of the Ca’ d’Oro, which will be available exclusively at the brand’s store in Venice.
In Brussels, the art deco Villa Empain, designed by Swiss-Belgian architect Michel Polak for Baron Louis Empain in the 1930s, was purchased and restored by the foundation of Geneva-based jeweller Boghossian in 2006. It has become an integral part of the Belgian artistic scene since it opened to the public in 2010, attracting 50,000 visitors a year to its exhibitions and events, which promote dialogue between east and west, and offering residencies to artists and scholarships.
Albert Boghossian, the brand’s chief executive, sees the villa as the embodiment of his family’s philanthropic efforts, which began in 1989 with projects in Lebanon, Armenia and Syria.
“Our family has witnessed untold natural tragedies and conflicts through six generations,” says Boghossian. “In 1976, my brother and I fled the unrest in Lebanon and sought refuge in Europe. At a time when east and west are often engaged in violent exchanges, we have chosen to promote a universal language: that of artistic expression.”
This month, Van Cleef & Arpels will unveil its own branded Rose Garden, found within the Queen Elizabeth Walled Garden, at Dumfries House in Ayrshire, Scotland, to mark the start of a long-term partnership with educational charity The Prince’s Foundation. The project sits well with a brand that has often sought inspiration in nature.
“In all societies, groups, companies, there are shared values, but very often they are implicit,” says Pomellato’s Belli. “Making them explicit creates a common language, as values bring people together and guide companies to work towards a higher purpose and, for us, the pride to give back and preserve.”