Interview – the Sweet Life of Luxurious Bvlgari

Robert Lagerwey, Bvlgari Resort Bali
ULUWATU, Bali ~ Bvlgari – the word conjures images of sheer luxury, beautiful people, designer watches, seductive perfumes and exquisite jewelry. It personifies opulence and exclusivity that only few other luxury brands do, and is, quite simply, one of the world’s most prestigious trademarks and one that has in recent years added the hotel industry to its portfolio.

The Bvlgari Resort Bali is a first for the group in Asia, and only the second in the world (the first opened in Milan in 2004). It spanks of sexy newness – sleek, desirable and ambitious with lashings of Italian designer cool, bravado and sassiness.

It took 1,000 workers three years to build the 59 private villa property set on 8.4 hectares of absolute southern Uluwatu cliff frontage, and it’s truly impressive.

Think high-polished glam that’s dramatic and masculine yet incredibly seductive. And it’s steep. Not only in price – from US$1,100++ per night for a 300-square-meter villa to $5,000++ for their two-bedroom 1,300-square-meter signature Bulgari Villa – but its dizzying 160-meter-high vantage point above the cliffs is built on an incline that most would find difficult to navigate on foot without the buggy-cart transport they cleverly supply. (I guess coming that close to the heavens and the gods comes with some sacrifice.)

Overall the property is a divine tribute to its architects and interior designers Antonio Citterio and Partners. Masses of attention to detail with exquisite pieces can be found in every corner of the property, where the distinct contemporary style of Bulgari is complemented by original Balinese elements, including an antique collection of statues, carvings and textiles that weave the entire design concept together.

At the helm of operations is general manager Robert Lagerwey, who has managed an impressive list of luxury branded hotels during his 20-year career. All the hotels he has worked with on several continents have been rated in the Top 100 hotels and resorts of the world. He is a delightful, articulate and well-groomed choice to head the operations and congenially shared his excitement upon recently opening the resort over dinner at the resort’s impeccable Italian restaurant, Il Ristorante

Who owns the resort, and when did you come on board as the GM?
The Bvlgari Resort Bali is owned by MRA Group and Partners and is managed by Bvlgari Hotels & Resorts. It’s a joint venture between Bvlgari and Marriott International’s Luxury Group that also manage The Ritz-Carlton Hotels & Resorts. I came on board as GM some 18 months ago from the Ritz-Carlton Millenia in Singapore.

Before deciding on Bali for the new Bvlgari hotel, what other places were considered?
Bali was always our top priority destination in Asia. It’s one of the most exciting and exclusive destinations in the world, thanks to its rich culture and heritage and with an amazing number of luxury hotels. We had a unique opportunity to develop a truly superior site here.
Our plans are to open a collection of luxury hotels in major cities and resort destinations around the world, such as Rome, Paris, London, Tokyo, New York and Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai, over the coming years.

How involved were you in the design of the hotel?
There was a small design team led by Bvlgari-appointed Gaya Fusion to work with the operations team. It took more than three months for a weaver to make one songket (hand-woven silk used as bedspread in each villa). We also custom-made silver-branded cutlery to the tune of some $40,000. Anything we did or wanted – even an ashtray – had to be photographed and sent off for approval. The sampling process took forever, as most things were handmade. I more or less hand-selected or was involved in anything to do with the resort, every step of the way.

Did that include selecting the resort’s personnel, and how many are there?
More than 10,000 people applied for jobs and I hand-selected every employee. It was an incredible experience. We set up a Bulgari-style room and scenario at Garuda Wisnu Kencana cultural park and took 500 applicants at a time. We currently have approximately 250-300 employees engaged in a manner of ways, from daily workers to permanent staff and management personnel.

Is there a hotel in Bali that’s comparable to the Bulgari Resort?
Bali has a handful of upscale resorts as well as a number of private villas that offer luxury accommodation. The Bulgari Resort will distinguish itself for its unique elements of style, luxury and services.

Clearly the management is very upbeat on Bali’s economy. Where do you see it going?
Bali continues to represent one of the most important resort destinations in the tourist market worldwide. The local culture and Balinese spirit and warmth make it one of the most special places in the world and we hope that it continues to be so.

Does the resort have any plans to interact with the local community or will it be an elite haven for wealthy tourists?
The resort welcomes the local community to enjoy and experience the Bulgari lifestyle in the bar, restaurants and spa. The local economy and community will benefit from the presence of the resort in many ways. Local artisans and textile suppliers have been involved in creating the original pottery and refined handcrafted fabrics that furnish the resort. A local producer designed the staff uniforms exclusively for Bulgari. Balinese organic farms supply the resort restaurants. The hotel mainly employs local workers and large percentage of the resort staff is Balinese.

What does the resort do from a conservation, energy and environmental stance?
We have many initiatives, such as a project where we have replanted one hectare of trees, energy-saving solutions to reduce wattage and wastage, as well as community-commitment programs such as rebuilding our neighboring soccer field and an apprentice program from our local village.

Does the GM of the Bulgari have to have an inherent haughtiness?
The Bulgari brand is positioned as ultra-luxurious and prestigious, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be accessible. I speak anyone’s language and am just as happy in the backyard with a barbecue and a few friends as I am in the resort with high-profile guests.

If you were to have a dinner party, then, who would you invite and what would you serve?
Vata Aureora, GM of the Beverly Wiltshire Hotel; Nelson Mandela; Prince Willem-Alexander of Holland; Bono; Nicole Kidman; Beyonce; Oprah Winfrey; and George Clooney.
I’m a bit of a traditional European eater who loves pot-roast meat and three vegetables – my ideal meal would probably contain Chateaubriand, great cheeses and some amazing wines.

You say you’re “nuts” about food and wine and have been nominated three times by the World Gourmet Summit. What kind of events do you plan for the resort?
There are many in the pipeline but we’re concentrating our efforts first on getting the resort opened. We have an incredible food and beverage team that are truly world class and deliver the most outstanding concepts for culinary events. Our restaurants are already popular with the local expatriates, which speaks for itself. The thing is not to over-create. The essence is really about being there in the moment. We already do aperitivos and bar bites at The Bar, which is a very Milanese thing to do. I’d like to do a Shiraz of the World event, perhaps old world versus new world.

Maybe Opera on the Cliffs with Campari and Pavarotti?
Sure – why not? Anything’s possible.

Have you had many Italian bookings?
Yes a few, but we opened after the highly popular Italian holiday season, in August. At the moment our guests are mainly from the Asia region and Australia. We’re doing supreme business and are very happy.

Tell me more about the restaurants and food concepts? Your executive chef Andrew Skinner and culinary team just won the prestigious Black Box Challenge.
Andrew is an award-winning chef whose 25 years in the industry is unrivalled. We’re all very excited about the win as there was some seriously tough competition out there. As the new kids on the block, it was another confidence boost to support our vision to be the best in the world.

Chef Skinner oversees our five food and beverage outlets together with our food and beverage manager, Eric Guth, who is also a consummate professional in his field. Our 36-seat fine-dining Italian restaurant, Il Ristorante, opens for dinner only and features creative interpretations of superb Italian cuisine blended with locally grown organic ingredients together with a collection of Barolos and some of Italy’s finest wines.

Sangkar Restaurant seats 70 and offers innovative Cliffside Indonesian and Modern Asian all day. The Bar serves bar bites and a long list of beverages and The Poolside offers relaxed gourmet fare and healthy juices. The Beach Pavilion, which can accommodate up to 200 people, is a rustic dining open-air experience serving fresh seafood and organic salads by our resort’s privately owned beach.

I must say this is probably one of the best Italian meals I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy. The setting is spectacular and the modern interpretation of the cuisine outstanding. Suggest you try the Wagyu Beef carpaccion brushed with tamarin-infused olive oil, parmesan brittle and wild arugula, Saffron Risotto with Balinese five spice seasoned ocean scallops and organic asparagus and the rack of lamb with fresh water spinach, onion and rosemary marmalade.

Who are the competitors of Bulgari Resort?
We compete with a handful of true upscale resorts as well as a number of private villas that offer luxury accommodation. But the Bvlgari Resort Bali will distinguish itself for its unique elements of style, luxury and services.

I’ve noticed strong similarities to the Ritz-Carlton modus of operandi.
There are certain tools that work well and the Ritz-Carlton has established a world-class service module which has been adapted to suit our brand. We’re more about lifestyle, though, being in the moment, being natural and flexible. We’re a boutique luxury resort so can do anything and everything.

We’re about pure presence and committed to enhancing our guests’ prestige and pleasure. Our resort has its own heart and soul and offers unexpected authentic moments and surprises. Everything comes customized, designer and personalized.
We’re continually pushing the boundaries for innovative service with new visions. Our motto is to be true to self and others. That’s what defines the difference.

What are the main features and treatments of the spa?
The spa offers a range of sophisticated Balinese, Asian and European therapies. The exclusive collection of Bvlgari Signature Experiences will include The Unforgettable Double Bvlgari Royal Lulur. This is a royal ritual experience performed by four highly advanced therapists – two for each guest – working in synchronized harmony to deliver a truly remarkable treatment.
Spa or facial treatments are available not only in the privacy of the villas, but also by the beach and the pool, at dawn or at sunset. The centre features eight treatments rooms, a swimming pool, hot and cold plunge pools, a beauty salon and a fully equipped fitness centre.

As a woman, I have to ask the all-important question – is Bvlgari jewelry on sale at the resort?
Yes of course, in the Bulgari store near the lobby. There’s a stunning collection of watches, clothes, bags, ties, jewelry and perfumes. It’s very popular with our guests and of course all those who drop in invariably take a little piece of Bvlgari home with them. Now that’s the sweet life.By Gaby Allesandro
The Bali Times

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