Ana Blackwell – Store Director, Bulgari San Francisco –
The Best That You Can Be
By Heide VanDoren Betz
Heide VanDoren Betz: Tell us about your background; where did you grow up?
Ana Blackwell:– I was born in Yugoslavia, but grew up in Serbia.
(HB – Yugoslavia became Serbia in 2003. It formerly consisted of 7 different nations – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia). I was 10 years old when the Civil war started in Yugoslavia; it lasted for 6 years. At that age it was hard to understand, but I do remember families from Croatia escaping to my hometown in Serbia. As refugees they had lost all they had, but they did have family here. It was a sad time for the people of our country. Things got better in 1997, but not for too long, as we had another war in 1999. I was almost 18 at the time; this time I vividly remember bombs coming down on my home town and destroying factories and towns.
HB: How long did you remain in Serbia after the war?
AB: I had already applied for an Exchange program in the United States a year earlier. I left in 1999.
HB: Where in the United States did you go?
AB: I went to Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Harada family accepted my application to spend a year with them as an exchange student. I was to learn about American culture, get accustomed to the school system and meet new friends. I had a wonderful and supportive exchange family, especially my host, Alan Harada, who even helped with school assignments. With their help and encouragement I graduated with honors to be the first exchange student to get a High School diploma from Sandia High School.
HB: Did you have family or friends here?
AB: No, not here, but I could not have made this move without the support of my parents and my brothers. I am the only girl in the family, I have two brothers. Leaving home was not an easy thing to do, but I always had my family support. Serbia remains my home; I could return any time if needed. Knowing this has always given me strength to keep pushing to be successful in my career and life. I also had a best friend, my sister by choice, Marija Gagic Sjenicic. The two of us have been friends since we were 8 years old; no matter the distance, we have always been there for each other. I am lucky that she has found a home in Chicago and is now closer to me .
HB: Tell us about your studies after New Mexico
AB: After New Mexico I briefly went to Santa Barbara City College, then transferred to USC (University of Southern California). I graduated with BA in marketing and finance. I worked in Finance for about 5 years, but realized it was not for me.
HB: You had quite a productive career in the fashion world; how did this begin?
AB: Funny fact – fashion/retail has been in my family for a long time, my mom runs a luxury women’s store in Serbia, Luna. Maybe it was in my blood that I decided to pursue a career in the fashion world. I started by attending the Academy of Art University, San Francisco where I graduated with a Master of Fine Arts with emphasis on Fashion Merchandising. It was one of the best decisions in my life. I started to work at Neiman Marcus as stylist on the Couture floor. I was promoted to be “Christian Dior ambassador” and ran their business successfully for about a year. Then I was approached by Valentino.
HB: Tell us about being part of the “Valentino family”.
AB: My career with Valentino began as business manager for their newly opened space at Saks Fifth Avenue. Soon I was promoted to Regional West Coast Manager for all wholesale accounts on the West Coast including Canada. I loved being part of the Valentino family. I enjoyed my travels, especially during buying trips to Milan to see the new collections. Those trips were always so much fun, of course hard work but it was a great time with coworkers, many became friends. During my time at Valentino I met people to whom I will always be thankful for their trust – Roberto Hungaria, Veronica Duka and Shawn Pean. Even today I am very thankful for the friendships we built over the years.
HB: And you managed to take time to get married
AB: Yes! I got married to a wonderful and supportive man. We had a baby girl, a remarkable little girl who inspires me to be a better version of myself every day. Sometimes she drives me crazy, but at the same time she makes life better. I often travelled professionally when she was little. As she was getting older I wanted to make changes in my career to be home more with my family.
HB: Your path to Bulgari – the brand has been part of your personal history?
AB: Since I decided to stay in one location, I got the opportunity to join Burberry. I enjoyed being part of the Burberry team and made some wonderful friendships. Then, a friend, Monica Savini brought me to Bulgari. Monica was extremely supportive in my journey to becoming Store Director for San Francisco. The brand Bulgari has been part of my family and my growing up. My parents love jewelry and celebrated many moments with Bulgari special pieces. My college graduation gift was Bulgari B.Zero One ring and necklace as it symbolizes new beginnings. My husband gifted me a B.Zero One ring upon birth of our daughter, again symbolizing a new life and new beginning. My brothers and their wives were married with Bulgari rings. I have had a close connection to the brand as long as I can remember.
HB: How do you find time for your yourself, family and friends?
AB: Finding time seemed like an easy concept but somehow has become a difficult one. I do my best to spend time with family and friends, and somehow look after myself as well. I create memories by hosting dinners, traveling, celebrating special occasions and just being present in the moment. For me it is important that my family knows that they can count on me and that they come first.
HB: Who are your role models in your life?
AB: The person I look up to and respect is my mother. She raised me to be who I am. She has supported me in all my endeavors and has given me the best advice (even though sometimes I thought I knew better), deep down I always heard her voice and listened to her. My mother kept everyone together as a family. Both my parents worked hard to give their children the best life they could with love, support and the means to enjoy life. They made us the best version of ourselves, they made us the best that we can be. My mother embraced my move to the U.S. (against the advice of her mother, my grandmother). She would always say: “ it is her life”. I come from family of strong women of which I am proud. I am now trying to teach my daughter, Zoe to be determined, never give up and strive to be the best she can.
HB: Anyone other than your family inspire you to be the best that you can be?
AB: Judy Toerge, my professor and mentor during my MFA studies at Academy of Art University inspired me tremendously. Judi suddenly passed away in 2015; sometimes when things are tough I can feel her pushing me forward. She was a big influence in my personal and professional life because she took the time to listen to my concerns and give honest responses, those responses sometimes made me rethink my position. After I graduated we became good friends. She wanted to see me succeed while finding my personal happiness in life. I miss her very much but I know she is watching over me.
HB: Where do you enjoy your leisure time?
AB: Besides spending it with my family and friends, I love to spend leisure time at a spa getting a massage. I also enjoy having time to myself because it allows me to recharge and relax.
HB: Your travels -where do you like to visit?
AB: My favorite places are Singapore, Rome and Monte Carlo, those places hold dear memories in my heart. When in Singapore I loved getting on a ferry and visiting Banyan Tree resort, where the nature and tranquility is absolutely unbelievable. Hotel Hermitage in Monte Carlo with its old school glamor is very special to me since I got married there. Rome has so many hidden gems and one of the most famous and must visit is Via dei Condotti where the Bulgari flagship store is located along with many other luxury brands like Dior, Brioni, Armani, Gucci as well as terrific restaurants and coffee shops. But mostly, I absolutely love going back to Serbia and visiting my home country and spending time with family and old friends.
HB: What activities do you enjoy in your leisure time?
AB: I enjoy theater, especially Broadway shows, my favorite show of all times is Lion King. I love ballet, immersing myself in the performance. As a young girl I studied ballet and dreamt of being a ballerina, but it just was not meant for me. Nutcracker remains my favorite and I now enjoy it with Zoe during the holidays when it brings joy and happiness as a family tradition. I tried to introduce Zoe to ballet, but it too was not meant to be.
HB: I understand you love to cook. Any favorite recipe you might share with us?
AB: Yes, I love to cook, it is my escape form the stress of every day. My kitchen is where I love to be, preparing family meals while sipping a favorite glass of bubbles. I only love to cook if I am sharing it with family and friends, food for me is labor of love which we all get to enjoy. Although I am Serbian, I don’t cook much of my home county food, it takes way too long. I love cooking anything Italian; my daughter loves pasta and that is usually what ends up being made in our house. Bolognese pasta is our all-time favorite .
HB: What is a fantasy dinner party for you?
AB: I love to entertain and have people over at any given time for home cooked food and delicious wine, but the ideal fantasy dinner party would be hosting my close friends on a remote island with a private chef creating the best food possible, of course with lots of champagne.
HB: Have you become a wine connoisseur and enthusiast?
AB: Beside my passion for jewelry my other big passion is wine, champagne in particular. I was introduced to fine wines quite a while ago and to educate myself I read many books about wine. My favorite champagne would be Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque. Living in the California wine country we don’t produce champagne, however there are some amazing vineyards that make sparkling wine, such as JCB winery. I think Coco Chanel’s comment : “I only drink Champagne on two occasions, when I am in love and when I am not” is so appropriate. John Anthony winery, is another favorite place for events and tasting – their tasting room in Napa and their Church private tasting room are not to be missed.
HB: Having been surrounded by creative fashion and luxury jewels, do you have a favorite work of fine art?
AB: Girl with a Pearl Earrings by Johannes Vermeer, is a work of art I have always admired. It is not just any portrait but a girl showing innocence and purity. I think there is deep symbolic meaning in this painting; its viewers may contemplate its mystery. I love the contrast of the background and colors of the image which brings her existence to life. Girl with a Pearl Earring can be experienced in some many different ways depending on what we are going through at the moment.
HB: What are you most proud of in your life?
AB: I am proud to be self-driven, optimistic, hardworking and always having a plan for my next adventure. I am also very proud to be a mother to my amazing little girl who makes every day better. She teaches me patience and to look at the world through her eyes appreciating little things.
HB: How would you like to be remembered?
AB: Well (laughing), I will be remembered by my shoes (as Coco Chanel would say “a woman with good shoes in never ugly”)
and style, champagne, good times and laughter. But, I would like to be remembered by the success I achieved in my work; the good heart, kindness and empathy I have for people in-and-outside of my life. I believe we have different paths in our lives some of which we share with certain people; life is not easy and comes with challenges. People seldom take time to listen to one another – to be present in the moment. I would like to be remembered as having been present to genuinely listen to my family and friends.
HB: Anything else you would like us to know?
AB: We all need to take time for ourselves and enjoy life, enjoy the moment with our loved ones because tomorrow is not promised to any of us. We get caught up in the moment and we forget little things that make our life worth living. Life can change over night for better and worse. We should try to be happy and do what we love most of the time.
Creative Director/ Writer: HEIDE VANDOREN BETZ @heidebetz
HMUA: ARTEMIO IBARRA @art_ibarra
Copy Editor: KIEDO VILLANUEVA @kei_villanueva
Art Director: NIGEL JOHN DEL MUNDO @nigeldelmundo
Lighting Director: REY DEL FIERRO @reydelfierrophotography
Photographer: VINCENT GOTTI @vinniegotti
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