BRAND STORIES

BRAND STORIES

The Bottega Veneta Bible

Since taken over by Daniel Lee, Bottega Veneta has experienced a resurgence in popularity and sales. But, the house did not start with him. Read on to learn not only about Lee, but also who came before.

Rooted in the tradition of Italian craftsmanship, Bottega Veneta has always been celebrated for its discreet leather goods. But, with fresh perspective, it has recently become one of the world’s hottest luxury brands. 

 

Want to learn more about Bottega Veneta? We have created a comprehensive brand guide for you! Covering how it turned a setback into its signature, who has led as its creative director, what they have designed, and why it has experienced a recent resurgence in sales, we detail everything we know about the house. 

 

Read on to become an expert in all things Bottega Veneta.  

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Photo by Christian Vierig/Getty Images

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Photo by Edward Bethelot/Getty Images

The Beginning of Bottega Veneta 

Bottega Veneta was founded by Michele Taddei and Renzo Zengiaro in 1966. Based in Vicenza, Italy, it directly translates to ‘Venetian Shop.’ Originally started as a leather goods store, Bottega Veneta has focused on creating high-quality, timeless pieces since its very beginning. 

 

When Bottega Veneta began manufacturing, its sewing machines were not adequate enough to work with most leathers. As they were sourced from the local region (Veneto in northeastern Italy), which was famous for ready-to-wear, their needles were not long enough to accommodate the thicker leather typically used for handbags and accessories. To account for this, Bottega Veneta had to substitute finer, more supple leather – most commonly, Nappa. To reinforce and strengthen it, Bottega Veneta developed an innovative technique known as Intrecciato. In the late- ‘60s, it began cutting the leather into strips and weaving them together (Intrecciato is Italian for ‘intertwined’), making it much more durable. Intrecciato has since become a signature of the house, contributing to an understated but recognizable Bottega Veneta look.

 

Bottega Veneta has never been flashy. Amidst all the noise in the fashion industry, Bottega Veneta exudes a quiet confidence. It takes what it describes as a “stealth” approach to luxury, asserting, “When your own initials are enough.” Instead of a logo, it signs its pieces by how they are made. With only an interior label, Bottega Veneta relies on its fine craftsmanship and materials to set it apart from other brands. 

 

Its distinctive yet subtle leather goods made Bottega Veneta quite popular in the ‘70s. But, as luxury became more about excess, Bottega Veneta’s sales rapidly declined and both Taddei and Zengiaro eventually left.

 

Laura Moltedo, Taddei’s ex-wife, took over. In 2000, she hired British designer Giles Deacon to revive the house. Though his trend-driven Fall 2001 Ready-to-Wear collection (it included lizard skin headphones and skirts printed with pornographic images) was released to much critical acclaim, Deacon was replaced after Kering (then referred to asPinault-Printemps Redoute) took over Bottega Veneta and integrated it into its luxury division (the Gucci Group). Tom Ford personally recruited Tomas Maier, appointing him as the house’s new creative director in June of that same year. 

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South China Morning Post

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South China Morning Post

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Vogue, Fall 2001 Ready-To-Wear

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Vogue, Fall 2001 Ready-To-Wear

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Photo by Christian Vierig/Getty Images

Creative Directors 

Bottega Veneta has always functioned as a team. Valuing the brand’s heritage, its designers have shown a deep mutual respect for its artisans. Though Bottega Veneta has hired creative directors, most notably Tomas Maier and Daniel Lee, they have both led by deferring to the expertise of its craftsmen. 

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Photo by Christian Vierig/Getty Images

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Thomas Maier, Photo by Robert Longo/Bottega Veneta via The New Yorker

Tomas Maier 

Tomas Maier (when he was in his 30s, he removed the ‘h’ from his first name, so it would be symmetrical with his last) was born at the edge of the Black Forest in Pforzheim, Germany. Though he was from a family of architects, Maier did not become one himself. He had always been interested in architecture, but if he had pursued a career in it, he would have been expected to take over his father’s firm. As Maier believed the town was too small, it deterred him – not to mention, he had also never been good at math. Instead, he continued his studies at the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris (the same school attended by Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent). 

 

Following his education, Maier held design roles at Guy Laroche, Sonia Rykiel, Revillon, and Hermès. At Hermès, he was mentored by Claude Brouet. The creative director of women’s ready-to-wear at the time, she advised him, “Luxury is something you love to feel, to touch, to admire. Luxury to me is not something you can see from a mile away; it doesn’t show.” When Maier took the helm at Bottega Veneta in 2001, he brought her philosophy with him. 

 

Upon his arrival, Bottega Veneta had failed to keep up with the ‘90s fashion trends and was nearly bankrupt. Feeling the house had lost its identity, giving in to come-and-go fads and showy logos, Maier set out to restore it. He stated, “It is by protecting and honoring our past that we keep on growing.” Maier immediately re-implemented Bottega Veneta’s four core values: fine-quality materials, extraordinary craftsmanship, contemporary functionality, and timeless design. He stripped away every unnecessary element, returning the house to its minimalistic, artisanal roots – specifically, its Intrecciato technique. 

 

Waiting until 2005 to present a ready-to-wear collection, Maier instead placed all his focus on leather bags and accessories. His first design was a top handle tote called the Cabat. Woven with double-faced leather and left unlined, it looked just as beautiful on the inside as the outside. With no logos, no hardware, and no embellishments (not even a closure), Maier had reduced the bag to its functionality. The Cabat was simple yet incredibly complicated, taking two full days to make – not including the years of training. Despite its six-thousand-dollar price tag, it quickly became Bottega Veneta’s top-selling item. The Cabat is still in production today; however, only around 500 are released every season and they are only sold in official Bottega Veneta boutiques. In the same collection, Maier also delved into Bottega Veneta’s archives, re-creating a clutch from 1978. While he kept its rounded box silhouette and interlaced exterior, he added a knot-shaped clasp and re-named it the Knot. Ever since, it has been released in limited editions and quantities, solidifying its status as a signature Bottega Veneta bag. 

 

Following his seminal bags, Maier used Intrecciato on everything from bracelets to dog bowls, diversifying Bottega Veneta’s product range. In 2006, recognizing the importance and fragility of the house’s heritage, Maier also opened an entire school devoted to the technique. Called Scuola delle Pelletteria, it teaches the house’s next generation of craftsmen and preserves the tradition that defines the brand. 

 

By re-introducing Intrecciato, Tomas Maier pulled the house out of debt and into profitability, making it a reference in luxury fashion. In 2012, it surpassed $1 billion in sales, becoming Kering’s second-largest label after Gucci. 

 

Maier’s success was followed by consecutive periods of negative growth. He had proven to be a consistent, albeit somewhat safe, designer. After Maier’s Fall/Winter 2018 show (a combination men’s and women’s wear runway, which took place in New York City instead of Milan, as he had just designed and opened Bottega Veneta’s largest flagship store on Madison Avenue), his departure was announced. At a time of many shake ups in the industry (Riccardo Tisci had just replaced Christopher Bailey at Burberry and Virgil Abloh had just replaced Kim Jones at Louis Vuitton), there had been some speculation that Maier would be next; however, his exit was rather abrupt.

 

In June 2018, Kering’s CEO François-Henri Pinault released an official statement, declaring, “The tradition and craftsmanship excellence that many luxury brands have relied upon for decades is no longer enough. The new luxury customers, the millennials or the generation set that follows, care little for the idea of brand heritage.” Maier had built his 17-year career at Bottega Veneta on those very ideals. 

 

Though these types of announcements are usually made by the brand and designer together, Maier never released a comment of his own and his removal was immediate. 

 

Two weeks later, Maier’s eponymous label (known for its knits and swimwear) ceased all operations. Kering had also ended its partnership with it.

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Vogue, Fall 2018 Ready-To-Wear

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Vogue, Fall 2018 Ready-To-Wear

Daniel Lee 

The mystery surrounding Tomas Maier’s replacement did not last long. Just two days after he left, Daniel Lee was appointed as Bottega Veneta’s creative director. 

 

For decades, Bottega Veneta’s principal sales had been leather goods, accounting for approximately 85% of its revenue; while all other products, including ready-to-wear, amounted to only 15%. Lee, who had worked as the director of ready-to-wear at Celine, was brought on to revitalize the Italian label’s clothing line.  

 

An anomaly, the then-32-year-old, millennial designer did not have any social media accounts or friends within the industry. Lee was virtually unknown, but about to become fashion’s “boy wonder.” 

 

Daniel Lee was raised in Yorkshire, England, where his entire family still resides today. Growing up, he dreamt of becoming a dancer only to discover that his feet were rather flat, and he was a better academic. Though he was expected to become a doctor or lawyer, he happened upon design when he decided to move to London. There, Lee studied his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the esteemed Central Saint Martins, during which he concentrated on knitwear and completed internships at Maison Margiela and Balenciaga. After his graduation, Lee briefly worked at Donna Karan before he accepted a position at Celine in 2012. When Phoebe Philo resigned just before Christmas in 2017, many suspected Lee would replace her as creative director; however, he left himself in January. He had planned to take a year off to travel and reassess, but his trip was cut short when François-Henri Pinault called. Lee only made it as far as Japan. His take over at Bottega Veneta was effective July 1, 2018. 

 

When Lee joined the Bottega Veneta team, the Spring/Summer 2019 collection was already almost complete. Eager to get started on Pre-Fall 2019, his first season as the house’s creative director, Lee edited Spring/Summer to the essential. Though, to finish it off, he did include a couple of new designs – most notably, the Pouch. 

 

Inspired by a Bottega Veneta bag carried by Lauren Hutton in American Gigolo, the Pouch is a squishy, oversized clutch that is crafted of butter-soft leather. With no strap and a cumbersome shape, Bottega Veneta’s merchandising team was so concerned the Pouch would not sell, that it ordered a very limited amount for stores at first. However, what the Pouch lacked in functionality, it made up for in aesthetics. Undeniably photogenic (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley posted the Pouch to her Instagram feed 39 times in three months!), it appealed to today’s social media-crazed consumers. The Pouch instantly sold out and its waitlist grew. It dethroned the Cabat as the top-selling bag in Bottega Veneta history and was named the most wanted product of 2019. Today, the Pouch is available in a variety of colors and materials – from every shade of beige to Intrecciato to metallic wire. Not Lee’s only design to earn cult-like status, the Stretch Sandal and Cassette Bag have also been extremely popular. 

 

In December 2019, a year and a half after he was enlisted at Bottega Veneta, Daniel Lee was nominated for four awards by the British Fashion Council – including, Brand of the Year and Designer of the Year. Though he had only shown two collections and one of them was not even in stores yet, Lee won them all, becoming the first designer in the ceremony’s 30-year history to take home that many in one night.

 

Since Lee accepted the position, he has sought to honor the “quiet craft” of the Italian house but to also bring an “injection of modernity…turning up the volume.” Like Maier, he refuses to create a logo and continues to make almost every design in Intrecciato; however, he has reinterpreted the traditional technique, blowing it up and padding it, to keep it relevant. Lee’s fresh perspective has reached the millennial customers that Maier missed, increasing revenue 2.2% by the end of 2019. 

 

Despite his immediate success, Lee still feels nervous. He remarks, “I feel very responsible for a huge amount of money and a large amount of people. I always had the ambition of getting to this point, but now I have so much more to prove.” 

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Daniel Lee, Creative director/Bottega Veneta, Photo via Business of Fashion

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Vogue, Fall 2019 Ready-To-Wear

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Vogue, Fall 2019 Ready-To-Wear

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Photo by Jeremy Moeller/Getty Images

New Bottega 

Mourning the loss of Phoebe Philo (and the accent over the first ‘E’) at Celine, a tribute page was made on Instagram. Called @oldceline, it honors Philo’s 10-year tenure at the French fashion house, showcasing the minimalistic uniform she created for women. 

 

For five years, Daniel Lee worked under Philo. In the wake of their joint departure from Celine, he was named Bottega Veneta’s creative director and she went on an indefinite hiatus. Philophiles looked to Lee to fill her void, anticipating his designs. Following the debut of his Fall/Winter 2019 collection, which included Philo-esque, simplistic pieces imbued with novelty (see: chain-embellished knits and clavicle-exposing dresses), @newbottega was started. A fan account run by Laura Rossi, a fashion design student at Polimoda in Florence, it celebrates a post-Maier Bottega Veneta, archiving product close-ups, campaign images, runway looks, and styling by celebrities and influencers. Boasting over 300,000 followers (and counting), it provides them with a sense of hope for the future of fashion. 

 

Though nostalgia has been one of the biggest trends, @newbottega has gotten everyone excited for what is yet to come. 

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@newbottega

Written by : anv

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