New Bottega Veneta designer Daniel Lee made his runway debut on a clear sunny day in Milan on Friday afternoon. The show took place underneath the magnificent Arco della Pace, or “Arch of Peace,” which dates back to the 19th century. The scene was a fitting metaphor for what was to come: An appreciation of Italian history and craftsmanship, contextualized with modern fashion.
Bottega Veneta was founded in 1966 in Vicenza, Italy. The “bottega” in its name translates to “workshop,” and craftsmanship has always been its core value. Most Italian luxury brands claim this, though. What makes Bottega Veneta special? Well, that’s the thing: discreetness has always been the brand’s calling card. If you see a woman carrying a signature intrecciato bag, leather as soft as butter, cut and finely woven, you can give her a silent nod. If you know, you know. These are the codes of the rich.
“When your own initials are enough.” In the ‘70s, this was Bottega Veneta’s official slogan, in lieu of a logo. Jackie Kennedy was a quiet patron of the brand around that time. Interestingly, logo-lover Andy Warhol was also a fan. Lauren Hutton carried an intrecciato bag in American Gigolo.
Fifty-three years later, it’s Lee’s turn to translate the codes of Bottega. He follows in the footsteps of Tomas Maier, who revived the brand in 2001 after it was acquired by the Gucci Group. Maier brought Bottega back to its roots, but after all these years, it’s arguably in need of another fluffing.
Lee comes from Celine, where he worked under Phoebe Philo. Many predicted, perhaps wishfully, that his placement at Bottega would fill the hole Philo left. But that was not the case on Friday, nor was it ever going to be. Lee is his own person, and he made that clear.
The show opened with a deceptively simple little black leather dress. What followed was tough. Models clunked down the runway in oversize black combat boots, similar those worn at Prada. (Although they looked harder to wear. Perhaps the brand will downsize them for commercial use.) Lee created tension by cinching a quilted leather jackets with sharp gold and silver hardware. One droopy sweater was held up with what looked like strips of duct tape and gold safety pins.
I liked the juxtaposition of a soft white sweater with a swooping neckline of a thick gold chain. It felt easy and rich, but in a young, daring way. There were also many standout accessories, like square-toe, quilted leather shoes and geometric clutches, that I could see appealing to Bottega’s loyal customers — and some new ones. After viewing the collection up close, I was surprised by the lightness of some fabrics, like a leather coat cut to look like chainmail, or a satin shirt pressed to look like leather. These are the secrets that define luxury.
That being said, a lot of the looks in the collection would be hard for anyone who’s not a Bottega model to pull off. The proportions, like extra-long sleeves, boxy skirts, or floating blazer collars, were purposefully awkward. Is that what the Bottega customer wants? Discreet it was not.
But is anything discreet today? The sort of quiet, craftman-like luxury embodied by Tomas Maier’s Bottega feels out of step with our current era. Our president tweets in all-caps. Fashion is all neon and logos. Even uploading Instagram Stories for one’s “close friends” is hardly an act of intimacy, or subtlety.
The harder discreetness is to find, the more covetable it becomes. I don’t know what it looks like in 2019, but I’m ready for Lee to show me.