It is no surprise then that Italian luxury brand Bottega Veneta has found deep-rooted success since Creative Director Tomas Maier came on board in 2001. Before his appointment, the brand faced bankruptcy as its Intrecciato leather weaving technique had begun to lose global relevance, yet now into his 17th year with the brand, the designer has made creating unfettered luxury his mission, pushing out understated designs rarely found in today’s logo-driven, high-fashion world.
Born in April 1957 in Pforzheim, Germany, at the edge of the Black Forest, Maier was raised in a family of architects and attended a Waldorf school as a child. From there he headed to Paris, where he trained at the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. His professional experience includes designing for some of the most prestigious fashion and luxury goods houses in France, Italy, and Germany, including Guy Laroche, Sonia Rykiel, where he designed men’s wear for eight years, and Revillon, where he spent four years as creative director. For nine years, Maier was a women’s ready-to-wear designer at Hermès, where he also designed some leather goods and accessories.
In 2001, after the Gucci Group bought over Bottega Veneta, Tom Ford, who was Gucci’s creative director at the time, brought Maier on board, and since then he has had complete creative control over the design for men’s and women’s ready-to-wear collections, alongside homeware, furniture, watches, luggage, fragrance, and fine jewellery.
One of Maier’s earliest moves was to affirm that Bottega Veneta would return to its logo-less heritage, conveyed in the famous slogan, ‘When Your Own Initials Are Enough’, and using this principle, together with four key cornerstones, high-quality materials, outstanding craftsmanship, timeless design and contemporary functionality, he has grown Bottega Veneta into the luxury lifestyle brand that it is today. He presented his first collection, which consisted solely of accessories in September 2001, just a few months after being hired, and launched the Cabat bag, a woven leather sack-like bag that features no logos. The first women’s ready-to-wear show took place in February 2005 and the first men’s runway show was held in June 2006, before the addition of homeware, furniture, watches, luggage, fragrance, and fine jewellery.
Another of Maier’s great successes has been The Art of Collaboration, which was conceived in 2001, and highlights a storied relationship with artists. For Spring Summer 2018 the next chapter unfolds with a disruptive digital first ad campaign, and the focus will return to Bottega Veneta itself, with a communication platform that reinforces the brand’s own initials more relevantly for today’s customer. Titled Reflections, the campaign embraces moving images as its core, with six distinct and deeply cinematic films to be released episodically throughout the season via multiple platforms and partners. Each season will focus on different characters with an overarching narrative that illuminates the collection and draws from the brand pillars, Mystery, Sophistication, Architecture, Sensuality, and Surrealism.
At the helm of a relatively young luxury brand, only founded in 1966, whose name literally translates as ‘Venetian Atelier’, Tomas Maier has transformed the luxury goods business, offering a thoughtful and increasingly important argument for the primacy of quality, craftsmanship, and individuality. His refusal to pander to fashion’s fickle tastes has allowed him to carve out a niche in the industry, refining a formula that finds the sweet spot between credible fashion and casual, wearable clothes. Necklines, silhouettes, and proportions are subtly tweaked to suit the seasons, but they all boast the same attention to detail and longevity that’s now a cornerstone of all Bottega Veneta’s products.
What are the core values of Bottega Veneta?
The foundation of Bottega Veneta’s values remain the Four Cornerstones which I established when I arrived at the brand in 2001. They serve as a strong guiding principle for everything that we create, from our core leather goods to jewellery and fragrance.
How do you think the DNA of the brand has changed over the years and what has stayed the same?
On the foundation of the Cornerstones, we have built our pillars and creative ideals. Among the pillars are things that we value as part of the brand’s culture, Sustainability, Individualism and Experience. Our creative ideals include mystery, surrealism, and sensuality. These have all evolved and deepened over time.
What do you identify as the major signatures of the house?
The intrecciato weave is undeniably the most recognisable signature of the house. It’s our default logo. But what I love about intrecciato is that we find creative ways to approach it every season. For Spring, we introduced the Intrecciato Checker, which uses a colourful graphic contrast weave. We also created the Intrecciato Wingtip workmanship, which translates the decorative perforations of a brogue onto an intrecciato City Knot handbag. Intrecciato is so perfect and simple that the possibilities of how to reinvent it are endless.
How do you continue to keep the brand covetable and fresh, balancing tradition and innovation?
The design process is a collaboration between myself and the artisans. It’s a dialogue and there’s mutual respect. Their work is based on strong roots but it’s always evolving. That’s what keeps all of us motivated. We like a challenge. We don’t like to do the same thing over and over, because that would be boring. Because of the way we work, tradition and innovation are completely intertwined.
Tell us about how the craftsmanship sets Bottega Veneta apart from other brands?
I can’t speak for other brands, but we are unequivocally committed to craftsmanship. I think our atelier in Montebello Vicentino, which is built within a beautiful Palladian villa, is evidence of how important craft is to us as a company. We respect our artisans and treat them well. We also patronise other Italian artisans to keep their businesses alive. In the Spring Summer 2018 collection, we used silk from Taroni, an old mill based in Como, and we use Murano glass for our fragrance bottles. We have to support these people and these traditions, or they will die out.
Do you find the speed of fashion challenging as demand increases for the number of collections and ranges a year?
Yes, especially with the products we produce, that need a lot of time to be developed.
What do you think has been the key to growth and building a strong identity?
Staying true to the brand and being aware yet not listening to the noise.
When did you your passion for fashion start, and love for fashion come from? Was fashion a career that was always destined for you?
My father was an architect and I very much liked architecture but if I went into it, I would have been taking over the family business. I also became interested in fashion when I was around 15 years old, and later, I decided to apply to the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture and left for Paris shortly after I finished high school.
What drives you and keeps you inspired?
I have always been inspired and passionate by many things, art, architecture, photography, music, and the places and things I have discovered on my travels and throughout my life. There are many things I find inspiring in the Veneto region, the architecture of Palladio, the paintings of Veronese and the sculpture of Canova. Or it could be a certain kind of Japanese lacquer or a strange plant specimen.
Tell us about your design process, and how it begins?
My design process always starts with colour, which is extremely important at Bottega Veneta. Our palette is unique and every single material, every single yarn, every single fabric of ours is custom. Nobody else dyes everything that they use. Colour is key for us because it has that inherently Italian playfulness. It’s the very specific joy of living in Italy.
What was your inspiration behind the most recent Spring Summer 2018 collection?
The palette there came from the Marble Room at Kedleston Hall, a Palladian estate in the English countryside. That gave us all these beautiful powdery pastel colours. The silhouettes were inspired by workwear and sportswear, very easy, functional shapes. Then we contrasted that simplicity with exquisite embellishment.
Tell us about the concept behind the Art of Collaboration?
Originally, I conceived of the Art of Collaboration because I love photography as an art form and collected photography for many years. When the opportunity came up to create a new approach for a luxury advertising campaign, I thought I could go with a fashion photographer or I could go with an art photographer which is more my world, and that would tie into the idea that Bottega Veneta is a brand for the individualist.
Why did you choose to collaborate with artists and photographers for your advertising campaigns?
I like the idea of bringing something educational. Maybe I can help them discover unknown territory. Perhaps they knew some photographers we collaborated with but not all. I think this new campaign that we created with Fabien Baron, since these striking moving images can exist on so many platforms, will bring the same dynamic, just in a different way.
What makes telling the story through film more effective?
These films have layers and depth. They are not easily categorised. When you are shooting a campaign, there is a desire to tell more of a story. You are in an interesting environment with great talent, and the wheels start to spin. Who is this woman? What is the man doing there? Whose house is this? Film now allows us to take the story further. To me it is always more interesting when a film ends, and the plot could go one way or the other. It’s open to interpretation.
By following the format of an episodic television series, are you looking to attract a younger consumer?
Our aim is to communicate with our customer where he or she already is. We went with a digital-first format because we want to always be in the palm of our customer’s hand with content that inspires and entertains. Certainly, young people are digitally savvy, but I think these days the luxury audience, no matter their age, are increasingly engaging with brands in this way.
To you, what is luxury?
Having personal, private time.
Tell us about why you brought back the tagline, ‘When Your Own Initials Are Enough’?
When I arrived at Bottega Veneta, it was the era of the ‘it’ bag. I wanted to give something to people who wanted something that was beautifully made, timeless and free of any of the logos and excessive hardware that was so prevalent at the time. I discovered this tagline ‘When Your Own Initials Are Enough’ in an old Bottega Veneta advertisement, and it just fitted the moment and the mood perfectly.
What are your thoughts of logomania, and the rise of logos in luxury fashion?
Fashion goes in cycles and therefore logos come and go. I think what is important in this industry is to stay true to who you are.
You are now offering customisation in all your Maisons, are you seeing an increased demand for this service?
I think in general there is a move towards customisation in luxury. We’ve always offered services for clients to do special orders and, considering our motto, this new personalisation program is a natural move. We made it our own by taking advantage of our savoir faire with precious skins, offering stitched initials with letters cut from croco.
Why did you choose New York as the location for your third Maison?
New York is very important to the brand. Bottega Veneta opened its first store outside of Italy on Madison Avenue in 1979. We were one of the earliest Italian luxury brands to be there. That store was quite successful. Jacqueline Onassis shopped there, and Andy Warhol was a regular visitor and even made a short film about the brand. Our return to Madison Avenue is kind of a homecoming.
What has been a standout moment in your career, and your greatest achievement?
My most important achievement was building the atelier in Montebello Vicentino in the Veneto and giving our artisans a beautiful place to work. It’s built into an 18th century Palladian villa within a historical park but is completely modern and Platinum LEED certified.
By Eliza Scarborough