Heritage Italian leather brand Bottega Veneta is fashion’s ‘It’ label, and new creative director Daniel Lee’s designs are causing a stir with commercial buyers and shoppers alike.
It is likely that you are already familiar with the work of Daniel Lee, creative director of luxury Italian brand Bottega Veneta, even if you have not realised yet.
Scroll through Instagram and, dotted across the images of fashion insiders, you will see soft, squishy clam-shaped leather Pouch bags (several colourways of which – costing £1,730 – are currently sold out on Net-a-Porter), vibrant square-toe mules with puffy, quilted uppers, rope-effect leather sandals and the occasional woven leather skirt – all Bottega Veneta and all causing a frenzy in the fashion world.
A Central Saint Martins graduate and former director of ready to wear under Phoebe Philo at Celine, Lee joined Bottega Veneta as creative director in June 2018, taking over from the outgoing Thomas Maier. The brand was first launched in 1966, and is now owned by luxury powerhouse Kering, which also owns Balenciaga, Gucci and Saint Laurent.
From his first collection – for pre-autumn 19 – his arrival heralded a regeneration of the brand’s aesthetic, one that has gained rapid traction in the fashion world and quickly turned Bottega Veneta, once a sleepy, stealth luxury label, into one of the hottest brands around.
Not simply confined to social media, the brand’s new direction has sparked a giddy buzz among luxury buyers.
“I’ve never seen people make actual sounds of elation so much as when I did a walk-through of Bottega Veneta’s pre-autumn 2019 collection,” says Ida Petersson, menswear and womenswear buying director at luxury retailer Browns. “I was one of those squealing with excitement.”
These responses are translating into demonstrable interest from retailers, and retail data company Edited reports that spend on the brand grew after Lee’s debut collection. Stockists increased their ranges of Bottega Veneta product by 124% in the UK and 31% in the US year on year.
Bottega Veneta is timeless, and it reflects in every single piece of the collection
Tiffany Hsu, Mytheresa
Additionally, retailers have been capitalising on the hype to drive interest with their marketing. For example, Edited found that mentions of Bottega Veneta on the homepage and emails of German luxury ecommerce site MyTheresa have increased 204% year on year.
“Bottega Veneta is timeless, and it reflects in every single piece of the collection,” says Tiffany Hsu, fashion buying director at Mytheresa. “The quality is amazing. Anything from Bottega really updates your current wardrobe instantly, and this is Lee’s tour de force. He has managed to bring modernity while respecting the heritage of the brand and the quality level.”
Elizabeth von der Goltz, global buying director at Net-a-Porter, agrees: “Lee has very quickly been able to find the essence and codes of Bottega Veneta, but has turned them on their head. He’s brought out such new and innovative ideas still using its signature intrecciato [woven leather] and amazing leather craftsmanship to create such new shapes that fashion lovers just can’t have enough of it. His use of the leather and his sense of colour are just beautiful and unexpected. As modern as his pieces are, there is also a very classic timelessness to them.”
One area driving sales for the “new” Bottega Veneta is accessories. The category has long been a stalwart for the brand, which is known for its leather goods. Key items from the new collections include the Pouch – a soft-silhouetted leather clutch bag that retails from £865 to £5,915 – as well as mules and pumps featuring reworkings of the brand’s signature intrecciato technique, retailing from £495 to £940.
Social media attention has fuelled Bottega’s success, but it will need to maintain momentum once fickle fashionistas move on to the next big thing. This should not be a problem, however, as buyers note that customers are buying into its overall offer.
Edited’s data shows that new footwear arrivals were up 64% year on year for with Lee’s debut collection, and handbag arrivals were up 83% season on season.
“Bottega Veneta bags and shoes are almost impossible to keep in stock,” adds Browns’ Petersson. “The Pouch is still the number one requested item and the new padded Cassette silhouette has a waiting list, which is continuing into next season. The quilted pumps and mules never even made it to the shop floor for us: they went straight to our clients via our personal shoppers.”
She continues: “Lee’s designs have substance that, in my view, goes beyond the hype. There may be ‘It’ items from the collection, in particular the bags and shoes, but the construction and look of the garments are highlighting luxury dressing rather than being entirely trend driven. Hopefully this means we are in it for the long run, as long as the brand can keep producing new accessory and footwear shapes on a seasonal basis.”
The simplicity of the designs in new fresh shapes just felt so relevant
Lydia King, Harrods
“Daniel Lee has been able to evolve the footwear and leather goods offer in a direction that is both new and consistent with the ‘intrecciato’ tradition of the brand,” notes Luca Solca, senior research analyst for luxury goods at research agency Bernstein. “The product is great, and it came to the market at the right time. Luxury goods consumers were keen to ‘buy up’ into more expensive brands.”
Lydia King, fashion director at Harrods, describes herself as “enthralled” by the brand’s most recent spring 20 show.
“The simplicity of the designs in new fresh shapes just felt so relevant,” she says. “The aesthetic has been updated for a more youthful customer, still staying true to a minimalist sensibility but now with a twist or edge to each piece.”
She highlights key items from the collection as the ice blue and orange leather coats, slouchy intrecciato bags and unisex slouchy shorts.
While the woven and quilt-effect shoes are hugely popular, King says that sales at Harrods are spread evenly across the whole collection, rather than being confined to just the pieces popular on Instagram.
“The clean aesthetic of the past few seasons feeds perfectly into the new Bottega world,” she explains. “More generally, the consumer appetite for buying well and investing in more timeless pieces that won’t date speaks to the Bottega [style]. Although the design is new, the aesthetic stays true to the woven heritage of the brand.”
Bottega Veneta’s new-look ready to wear is also performing well, as it appeals to a growing consumer appetite for minimalism. Lee’s pared-back approach is a departure from the maximalist, eclectic aesthetic that has driven growth at big-name brands such as Gucci in recent seasons. It is also filling the gap left by Phoebe Philo’s departure from Celine, which has moved in a different direction under its new artistic director Hedi Slimane. Some in the industry have referred to Bottega Veneta under Lee as the “new old Celine”.
“Phoebe Philo’s departure really left a gap for an aesthetic that appeals to that pared back, grown-up fashion consumer,” explains Emily Gordon-Smith, director of consumer product at research agency Stylus. “Lee has neatly filled that space with his minimalist aesthetic.”
“His aesthetic is such a contrast to the maximalism that has been surrounding us and has been what the hot brands have been about,” adds Gordon-Smith. “It’s really refreshing in contrast to the other things that are going on at the moment.”
Furthermore, although brands such as Gucci, Balenciaga and Off-White have found sales success with heavily logoed products,
Lee focuses on working with subtle details that are still instantly recognisable as Bottega – for example, by blowing up the brand’s signature woven leather into oversized versions.
Where the maximalism trend has been replicated and referenced extensively across the high street, Bottega’s minimalist aesthetic, super-high quality and correspondingly high prices – the small Messenger bag starts at £895 and prices go up to £8,445 for a intrecciato woven leather coat – allow it to offer a sense of aspiration and exclusivity, and one that will be harder for the high street to replicate.
“Bottega Veneta has always been really expensive and has always been about subtle luxury and impeccable materials: that aspirational aspect is very important,” says Gordon-Smith. “To have very subtle, beautifully crafted, superior-quality luxury items is really what it’s about.”
She continues: “Smart retailers such as Zara pick up on key items really quickly. But it’s such a minimalist, pared-back handwriting that I think for, many high street retailers, the trend is maybe one they would be cautious of. You really have to get the quality right for it to succeed and it’s a trend that is easy to get wrong.”
Despite the intense buzz, and buyers’ confidence that Bottega Veneta’s success is no flash trend, Lee’s work has yet to show concrete financial success. In parent company Kering’s most recent financial results, Bottega Veneta reported revenues of €549m (£493.2m) for the first half of 2019, down 3.8% compared with the same period in 2018.
Kering noted, however, that Lee’s appointment was the first step in a new phase for the brand, saying: “The action plans put in place are designed to cover the long term.”
“They are aimed at rejuvenating and broadening Bottega Veneta’s customer base, raising awareness of the brand – especially in mature markets – and enhancing the in-store customer experience. Not all of their benefits will be felt in 2019.”
The appointment of a new CEO, Bartolomeo Rongone, who began his role at the start of September 2019, is expected to accelerate this transformation.
Daniel Lee’s designs for Bottega Veneta have defined a moment in fashion. In a sea of maximalism true luxury is in danger of losing its shine to high street copycats. By meeting a demand for subtle yet instantly recognisable luxury, Bottega Veneta has been able to carve itself a new niche.