There is, I imagine, a lot of pressure that comes with being the hottest fashion designer in the world. Granted, it’s a nice problem to have – but this industry is notoriously fickle, with people falling in and out of favour quicker than you can utter tres chic. Which is to say that Bottega Veneta’s Fall/Winter 2020 show had a lot riding on it. Celine alum Daniel Lee had woken the “sleeping giant” (his words) and transformed it into the most coveted label in the industry, seemingly overnight. An accessories wunderkind – this was his remit under Phoebe Philo, before he was promoted to director of ready-to-wear – he developed a range of strappy sandals and puffy pouch handbags that sent even the most reserved fashion editor into an uncontainable frenzy. The FW20 season was a crossroads – an opportunity to keep up the momentum while also paving a longer-term vision for the brand.
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Without doubt the most anticipated show on the Milan schedule, the Bottega runway was refreshingly low-key with a relatively small crowd seated in the spacious, cream-walled expanse of the Palazzo del Ghiaccio. The collection was similarly pared-back. Yes, there were hysteria-inducing accessories – large intrecciato woven clutches and thick, rubber-soled boots – but the clothes were the true highlight, with an unequivocal focus on wearability.
The suiting, across mens and womenswear, was made with stretchable fabrics – so the pieces would “move with the wearer”, as Lee told press at the re-see. Knit and jersey dressing also featured prominently. Figure-hugging day dresses were worn with large fringed shearling coats and knee-high flat leather boots. Longer-length ribbed cardigans, which popped with the addition of oversized gold statement buttons and a knitted dress with an embedded chunky chain neckline, available in beige and dark brown, were undeniable highlights.
The colour palette strayed on the conservative side – a lot of navy, beige and black – with the notable addition of chartreuse green and watermelon pink, which added refreshing pops of colour to simple black suits. The most obvious trend to come out of the collection was fringing – which appeared in almost a quarter of the 59 looks. Clothes made for a woman in motion – to be worn on the go, not purchased for the sake of an Instagram post. The resonance of that idea may have been somewhat stunted in the last six months – when global movement ceased entirely. But the collection wasn’t available then. It is now, and as the world starts to slowly shift back to ‘real life’, clothes that move alongside us feel like a small celebration of the freedom we once took for granted.
When the relatively young, 33-year-old Lee took over from Tomas Maier, who had served as Bottega’s creative director for 17 years, in 2018, a large part of his remit was to raise the appeal of the brand’s ready-to-wear. In this he is certainly succeeding – wholesale orders of RTW had increased three-fold by 2019, and are likely to increase again for the FW20 season.
The appeal of those clothes is something of a paradox – at once timely and timeless. With our increased focus on sustainable practices and for-life shopping, the modern consumer would be hard-pressed to find a better investment than a Bottega Veneta trench or black trouser. Even the more trend-driven pieces, like the statement boots, have a season-less quality to them – verging on trends without falling victim to them. This is by design. Lee, part of a millennial generation with a deep-rooted anxiety about the future of the planet, says he “thinks a lot” about sustainability. “I want to make things that last forever, I’m not interested in anything less,” he said during an interview in October 2019.
That ethos is resonating – while many major industry players grappled with bankruptcy and flailing retail results during lockdown, Bottega’s online sales tripled. Which only goes to prove the simplest maxim of business – when you build something wonderful, the people will come.
Photography: Charles Grant
Fashion Direction: Kim Payne
Hair: Travis Balcke
Models: Gabrielle Gecso / Chadwicks & Carol Zhu / IMG