About a year ago, Bottega Veneta creative director Daniel Lee was faced with a nice-to-have problem: his brand was too popular. At a global moment where fashion designers were dealing with double-digit sales dips and, occasionally, bankruptcy, Bottega was more successful than ever. Their culty accessories and plush loungewear were soaring off shelves—their e-commerce sales swelled in the triple figures. They were so popular, in fact, that they risked cannibalising their own hype. So the notoriously private Lee—a protégé of Phoebe Philo—came up with a solution, drawing down the curtain on the brand’s operations in a bid to recapture the much-needed sense of mystery.

He deleted the brand’s Instagram account, opting instead for an in-house quarterly online magazine, where they traded artfully taken Insta-shots for Travis Scott editorials lensed by David LaChapelle. Then he dropped the regular fashion month circuit for a new kind of runway show, dubbed the ‘Salon’. Rather than show on the traditional biannual fashion calendar—with a front row packed with celebrities, and every moment live-streamed on Instagram—the brand decided to stage a travelling trunk show of intimate, private, with no imagery made available to the public. The first Salon took place last October in London, attended by a small smattering of guests including Kanye West, Neneh Cherry, and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Their phones were confiscated, and images of the show weren’t unveiled until two months later. The second Salon—Salon 02—took place this April in the notorious Berlin nightclub Berghain, to an even more curated roster of guests, among them Skepta, Honey Dijon, and Virgil Abloh.

Now, the brand has finally unveiled the Salon 02 ready-to-wear collection to the rest of the world and, as expected, it was well worth the wait. A tight, 61-look offering, Salon 02 oscillates between pragmatic wearability and balls-to-the-wall opulence, marrying a couture-like approach to craftsmanship with sharp, intelligent design. There are sensible, chocolate brown knit dresses worn with lug-soled rubber boots, liquid silk halter-neck blouses with tasseled ties, and fuzzy cocoon coats. But there are also jumpsuits hand embroidered with up to 4,000 ostrich feathers and hand-dyed in shades of vibrant candy red and and electric blue. A viscos mini dress is made of 6,200 hand-applied, laser-cut metal sequins, and glass-embroidered gown was embroidered with 31,000 glass sequins. 

During his transformative three years at Bottega Veneta—at the time of his appointment he said his goal was to “waken the sleeping giant”—Lee has become best known for his hysteria-inducing accessories and these were, of course, on show during Salon 02. An update on his chunky rubber boots added a platform heel (perfect for those not quite ready to brave stilettos post-lockdown), and the strawberry pink woven pouches are likely to send social media into overdrive once they’re made available for purchase next month. But the collection also affirmed that Lee’s ready-to-wear packs a wallop of its own. Hand-embroidering 31,000 glass sequins isn’t normal RTW behaviour, particularly in the fast-fashion, obscenely trend driven times we’re living in. With Salon 02 Lee showcased a desire to slow things down, to temper the hype, and create remarkable clothing with longevity. Mission accomplished. 

 

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