It’s rare that a newbie at a brand manages to fire up aspirations and stir envy in their debut period — fanfare often fades fast after the hype of the show season. Yet Daniel Lee, the thirty-something former Celine designer and newly ensconced creative head at Italian house Bottega Veneta is doing just that with a visceral, subversive take on real-life chic that’s making us seriously yearn. Could that Bottega Veneta piece be the one?
What the Bradford native and Central Saint Martins graduate is bringing to the now very-loaded luxury arena is a substantial and powerful vision of elegance that belongs to the world today, not the romanced yesteryear. He has a serious career trajectory as head of ready-to-wear at Céline and prior to that Maison Margiela and Balenciaga.
Lee has a sense of the unexpected, where his predecessor Tomas Maier spent his 17-year stint revelling in the artful and decorative. The new BV might manifest in the slanted edge of a pair of guillotine-toe sandals, in a scoop-neck body-skimming jacket with a fluttering ruffle neckline and gold buttons, in a laser-cut cocoa-brown nappa leather coat dress, or even in the binocular case-shaped Daisey handbag fastened with a gold lozenge clasp.
This is a brand that indulges in tactility — the feel of nappa, airy silk, Scottish cashmere on the skin. The armour-like chain hardware is a fabulous tease. Cue a feminine-masculine blazer, an organza dinner shirt with a quilted satin bib front and raw-edge leather culottes — arguably the cat’s whiskers of the culotte trend that’s careening through fashion.
For men, that insistence on reality translates as leather-piped, flaring black cashmere overcoats (a take on the traditional overcoat style beloved of Italian gentlemen), hip-slung cargo pants and Oxford blue cotton shirts with triangular tab pockets. Lee has a knack for erotic detailing and cuts that give the body ease and sway.
Yet unlike many of the storied luxury brands, Bottega Veneta (meaning Venetian workshop) has a modern heritage. It was established in Vicenza in 1966 and became known for its intreccio or basket-weave leather. Soon came the entrepreneurial Vittorio and Laura Moltedo, who oversaw innovations as the topknot clutch bag and soft hobo bags, and opened up a sumptuous store in New York that attracted the international jet set. Impeccable leather craftsmanship and distinctive shapes gave the brand a real allure. The couple invited collaborators including Giles Deacon and Stuart Vevers to create collections. In 2001 the brand was bought by the Gucci Group, which later evolved into Kering, and the era of the publicity-shy, artistry-focused Maier began.