They say that every cloud has a silver lining and that what appears as a setback can sometimes turn out to be a blessing in disguise. This might very well be the case at Bottega Veneta now.
Daniel Lee, the brand's Creative Director, stepped down in November last year and was replaced by Matthieu Blazy, the brand's RTW Design Director. During Lee's four years at the helm, the brand rose to prominence after being dormant for many years, with annual revenue increasing from 1 billion euro prior to Thomas Maier's departure to 1.5 billion euro. Full-year 2021 results were up 32 per cent from pre-pandemic levels.
Former Celine alum Daniel Lee took over from Maier in 2018. Taking a page from former mentor Phoebe Philo’s book, he boldly moved away from the brand's once Bourgeois and eclectic aesthetic, and established the brand as an “it” brand capable of keeping its finger on the pulse on the fast evolving luxury market. With its “Bottega Green” theme, numerous variations of its signature intrecciato design, and exaggerated silhouettes, the brand managed to keep older fans happy, while winning the hearts of younger audiences as well.
Lee not only resurrected Bottega Veneta, which he referred to as a “sleeping giant,” but also led a series of unconventional marketing activations that repeatedly became the talk of the fashion world – from shutting down its social accounts to launching salon shows and even publishing an e-magazine. At a time when luxury brands were attempting to communicate with consumers, particularly young digital natives, via a plethora of digital and physical channels, Lee chose to go against the tide – turning inaccessibility (or “exclusivity”) into Bottega Veneta's most important asset.
Lee's tenure at Bottega Veneta finally ended with a surprise announcement in November last year that he and Kering had come to a “joint decision” to part ways. Blazy made his debut four months later in Milan. All eyes are now on the 35-year-old Parisian designer, to see if he can keep Bottega Veneta's momentum going.
In recent years, the brand's image has been defined by Lee's personality. The low-key designer avoids social media and is often described by the industry as shy and reticent. Following his departure, there were rumours of key executives and veteran artisans leaving the brand due to clashes with Lee, who was observed as “uncommunicative” in the company. According to industry insiders, Blazy, who previously worked for Maison Margiela and Raf Simons, is more approachable. This internal change could signal an external one for the brand as well, and see it move away from the inaccessible image created by Lee to a more open and welcoming one under Blazy – a “sortie du temple” of sorts.
In terms of design, Blazy, who was once the brand's second-in-command, continues to adhere to the minimalist code that has defined Bottega Veneta in recent years – modern silhouettes interwoven with Blazy's signature aesthetic. However, as with any incoming creative director, he has abandoned elements of his predecessor’s design vision, including the brand's iconic green.
Compared to Lee's debut show, which saw female models clad in dark brown leather strutting down a runway set up in a greenhouse next to Milan's Porta della Pace, Blazy's show packed less of a “wow” factor. Instead, it marked a return to the brand's roots. Set in its hometown of Milan, the show highlighted Bottega’s heritage of elegance and eclecticism. Blazy's new approach for the brand, however, goes far beyond design connotations.
When the pandemic struck, the brand announced that it would no longer participate in Milan Fashion Week and would instead present its new collections via a private salon outside of the traditional system. Since then, the brand has launched collections in London, Berlin, and Detroit – the first two of which were completely private, and for invited guests only. Attendees included Kanye West, Beyoncé, and Honey Dijon, all of whom were prohibited from posting anything about the Salon show on social media.
However, this way of doing things is starting to change. Beyond Blazy’s reveal of its current fall collection in Milan that symbolised a return to tradition, the company has also decided to go a step further and remove the “inaccessibility” that characterised Lee’s tenure. Its new women’s Kalimero bucket bag, which was worn by opening model Paola Manes, was quickly put on pre-sale via digital channels one day after the show. The brand's official site, as well as WeChat and Tmall in the Chinese market, started offering the bag for purchase on 28 February – six months ahead of a typical runway collection’s release date following a show.
The traditional product launch schedule has been rapidly disrupted in recent years. Historically, exclusivity has been the cornerstone of luxury. New collections were unveiled months in advance, and they were then worn by celebrities and brand VIPs before being sold to consumers through various channels. However, in 2016, American brand Ralph Lauren was one of the first luxury brands to embrace the “see-now-buy-now” concept, releasing all 46 looks of its Autumn/Winter collection in September that year and immediately putting them on the shelf.
Ralph Lauren notably said: “Why can’t we deliver in the season that they want it? She doesn’t have to wait, she can go and shop right at the show.” The “see-now-buy-now” strategy not only provides brands with quicker conversions, but also demonstrates an important trend – how a new generation of consumers and their preferences are driving the market.
Leather goods are Bottega Veneta's cash cow, accounting for nearly half of the brand's product range and 71 per cent of its revenue. Lee's previous hits like the Pouch, Arco, and Cassette have helped the brand grow even during the pandemic, so Blazy leveraging the Kalimero bag to kick off his new collection appears to be a natural move.
Unlike the influencer marketing strategy adopted for the launch of the Pouch clutches, Blazy is attempting to reach consumers directly through this “see-now-buy-now” concept that allows them to make a purchase decision immediately after watching the show’s livestream on Instagram, YouTube, and WeChat. As digital penetration grows, the concept of “see-now-buy-now” is evolving – and a variety of brands are jumping on board. For instance, Jacquemus launched its entire “La Montagne” collection on its official site and select retailers following the show.
Nowadays, “see-now-buy-now” offers more than just instant gratification; it is also a way for brands to reach out to consumers, particularly millennials and Generation Z, to demonstrate that they are willing to play by the rules of the younger generation.
Beyond its product offering, Blazy seeks to deliver a more approachable image through the Bottega Veneta’s social practices, and connecting with specific communities to enrich its narrative.
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During Lee's time at the brand, all digital communication channels were shut down, with Bottega Veneta’s only vehicle for communication, aside from its fashion show, being its “Issue” e-zine – curated by Lee himself. The first issue was released in March 2021, and included a shoot by the house-favourite photographer Tyrone Lebon, as well as a fashion editorial styled by artist Rottingdean Bazaar. While aesthetically pleasing, it appeared to be more of a collection of highly visual brand elements brimming with Lee's vision than a digital magazine.
Issue ceased publication after Blazy took the reins. He has, however, continued to explore opportunities in publishing for the brand. This time, instead of being confined to Bottega Veneta's or his personal design aesthetic, Blazy is tapping into the brand's ability to resonate with communities.
Bottega Veneta, as the sole advertiser, helped bring famous gay men's magazine Butt back to life after a ten-year hiatus in February this year. “As a brand, sometimes you want to support something that you simply have a belief in and a fondness for — Butt Magazine is one of those things,” said a Bottega Veneta spokesperson. “For many of us, no matter where we grew up on the globe, it made us feel at home. We hope it can do the same for a new generation.”
The emphasis on community culture appears to be an important part of Blazy's future work as creative director, a move that will not only broaden the brand's narrative but also build bridges with brand enthusiasts and possibly a wider audience.
Bottega Veneta's latest campaign, “Bottega for Bottegas,” debuted shortly after his appointment. The campaign is unrelated to any product. Focusing on the notion of Bottega, the Italian word for “boutique”, the Italian fashion house has chosen to return to its roots by collaborating with local artisans from all over Italy, such as bespoke drum-maker Respighi, paper manufacturer Amatruda, and gin distillery Ginepraio, in order to celebrate craftsmanship while promoting its Italian heritage.
Matthieu Blazy is turning off the “stealth mode" that Bottega Veneta has operated in for several years – from its product launch strategy to its marketing and advertising. Although the brand's social accounts have yet to be restored, he is slowly building up a refined communications approach that focuses on its rich history and heritage.
If there is one thing that the “new Bottega” demonstrates is that brands should not exist in a vacuum – even luxury brands. Brands are built by their communities, be it Generation Z, Italian artisans, or LGBTQ+, and an inclusive approach goes a long way. Consumers want to be heard, felt, and supported, and companies that factor that in are those that will stand the test of time.