Fringe Element Daniel Lee’s for Bottega Veneta work pushes the limits of the pioneer leather brand’s house codes
Daniel Lee was tasked with injecting a youthful, modern cool into Bottega Veneta when he was appointed creative director 2018 having worked under Phoebe Philo at Celine until she exited in 2017. The luxurious Italian leather goods brand seemed ripe to have their understated elegance injected with a bit of edgy oophm following Tomas Maier’s 17 year run during which he significantly revived the brands’ market share and profits.
But times change and so does the audience, especially thanks to Instagram and other social platforms. Lee’s butter-soft pouch bag was the most sought-after handbag (it was wait-listed) in 2019. In fact, he has made his signature on the brand by supersizing the classic Intrecciato leather weave and corresponding classic bags shapes they make from it.
Despite these bang-up hits, there is often a “bread-and-butter conundrum” new designers face entering a brand with a signifying cash cow. As cool as his news bags are, they may not appeal to the mass Bottega consumer who likes her Intrecciato as it existed for decades. Backstage post show Lee told journalists that “definitely it felt like this season was the time to celebrate the more traditional style and scale of Intrecciato going back to where it all began,” adding “I began looking at the softness and thinking about those initial Bottega bags and why they became great in the first place because they came at a time when everything else was structured and hard.” That said even when the weave itself was the regular size, he made a range of sizes from medium shoulder and clutch styles to a massive tote big enough to hold a toddler or big dog just to give the idea of scale.
That softness had Lee explore knits, long ribbed knit cardigan dresses like the kind popularized in the 90s which is never far from the designer’s mind when it comes to design. “I guess because it was the era that I grew up in its that something that is always in my subconscious.” He also explored craft, technique and innovation by using dense “amplified fringe and perverse layers” (according to show notes) that spilled out from underneath the clingy knits and similarly fringed two-tone floor-length fur coats and appeared on aforementioned Intrecciato bags. Double-sided bi-color knits and two-tone was also a theme throughout especially in a group of sequin dresses. Shine came in the form of crystal beading that was kept on the cool side grounded with a modern cowboy boot.
Contrasting the soft flowy knits were slim tailored looks for both women and men’s which was also shown along with the women’s collection. Long fitted topcoats were further cinched by the use of a mini suspender strap in the back of the jacket and worn with a slim leg pant for both men and women with a kick pleat totally killed it. For men, Lee played with scale and proportion in a series of cropped jackets and vests further proving his new vision for the brand.
Lee drove home the point of the classics revisited with a live cellist and violin player serenading models who walked through a digitally reproduced Italian palazzo filled with statues and Roman columns complete with shifting clouds and daylight through the paned windows. It was a pleasant surprise for guests who walked in to find white canvas screen blocking off the runway sections. It was the result of a deep think from the designer.
“I’ve been kind of asking myself lately what is the point of fashion? And what does a relevant artist mean today? I felt what we really need was something quite theatrical,” said Lee, “How fashion can transform you to a different place which is why the space felt very anonymous and bland and turned into something quite beautiful. It was also a set that was completely recyclable and doesn’t leave any physical trace so that we could reduce the impact.” For the set sure, but not the collection.