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27-03-2008
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Tomas Maier for Bottega Veneta articles
nytimes
Quote:
You’ll Know How Much You Spent

By RUTH LA FERLA Published: March 27, 2008

TOMAS MAIER cultivates tenacity. If a tree in his garden doesn’t thrive, he simply uproots it and replants. If a supermarket tomato is not tangy enough for his taste, he is apt to grow his own. “People like myself cannot get happy,” Mr. Maier mused last week as he sat in the courtyard below one of his namesake stores in Palm Beach, Fla. “I’m always looking for something that is not there.”

During a fashion career spanning more than two decades, Mr. Maier channeled this pursuit of an elusive perfection into designs so low-key and finely tuned that they often flew beneath the radar. Then a half-dozen years ago, he trained his sights on Bottega Veneta, transforming that once-ailing fashion house into one of Europe’s top-selling luxury brands, with annual sales of more than $500 million worldwide.

Today the muted logo-free look that is the brand’s signature is widely regarded as the standard-bearer for a new kind of luxury: subtle, long-lasting and recession-proof. In such a climate, Mr. Maier himself has emerged as a hero, albeit a reluctant one — and, to his admirers, even something of a prophet.

“He’s not one of those in-one-season-out-another people,” said Julie Gilhart, the fashion director of Barneys New York, which carries Bottega Veneta dresses and accessories. “The fashion business has so much of that — so much marketing, so much hype — that there needs to be a spot where that doesn’t exist. He’s definitely the person who has created that spot.”

If he did, it was by cutting against the grain. While competitors were churning out look-alike handbags made of coated canvas, bearing hefty hardware and equally hefty price tags, Mr. Maier perfected his specialty: the Intrecciato series of hand-woven bags, some that take two days of labor to make (compared with about 80 minutes for a standard-issue designer bag). Signature products, devoid of initials, they typically sell for $1,200 to as much as $4,500.

While other designers were producing dart-free baby-doll dresses as if they were so many Fords, he concentrated on deceptively simple, painstakingly constructed styles priced from about $1,200 to $6,000 for an evening dress. The dressmaker touches — ruching, serpentine seaming, hand-beading and elaborate pleats — are recognizable to a small but informed clientele.

His maverick approach has reaped rewards. Bottega Veneta has become the second-highest earner at the Gucci Group, under its owner, PPR, which took control of the brand in 1999. Its clothing and accessories are distributed at upscale stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, as well as at more than 100 Bottega Veneta shops from Moscow to Mumbai.

The Cabat, a sort of woven leather shopping bag that is one of Mr. Maier’s earliest designs, remains in the line, evolving almost imperceptibly from season to season. Even with a stratospheric price tag of as much as $6,000, it continues to attract a following.

To be sure, that following was slow to build. Critics often overlooked Bottega Veneta, and shoppers turned to showier pieces. But Mr. Maier, 51, persisted, imposing his iconoclastic vision on the house.

From the outset, Mr. Maier drew a cult by catering to the type of woman who may buy only one new bag a year — if that. “She will ask herself, ‘Do I really need all this stuff that’s disposable?’ ” he said, adding ringingly, “The answer is no.”

That statement is heresy, he knows. “When I started to talk like this, people thought I was nuts.”

But fashion has caught up with Mr. Maier, whose subtle aesthetic and considered approach to design speak to a powerful niche.

Faced with a recession, affluent consumers “don’t want to be screaming luxury right now,” said Milton Pedraza, the chief executive of the Luxury Institute, a research group in New York. “They don’t want something flashy that everybody else has. They are looking for unique handcrafted things that can’t immediately be reinterpreted at every level of the marketplace.”

A 2007 consumer survey by the Luxury Institute lent substance to that observation. Respondents, Mr. Pedraza said, placed Bottega Veneta in the first tier of luxury brands, ranking with Hermès and Vera Wang among the top three in consumer recognition and approval.

Those consumers are shopping for “sustainable luxury,” said Ed Burstell, a senior vice president at Bergdorf Goodman. Instead of buying a $1,500 handbag that may be indistinguishable from versions selling for one tenth of the price, they may part with several thousand dollars for a piece that looks durable and worth the splurge. Yes, those shoppers represent a minute portion of the population, but their devotion has helped build the brand. The leather goods account for 82.3 percent of the company’s sales.

Those values are in keeping with the original aims of the house. In the mid-1960s, Bottega Veneta was among a handful of small leather-goods makers setting the standard for Italian craftsmanship. In the 1970s, its intricately woven rustic-looking designs were sufficiently identifiable to inspire the company’s slogan, “When your own initials are enough.”

But by 2001, when the Gucci Group bought the brand for roughly $200 million, its standards had eroded. The company was bankrupt, said Domenico De Sole, Gucci’s former chief, its 21 stores selling flashy but otherwise unmemorable leather goods. That year Tom Ford, then the creative director of the Gucci Group, hired Mr. Maier, who had designed for Hermès and Sonia Rykiel, to restore the luster of the brand.

“It was probably one of the worst moments in the economy,” Patrizio Di Marco, the president of Bottega Veneta, recalled. The post-9/11 recession “injured an industry that is usually resistant to economic downturns,” he said.

Despite the sagging market, Mr. Maier stuck to his ways. With the blessing of Mr. Ford and Mr. De Sole, he ignored a few cherished marketing precepts, refusing, for instance, to follow the widespread practice of turning out a successful bag in three sizes and adjusting the prices accordingly. “If the bag is right, one version is enough,” Mr. Maier insists to this day.

At other companies, where the creative director holds less sway, he might have been out in a season, Mr. De Sole said.

Conscientious almost to a fault, Mr. Maier will not make pieces that are strictly for show. “I never design for design’s sake,” he said. “You don’t put things on the runway and then not sell them at the store. Women hate that.”

Unlike high-end competitors, many of whom manufacture in China, the company under his direction continues to makes bags, clothing and jewelry in Italy. A furniture collection is also manufactured in Europe.

At times Mr. Maier encountered opposition. Andrew Preston, his companion of 20 years and a partner in the two Tomas Maier stores, acknowledged that the designer had to overcome a certain amount of skepticism. “He doesn’t believe in the quick fix and the gimmick product,” Mr. Preston said. “People in fashion found that a bit odd, because this is a disposable business, generally.”

Looking back on his career, Mr. Maier prides himself on taking the long view. “I’ve always been such an outsider,” said the designer, the son of a successful architect in Germany. Growing up in the small town of Pforzheim, in the Black Forest, he sat at his father’s drafting table and accompanied him to building sites, evolving an eye for line and form, and learning patience.

A degree of asceticism informs his work and even extends to the clothes he wears, monochromatic ensembles, many of his own design. A reluctant pinup, Mr. Maier cultivates a monkish look, his hair close-cropped, his chin stubbled, his lips compressed. And like a proper friar, he shuns the limelight.

You will not find him out partying with the Beckhams or recovering from his excesses at some boutique rehab. When he is not in Italy monitoring production, he is minding the Tomas Maier stores, the first in Miami Beach and the latest in Palm Beach, which opened in November. At other times he can be seen taking a spade to his flower beds, often as early as 6 a.m.

Sure, he allowed, fashion thrives on a star system, catapulting last season’s unknown into the celebrity stratosphere, “and then, who knows ...” He trailed off, then brightened. “I don’t think you need to be like that,” he said. “In any case, I don’t want it.”

Is his demurral self-protective? “People are very fickle,” Mr. Maier said. A canny glint in his eye, he added, “If you’re never in fashion, you are never out.”

Chago Akii-bua and Brian Jones
STEALTH WEALTH Tomas Maier appeals to a tiny but affluent market.


Chago Akii-bua and Brian Jones


Claudio Gallone/Getty Images, for The New York Times
A RELUCTANT HERO, MAYBE EVEN A PROPHET Tomas Maier, the creative director for Bottega Veneta at his office in Milan.


Part of an ad campaign, shot by Sam Taylor-Wood.


Chago Akii-bua and Brian Jones
A dress from the spring collection.

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27-03-2008
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This is great. Karma to you. = )

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Last edited by aldn; 27-03-2008 at 10:54 AM. Reason: typo
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27-03-2008
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One of these days I have to make time to actually go into a BV store, instead of just windowshop.

It's such a detail oriented brand at this point, and in a way it's great that BV and Maier are finally getting recognition outside of the fashion elite.

Every time I see a fake Intrecciato, a fairy dies.

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27-03-2008
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Great article!

PS Just a comment on the bag size issue ... I disagree with Tomas on this, and I actually carry purses I don't carry a Bottega bag, because for me they are either far too big, or far too small. I've told my SA that, but I don't know if feedback like that gets back or not ...

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Last edited by fashionista-ta; 27-03-2008 at 05:34 PM.
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27-03-2008
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bottega veneta was so much different in the early 00s, it was so ghetto and trashy. i loved it







ss01 and aw01, style.com

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27-03-2008
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I really appreciate what Maier has done for the brand. Most pieces are crafted with impeccable skills and sold with integrity. I like his vision and I really hope that PPR won't corrupt what Maier is trying to preserve...even though I have noticed the increasing commercialism associated with the brand...

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27-03-2008
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I love that he is finally getting the attention that he deserves. I am saving up for something Botteg Veneta. Simply because i will not feel as if I am wasting money for buying it.

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28-03-2008
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They used leather for everything! Lol.

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28-03-2008
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I was like who posted those trashy pics? I bet it was Ale....I scrolled up, and of course it was

I love his work at Bottega. The clothes are amazing and the bags clearly have an appeal since the tightly woven leather has been copied all over...of course Bottega didn't come up with this, but heavily influenced it imo. Love Maier's own line as well

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28-03-2008
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^haha

oh wow, i had no idea Bottega had such a diiiifferent image before?!

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28-03-2008
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alejandro View Post
bottega veneta was so much different in the early 00s, it was so ghetto and trashy. i loved it

Yes, I loved what Giles Deacon did for the brand, back then, too (I love Giles' work, in general, in fact!).

I have a BV bag from A/W '01 and it's so different from the typical and current BV fair (which I also like, but in a completely different way), that all the vintage BV and/or Tomas Maier fans I showed it to seemed to think it must be fake (it definitely isn't, as it was bought new from NAP in '01)!
Attached Images
File Type: jpg Bottega Veneta AW '01 Red & Black Bag, ch, medium.jpg (491.2 KB, 2 views)

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28-03-2008
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Quote:
Originally Posted by justlooking View Post
^haha

oh wow, i had no idea Bottega had such a diiiifferent image before?!

Yes, they were languishing (woven leather wasn't big in the late '80s and '90s), so Giles was brought in to modernise the brand (which he certainly did!).

Tomas Maier's very much brought BV back to its roots, though.


Last edited by chloehandbags; 28-03-2008 at 07:42 AM.
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28-03-2008
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fashionista-ta View Post
PS Just a comment on the bag size issue ... I disagree with Tomas on this, and I actually carry purses I don't carry a Bottega bag, because for me they are either far too big, or far too small.

ITA.

I think Maier is totally wrong on that point, too.

I'm incredibly fussy and if the size isn't right, or the strap isn't long enough, or whatever, I'll pass (however much I like the design, visually).

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28-04-2008
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Divine invention (title of article)
I thought to put this section about Tomas Maier here, couldn't find a thread devoted to the man himself, this comes close enough! :p

Source: Australia Harper's Bazaar May 2008
Photographed by Greg Kadel
Scanned by me


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28-04-2008
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Wow, it's amazing how far Bottega had come. I didn't actually know much about the brand's history and I was totally like :O when I saw those pics from the earlier collections. I really love BV. I love its subtle elegance unlike those other brands which are just too over the top and very in your face.

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