Above: a rooftop sanctuary for employers
Our arrival at Bottega Veneta’s atelier on the outskirts of Vicenza is veiled in perhaps the thickest morning fog I’d seen on that side of 2016. The Veneto region is reportedly a stickler for drama, this is undeniable, a certain pair of star-cross’d lovers can attest to this. Just the night before, I’d practically made love to a plate of ravioli over a glass of Pinot Grigio in our hotel villa atop a valley, which in its low-season stupor could as well have been my very own Castello. As we peel off the groggy rush-hour autostrade onto a private road that leads up to Montebello Vicentino, I realise we indeed are being treated to a saga of sorts.
The driveway is of stone gravel – with an uncanny similarity that of pebble beaches of Dorset, I note mentally – that coils around a pristinely manicured stretch of grass. Ahead, an unassuming 18th Century villa, in an equally unobtrusive nougat-y texture and hue, posing as a canvas to the feathered shadows cast by the trees in the pearly sunlight. This is not the prologue that I had predicted from the brand’s economic victory and brand status with Tomas Maier at the helm. I wouldn’t be lying if I say I’d half expected a statue of Maier in a ring of perpetual fireworks. There is not a single decorative gargoyle, nor a gleaming logo on a plaque. In a sense, the grandeur is purely in Palladian nature: in the single impressive structure that greets us, strutting dominance in symmetry and organisation. As all great stories go, the good stuff is discreetly hidden in the seams.
The company catchphrase “When Your Own Initials Are Enough” is printed on a wall, standing sentry at the reception of glass and Venetian terrazzo marble. PAUSE for a small confession – I’m usually quite intimidated at this point in the appointment, it’s sort of the same sensation you get when you try sneaking into a club’s VIP lounge you know you clearly don’t belong in. I can verify that each of the A Closer Look articles start off with a little bit of pee escaping me from nervous jitters. But here it’s different, there is a ‘no B-S’ air about the atelier, nothing but a steadfast dedication to the pursuit of fine-quality materials, extraordinary craftsmanship, contemporary functionality and innovative design – the four pillars instituted for the brand by Tomas Maier that consequently introduced a new era in luxury.
“Something simple is always more complicated,” Maier believes, and he is nothing if not an absolutist. His method of expression? Collaboration. There is an unusual and inspired bond between artisan and designer (300+ faculty members, 100 of which are highly-skilled artisans), between Maier and the atelier, and even between the atelier and the land. Little do I know that the atelier receives its juice via 12,900 sq ft of solar panels, an underground reservoir curbs water wastage by 40%, and restoration and construction had all been done with sustainable materials and local labour. To the untrained eye, the high-tech panel on the wall is a thermostat with pictures. To LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification board, the atelier is worthy of the Platinum grade, the first building in the fashion and luxury sector to ever receive. Alas, this is the very essence of Bottega Veneta under Tomas Maier: luxury rooted in responsibility and deliberate artistry.
– Tomas Maier
The design process is equally thorough, and even to this untrained eye it is visible through the ‘vitrine’ that is the villa’s annexe (previously a barn), swathed in natural (glorious Italian of course) light, as we shuffle through the corridors. We’re treated to a collage of creativity and craftsmanship as we pan by stations where prototypes for new designs are magicked under practised hands of highly skilled artisans, as well as eternal classics such as the Lock bag and the unadorned, perennially popular Cabat bag. As a hobby knitter/crafter, it’s hard not to revel at the precisely engineered simplicity is carried out by a pair (or two, in the case of the Cabat) of hands.
In the heart of this all, is the Intrecciato, the leather weaving technique that has come to define the house, much like Rembrandt is remembered for signature use of light, and Manet for his colour sense. Everything is about the product, and the client. The brand marks its 50th anniversary in 2016, 15 years with Maier at the helm, now an apparent understanding that the two are firmly intertwined, like intrecciato. I’m reminded of the anniversary show in Milan just a week past – my first Bottega Veneta show – starring the inimitable Lauren Hutton that had ended in jubilation and a standing ovation (perhaps even tears shed) for Maier and his team.
As I turn to take a last look of the villa it clicks, the impeccable yet impassive façade that greets guests and workers at Montebello Vicentino encompasses everything Maier is about. “Luxury is a point of view, that is more about what you hide than what you show”.
Park & Cube was a guest of Bottega Veneta.
Lauren Hutton (toting the very same BV clutch that she carried in American Gigolo), closes the show with Gigi Hadid