Daniel Lee and Bottega Veneta parted ways last month, yet before we see Matthieu Blazy’s debut in February, there’s Lee’s resort 2022 collection which is the essense of his work for the brand. Development-wise, the collection predates the spring outing – Salon 03 – that took place in Detroit in October. The ideas here are much more precise and will definitely appeal to the New Bottega fans who will symbolically buy Lee’s final designs. It’s bright and upbeat, awash with juicy citrus and berry shades, and cut in rich, touchable textures. Not quite hedonistic but close; it’s a wardrobe for good times. In place of the directional tailoring that has distinguished preceding collections here, there was denim and corduroy, but done the Bottega Veneta way, meaning that the denim is knitted with jumbo stitching, and the corduroy comes in acid colors. Another no-brainer item that got the house treatment is the puffer; quilted on the bias in glossy orange and Hockney blue leather, it’s no run-of-the-mill jacket. If coming at everyday items with an elevated touch was one part of the Bottega Veneta story under Lee, the other was to emphasize high craftsmanship—to make things at a couture-like level without bending to couture-ish propriety. The hand-crocheted and -beaded dresses here belong to that rubric, even though they’re designed in the bare, easy shapes of beach cover-ups. Likewise, the intarsia shearling bathrobes. A dress underneath one of the robes, in a smaller version of the coat’s interlocking pattern, is cut from classic swimsuit material; together they really do channel the Miami-in-December vibe. And now the big question: after three years of Lee’s reign, which was cut abruptly, where will Blazy take the brand?
Early on in the pandemic, Bottega Veneta announced a new show model: Milan was out, and off-schedule, salon-style shows were in. Creative director Daniel Lee would take his collections on the road and engage with both local talents and local audiences in the cities where the brand posted up. First was London, his home base, last October. A show at Berlin’s Berghain nightclub followed in April. Salon 03 (read: spring-summer 2022) was staged at Detroit’s Michigan Theatre, a 4,000-something-seat movie palace built amid the city’s spectacular automotive-fueled boom in the 1920s that was converted into a parking garage during its even more spectacular 1970s bust. Mary J. Blige and Lil’ Kim were among the stars who jetted in to watch. From New York, a planeful of reporters, magazine editors, and stylists, plus the young designers Peter Do and Hillary Taymour, made the trip too. For many, if not most of them, it was their first time in the Motor City. Curiosity about Detroit, and about what Lee and company could get up to there, were the attractions. “I’m obsessed with Detroit,” Lee said after the show. “I first came here six years ago and fell in love with the place. I’m from Leeds; it’s the industrial heartland of the U.K., and Detroit being the industrial heartland of America, I feel this kind of connection.” Then there’s the music thing: “Detroit really is the birthplace of techno, and techno was the music that I was growing up to and going out to. I wanted to use my position to shine a light on all of that.” The day’s events included a culture tour that made stops at the mid-century Hawkins Ferry House in Grosse Pointe; the world’s first and only techno museum, Exhibition 3000; and the studio of furniture designer Chris Schanck, who is among the Detroiters who contributed to Bottega’s three-month pop-up shop at a decommissioned firehouse in the city’s Corktown neighborhood. The techno creatives Moodymann and Carl Craig were responsible for the sonic components of the show. Lee has made a strong impression in his three years at Bottega Veneta. Fashion’s first-movers were quick to pick up his softly constructed Pouch bag and wear his square-toed heels, and the trickle-down effect has been noticeable from the accessories floors of high-end department stores to the high street. That hemlines have risen and fashion has turned toward sexier silhouettes are arguably part of the Lee effect too. Given his choice of venue, he said he asked himself, “What’s American?” It was definitely the sportiest collection he’s shown so far, with tennis whites, dark-rinse jean jackets and skirts, and tracksuits engineered in a crosshatch check knit meant to imitate the house signature intrecciato motif. A pair of white dresses had the 1950s halter-neck va-va-voom of Marilyn’s famous Seven Year Itch dress, only Lee paired them with sneakers. In spite of the sportswear and workwear influences, there was a lot of interest at the level of the fabric. “For me,” said Lee, “Bottega Veneta is really a house of technique.” The season’s elevating, couture-ish details came in the form of intarsias and embroideries of a Tyrone Lebon photograph of Mica Argañaraz circa spring 2020 in nothing but Bottega’s sparkly pumps – a clothes-as-canvas kind of proposition. And much of the outerwear was shot through with metal threads, which gave the anoraks and blouson jackets and the pants they were worn with the glossy color and kinetic dimensionality of John Chamberlain’s old car sculptures.
Daniel Lee‘s autumn-winter 2021 collection for Bottega Veneta, which went public just yesterday, makes me wonder if the designer’s vision for the brand starts to get over-worked and somehow distorted. The collection was presented months ago at Berlin’s Berghain to a handful of house-friends, and as the label ambitiously went Instagram-less, the mist of mystery should have done its magic. But nothing works here, and I feel like nobody paid attention to yesterday’s release. Is the flop-era of “new Bottega” on the horizon? Looking at the hectic garments, Daniel Lee’s latest line-up is ripe with diversions which rather create a sense of inconsistency. The fringed shearling coats that are this collection’s showpieces look odd, but not good-odd, rather cumbersome-odd. Reportedly, the line-up emphasizes couture-level craftsmanship. The brand’s press notes revealed that the glass dresses here take between 135 and 250 hours to complete; a black and white zebra stripe coat, meanwhile, features 4.3 million stitches on an embroidery machine; and each of these colourful outfits have over 4,000 feathers, all hand-embroidered. It sounds spectacular, but in reality it just gets lost in all the noise (or maybe the foggy look-book shots are unfortunate…). The merging of the “fabulous” and the “functional” might be one of the smartest and most satisfying pandemic after-effects on fashion, but this season Lee gets it wrong.
Daniel Lee and his Bottega Veneta are definitely in a good mood, and look forward to the the joyful re-emergence that might finally arrive this summer-slash-autumn. The pre-fall 2021 outing that (Instagram-less) brand calls “Wardrobe 02” is a bold line-up of essentials sprinkled with a few of the so-odd-it’s-good whimsies that will soon become collector’s items. Yes, the company will be selling the roller skates that Oumi Janta and Malick Bodian model in these pictures. It’s also a branding exercise, with a look book lineup that includes, in addition to the roller skaters, the musicians Skepta, Arca and Neneh Cherry; the dancer Roberto Bolle; artist Mark Leckey; and Central Saint Martins B.A. fashion course leader Sarah Gresty, a friend of Lee’s from his school days. “It’s people who we aspire to see in the clothes,” he told Vogue. “And there’s big diversity, from music, film, dance, theater, art, skateboarding.” As that roster suggests, and as previous Lee runways have told us, there’s nothing conservative about Bottega Veneta essentials. For Lee and his team, clothing is performance. That’s clear from a look that’s feathered in aqua blue plumes from its high neckline to its pants hem, from an intricately beaded knit BV-green evening dress, and from a giant leather belt that twists around the torso like a helix. But it also goes for straight-world-passing tailoring. The tweed suits are boardroom safe, but they’re definitely not boring. “They’re generic in a way. I like this idea of quite banal everyday clothes” Lee said. “But when you see the fabrics in real life there’s always more to [them]: the tweeds that stretch, the beautiful fabric development, the garments that are constructed without linings. There’s a lot of love and attention in the details, and that we really get off on, honestly.” What you can’t miss is the sense of fun Lee and company are having. His feathery party pants are a guaranteed good time and the clearest signal yet that post-pandemic fashion is going to roar indeed. “The world needs fun now. We want to be provoked,” Lee concluded.
Here it is: one of the most anticipated collections of the season, presented publically three months after the usual spring-summer schedule. Daniel Lee came up with the most challenging and intriguing line-up yet, proving that his Bottega Veneta isn’t just about hype accessories. Back in October, selected guests arrived at Sadler’s Wells in London and sat on the stage immersed in light and sound as models wearing Lee’s new collection snaked through the socially distanced chairs. Had the pandemic not prevented it, Lee would’ve liked to take the concept around the world. “It was a bit like going backwards and thinking about how fashion shows began. This idea of salon shows,” he explained. “It felt extremely intimate and much more personal.” Throughout the show, which rather felt like an improvised happening, Neneh Cherry’s musings on style and clothes were the soothing soundtrack. The collection is defined by its tactility. Much of it is knit, sometimes in quite thick-gauge yarns. The jacquards practically pulsate, and there are dresses made entirely from car seat beads or tiny shards of pearlescent shells. Lee studied knitwear at Central Saint Martins, so no wonder why he feels confident with this medium. Case in point is the stretch-knit skirt suit in Bottega green that opens this look book. With its buttoned-to-the-neck cropped jacket and its mini-length carwash hem skirt, it doesn’t so much speak to our shut-in moment as it does gleefully anticipate our reemergence. “I wanted to create a world and a universe that felt very glamorous and done up, but also quite stripped and quite pure,” Lee said. “I’m always interested in this idea, of how you can feel done up and elegant at the same time as feeling comfortable. That’s really my kind of mission for Bottega.” Lee saved his boldest experiments for silhouettes. Many of the dresses are built up at the hips with padding. On a raw linen sundress the padding is hidden inside, but on a series of knit dresses it’s exposed as surface decoration. He explained that they were looking at the Tudor period, Henry VIII specifically. It’s a demanding shape, which will definitely keep the clients surprised and amused. And yes, all this creativity emerged from the early months of the pandemic makes it more impressive. On that subject Lee said: “A lot of us moved to Milan for Bottega, and obviously with the world shut down, all we really have is each other at the studio and the work. It’s almost like a therapy. It gets you through the darkest times because you can completely lose yourself in making a beautiful fabric, a beautiful garment.” So, not everything is becoming virtual, after all.