The Great Outdoors. Burberry AW23

There’s a lot of debating going on whether Daniel Lee‘s debut collection for Burberry was fashion-forward enough. In this patchwork of signature Burberry plaids, outdoor-perfect blanket coats, cozy knits and floor-sweeping English Rose dresses (yawn), it’s hard to seek real fashion novelties – or even witty styling tricks that made Lee’s take on Bottega Veneta so appealing. The new direction at Burberry reminds of the one that Christopher Bailey had for 17 years, in the pre-Riccardo Tisci times. Bailey delivered proper collections that were sometimes cool, sometimes naff variations on the notion of Britishness. No co-incidence that today, Bailey has a mentor-like role for Lee. To be frank, I had no expectations regarding this debut, so I can’t say I’m disappointed. The collection is better than about 80% of Tisci’s work for the brand, but in defense of the Italian designer, he took creative risks that attempted to stimulate Burberry into something more than a brand with classy outerwear.

I think that the brand is about functionality,” Lee told the press after the show. His men’s plaid trousers, with their horizontal zippered pockets, echoed the shape of technical hiking gear; women’s kilts had the casual air of wrapped-around picnic blankets. You might even really be able to go for a walk on the Yorkshire moors in his heavy-duty climbing boots or cropped wellies. The designer well knows the worldwide fashion appeal of the exaggerated accessory. It showed up in a giant trapper hat, in satchels and saddlebags fastened with a “B” clip and dangling multiple fake-fur tails. One of the models wore a hilarious hand-knitted bonnet in the shape of a duck, complete with a beak and dangling red legs. This sort of bonkers English eccentricity is something Lee should definitely expand on. The designer is very serious about branding and exactly how it can radiate fashion appeal far beyond the mere stamping of logos on everything. The evidence is in the message he delivered at this show on the back of his redesign of the Burberry Prorsum medieval knight on a charger. It was blown up like a flag on a white dress. But the main point about it is the color. It’s a vibrant blue. So is the type that Burberry now uses. After Lee’s success-story of Bottega green, is Burberry blue the new “it” colour? Time will tell.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Be Bold. Bottega Veneta Resort 2022

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?

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Detroit. Bottega Veneta SS22

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.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Widly Odd. Bottega Veneta AW21

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.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Celebration. Bottega Veneta Pre-Fall 2021

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.

All collages by Edward Kanarecki.