Stealth luxury is the secret to Bottega Veneta's success, says creative director Tomas Maier

Bottega Veneta creative director Tomas Maier (top) rolled out glamorous metallic gowns (left) for his Fall-Winter 2017 collection and his Cabat bag's weaving technique (above) is now used throughout the brand.
Bottega Veneta creative director Tomas Maier (above) rolled out glamorous metallic gowns for his Fall-Winter 2017 collection and his Cabat bag's weaving technique is now used throughout the brand.PHOTOS: BOTTEGA VENETA
Bottega Veneta creative director Tomas Maier (top) rolled out glamorous metallic gowns (left) for his Fall-Winter 2017 collection and his Cabat bag's weaving technique (above) is now used throughout the brand.
Bottega Veneta creative director Tomas Maier rolled out glamorous metallic gowns for his Fall-Winter 2017 collection and his Cabat bag's weaving technique (above) is now used throughout the brand.PHOTOS: BOTTEGA VENETA

Bottega Veneta creative director Tomas Maier says he goes for quality, instead of hiding behind embellishments

Creative director Tomas Maier of Italian luxury brand Bottega Veneta is not a man who has any interest in half-measures. Now into his 16th year with the brand, the Germany-born designer has made creating unfettered luxury his life's mission, pushing out understated designs rarely found in today's logo-driven, high-fashion world.

When The Straits Times meets him in Milan in February for an exclusive interview after his Fall-Winter 2017 collection walked the hallways of the beautiful Brera Academy, a tertiary fine arts academy, the 60-year-old designer arrives in the refined attire he has become known for: fitted black pants and a black sweater.

His hair is closely cropped, his icy blue eyes intense. He speaks the same language as his clothes - particular and concise, without much elaboration.

He says of his newest collection: "I did not design it with a specific woman or muse in mind. My design philosophy has always been the same, that less is more. I don't hide behind embellishments or flash, which is why the quality always needs to be perfect."

In his Fall-Winter collection, that low-key charm comes across in strong, angled shoulders reminiscent of the 1940s and sharply tailored lapels and smoking coats for both men and women in luxurious double-faced fabrics. Also on the catwalk were glamorous metallic gowns, their tailoring so precise and seams so well-hidden they looked like liquid metal on the body.

Maier's design process always begins with colour - this season, his focus is on pops of bright yellow, burnt orange, dusty blues and pinks - before moving on to material, shape and fit. His mood boards are also as abstract - pictures as diverse as architecture, rocks and even animals.

Bottega Veneta creative director Tomas Maier (top) rolled out glamorous metallic gowns (left) for his Fall-Winter 2017 collection and his Cabat bag's weaving technique (above) is now used throughout the brand.
Bottega Veneta creative director Tomas Maier rolled out glamorous metallic gowns (above) for his Fall-Winter 2017 collection and his Cabat bag’s weaving technique is now used throughout the brand.

He says: "I'm designing with functionality in mind, which is why I want to cater to all skin colours, ages and body structures. There is inclusivity in the collection because I believe investments in luxury should stand the test of time."

It is no surprise then that Bottega Veneta has found deep-rooted success since Maier came on board in 2001. Before his appointment, the 51-year-old brand faced bankruptcy as its intrecciato leather weaving technique had begun to lose global relevance.

In 2001, after the Gucci Group bought over Bottega Veneta, Tom Ford - who was Gucci's creative director at the time - brought Maier on board.

Since then, Maier has had complete creative control over the design for men's and women's readyto-wear collections, alongside houseware, furniture, watches and jewellery.

He has also maintained his own Tomas Maier brand, which runs in comfortable tandem with Bottega Veneta and offers low-key essential pieces at a lower price point.

After years of dismal sales in the late 1990s - before the Gucci Group bought the brand for a heavily discounted US$156 million - Bottega Veneta hit a turnover of US$1 billion in 2012. Revenue last year hit €1.17billion (S$1.8 billion).

The secret to his success at the helm, he says, is commitment to "stealth luxury" - the sort that appeals to a consumer who does not want to be associated with the easy recognition of a conspicuous logo.

One of Maier's earliest moves was to bring back the brand's original slogan: When Your Own Initials Are Enough.

His second was to launch the Cabat bag - a woven leather sack-like bag that features no logos.

It seemed risky to sell a bag without any visible flash for an exceptionally flashy price tag - Cabat bags today start at $10,000 and can go up to $112,000.

But as Maier correctly assumed, there is a market for discreet, carefully crafted luxury.

His uncompromising eye for detail and distinct pleasure in precision means he corrects every design flaw he sees - seams are meticulously hidden and furniture pieces have every bolt pointing in the same direction.

After all, this is a man who, in his 30s, reportedly corrected the asymmetry of his name by editing the "h" out of Thomas.

Today, the Cabat's weaving technique is found on everything from Bottega Veneta clothing to the brand's cutlery, glassware and lamp cords.

When asked about the luxury fashion industry's move towards the see-now, buy-now trend - where items shown on the runway are available for purchase immediately after the show - Maier is resolute in his decision to focus on the finer details of construction versus a quicker turnaround.

"I don't like to possess things and, for me, the beauty of luxury is in the wait," he says. "I think that carefully considering an investment purchase and waiting for it is what is fashionable. Luxury is not about the price tag, but more about how a product holds up over time."

Still, it is his ability to stay grounded to 21st-century sensibilities that is keeping the brand afloat. Last year, it launched its second maison flagship store in Beverly Hills - the first is in Milan - and, in 2015, began offering customisation options.

Last year, the Bottega Veneta store in Ion Orchard was the first in South-east Asia to let shoppers personalise products, such as the iconic Knot and Veneta bags, by choosing from a range of precious leather, including crocodile leather, and adding their initials. Prices start at $1,560 for a customised piece.

Maier says of his move to offer more customisation: "Today's consumers are more sophisticated and better informed and I would like our customers to be able to create pieces that they like and feel comfortable with.

"What I want to achieve is a situation where you don't see the clothes or bags anymore - all you see is the confidence."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2017, with the headline 'Making a statement discreetly'. Print Edition | Subscribe