The new, new Bottega Veneta

MILAN — For years the fashion world has been whispering about a young designer called Matthieu Blazy, a former student of Raf Simons, Martin Margiela, Celine (under Phoebe Philo) and Calvin Klein (with Mr. Simons). It was, indeed, the most publicized open secret in the industry that no one had ever heard of on the outside. Whenever a big job came up, his name was mentioned, but he stayed behind the scenes.

Until November, at least, when news broke that Daniel Lee, the British designer who had reinvigorated Bottega Veneta, was leaving after less than four years – and would be replaced by Mr Blazy, who had been his second-in-command.

It wasn’t just stepping into the spotlight, it was jumping right into its hot core.

After all, Mr. Lee had turned the legendary, somewhat poised Italian brand into a harbinger of cool. It had everyone obsessed with a very specific shade of pop art green. He had won all kinds of awards. And he had left in particularly murky circumstances, leaving behind a fog of speculation – and that doesn’t even take into account Covid and geopolitics.

Still, Mr. Blazy said backstage Friday after his debut show, “I just felt it was about time.”

So what did he do? He ignored expectations and brought Bottega Veneta home. In more ways than one.

After a trio of distant pandemic shows from Mr. Lee in London, Berlin and, more unexpectedly, Detroit, Mr. Blazy chose to return to Milan, where the company is based, to unveil his line. And not just Milan, but a decrepit theater that will be another Bottega headquarters in the city.

Guests sat on shiny amalgams of old metal straight from the recycling crusher, with black leather cushions on top that later appeared as large clutches on the track. They also happened to foreshadow what was to come, for those who thought about it and not distracted by the presence of “Euphoria”‘s Jacob Elordi in the front row. Mr. Blazy returned to first principles, to rebuild.

He started not just with Bottega’s signature intrecciato, the leather weave that made the house’s name, in the form of thigh-high boots, bags, skirts and loafers, but with a white tank top and jeans. The fact that they are simply made from denim-like leather, and therefore not so basic at all, set the tone.

There was a little something for everyone. Everything looked terribly bourgeois and polished until you looked again.

And I’ve seen, for example, the perfect navy pea coat, but with a bag-like back, cut to curve behind. A navy v-neck sleeveless sheath, the straps padded and rolled just enough to lift like a shrug. An oversized boyfriend shirt, crafted from white leather so supple it looked like cotton, and worn with black thigh-high boots. Full mid-century leather skirts in buttery yellow and lavender, puffed out not by a crinoline, but by an acre of fringe.

There was a lot of leather, often mixed with patched grandparent sweaters. Stylish crombie coats. And for evening, lace briefs with a nude sequin overlay to slip and shine — and, in the latest look, trompe-l’oeil sequin breasts, complete with nipples, which perhaps suggested more than fun was in store.

(Maybe literally in the store? Who knows.)

These were not, in other words, clothes that were going to revolutionize the image of the brand or make us suddenly sit down and feel the urgent need for new pants to express who we are. They weren’t clothes that matched the current streetwear moment (there were no sneakers on display). They were, in many ways, a throwback to the classic Bottega. They didn’t push too hard or try too hard. They suggestedwith a wink and a thumbs up.

The look was old money with new ideas.

Subtlety has gone out of fashion for a few years. Not a bad time, really, to bring him back. There is always a brand insisting that it will be the Hermès of Italy. This show felt like a winner might have arrived.

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