By Nick Remsen
When Bottega Veneta’s creative director Daniel Lee was appointed to the label’s helm, much was unknown. He was not a starry name pulled from another house; he was not an independent moniker graduating from eponymous line to major global brand. Industry-watchers and enthusiasts knew he had an impressive background—particularly with his time spent under Phoebe Philo at her much-loved (and, for many, much-missed) tenure at Céline—but what he would do remained anyone’s guess.
The hire, and the build-up, was all the more weighted considering Lee inherited a nearly 20-year track record of ultra-subtle yet equally luxe design vernacular, established by Bottega Veneta’s former lead Tomas Maier. Lee’s big debut—Fall/Winter 2019, after a smaller, testing-the-waters pre-collection—made it clear that he was putting the house on a new path. It also defined Lee’s aesthetic as totally his own and, shortly thereafter, as hugely influential. He’s a knitwear specialist who demonstrated comfort in a sort of textural minimalism (enlarging Bottega Veneta’s proprietary intrecciato weave, for example) along with an emboldened, sleeker air of sensuality. Square-toed, puff-effect leather heels, in one instance, took the world by storm. Unlikely color combos, like mint satin complementing rich deep brown leathers and weighty gold chains, were also introduced.
Nowadays, Bottega Veneta’s packaging is a commanding Kelly-esque green, a tone that Lee has kept in consistent play throughout his work so far. What makes Lee’s vision so appealing is just how enigmatic both the maker and the product are. Known to be soft spoken, he doesn’t seem to be looking for public persona clout. Bottega Veneta actually recently deleted its social media platforms entirely. (And yet, as testament to Lee’s popularity, there is a highly-followed unauthorized account on Instagram called @newbottega that tracks the company’s every move.) He’s a graduate of London’s rigorous Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design, where the sort of unofficial mantra is that the work always comes first (this writer is also an alum), and Lee’s focused and private tactics have yielded not only impressive outcomes, but also an air of conundrum. Who is this handsome, eccentric mystery man creating handsome, eccentric clothes that fashion consumers so hungrily want?
Lee’s Pre-Fall 2021 collection embodies the paradox. Dubbed “Wardrobe 02,” the lineup leans into yet more tonal interplay (Bottega’s vivid green is worked onto marabou feathered trousers, for example) and, somehow, notable yet understated silhouettes. From textured double-breasted blazers to heavy, funky shearlings to yet more big gold chains, the collection is less something new than it is an extension of the signatures Lee is clearly establishing.
How, though, he makes such luxury items appear as equally plush as they are subversive is a talent entirely his own. This is the key essence of Bottega Veneta right now: Lee has engineered his house so that one can’t help but feel some sort of strange, frisson-edged magnetism in which you see something familiar yet it stirs up desirability and excitement. It’s a genuinely powerful skill; you’re in on a secret that’s hidden in plain sight.