Review of the first Bottega Veneta collection by Matthieu Blazy
Who is Matthieu Blazy, the new creative director of Bottega Veneta? The 37-year-old French designer, born in Brussels and educated in Brussels, cut his teeth working for Raf Simons – both on his own label and at Calvin Klein – as well as Phoebe Philo at Celine and Maison Martin Margiela, where he designed the crystal-charged masks that pop culture baron Kanye wore on tour in 2013. As far as resumes go, he’s basically a presidential candidate. For the past two years, Matthieu has quietly run Bottega Veneta’s design studio, where he helped Daniel Lee relaunch the house as a fashion destination with a focus on viral accessories. Like his partner Pieter Mulier, Alaïa’s creative director, he’s a designer who’s been a behind-the-scenes powerhouse for years, but shy and anonymous to most consumers. But his time has come. Stepping into the limelight, he explained after his first show at the company’s headquarters in Milan: “I really feel like it was the right time and I feel safe enough for it now. I know how to do my job, which is a work.”
Bottega Veneta is one of Kering’s crown jewels, so this work is important. Matthieu started working on the collection late last year and set about thoughtfully developing Bottega’s offering, which must have been difficult given he’s been involved with it for some time. . Nonetheless, he found a way, mostly by making it cleaner, lighter, and more focused on a broader sense of individualism, rather than any given concept or specific reference. In many ways, it felt more approachable – though the extraordinary levels of craftsmanship lifted it even further into the fashion stratosphere. “The idea was to bring back some energy, a silhouette that really expressed movement, because Bottega is a bag company, so you’re going to somewhere, you’re not staying home,” he offered as an explanation of the collection. “Luxury in motion.”
Essentially, this was a collection about craftsmanship – and before you were afraid I’d tell you how the waders and bags were all woven in one seamless piece (they were), or how the colorful Leavers lace dresses were woven on 18th-century looms from 21st-century synthetic jersey (they were), bear with me. Of course, the word “craft,” like the word “luxury,” has become ubiquitous as an antidote to fashion’s reputation as the original sin of unsustainability. However, the genius of Matthieu’s collection was that he explored it in macro and micro proportions. Inevitably there was a lot of leather — but not as you know. The seemingly simple tank top and jeans that opened the show were actually printed nubuck leather, transforming the most basic wardrobe basics into something extraordinary. Even the striped cotton shirts were actually leather, although you can never tell from the photos. It reminded me of that famous phrase by John Keats about seeing the world in a grain of sand.
However, if craftsmanship represents a means to an end, a delicate and beautiful process that requires skill, fashion is all about immediacy of form, silhouette and surface – and it was most definitely a fashion moment. Matthieu is Franco-Belgian, which you can sense by the distinctly Parisian sense of silhouette, borrowed from his time working in French houses and celebrated in three-dimensional glory. Cashmere pea coats, striped cotton shirts and even leather jackets featured perfectly curved backs, inspired by Umberto Boccioni’s 1913 futuristic sculpture, “Unique Forms of Continuity in Space”, of a bronze man marching in flamboyant motion. I’m not sure how Matthieu did it, but the volumes on display were masterful – the kind of thing that makes an archetypal garment spectacular, and therefore timeless. Given how fashion shows are now primarily experienced through forward-facing catwalk imagery, the choice to emphasize the profile was also poignant.
It all came back to that feeling of movement, charging forward in a hurry, which was conveyed by those dramatically curved backs, but also the way the pants were cut higher in the front and lower in the back. to reiterate the idea of marching forward, and the trembling leather fringes that bounced under trapeze skirts and the shoulders of leather dresses. “This collection is essentially a journey,” explained Mathieu. “There are a lot of characters, they all have places to go, they feel pretty free.”
Many of these characters were borrowed from the canon of Italian cinema, and the most striking were the women, who Matthew says are always empowered by sexuality – “even in their nudity”. So despite all the talk of practicality and craftsmanship, there was also glamor and sexiness in the spotlight. Thank God. Paired with metallic boots and velvet opera gloves were sequined dresses with chiffon feathers and even a pair of embroidered nipples on the lingerie-style bustiers – the kind of extravagant dresses that come to life when they dance. Soft bags suggested she might be sleeping more. And come to think of it, the shirts and thigh-high boots suggest she’s done it before.
If he won’t say it, Matthieu loves fashion, his collection of vintage pieces and his encyclopedic knowledge of clothing and textiles (at Margiela, a collection riffed on 50s ball gowns, chopped Poiret exotics, Peking Opera costumes, Art Nouveau curtains, Frank Lloyd Wright textiles, Bauhaus tapestries) is there, even if you can’t see it. Sometimes it can, in the case of bright orange faux fur shoes and colorful, textured knits. But really, it all comes down to that opening look of a tank top worn with jeans, Matthieu’s tabula rasa New New Bottega. True fashion is about the cultural significance of clothes and what can be done with silhouette and surfaces. Here’s the easiest the dreaded word “craft” — and indeed “luxury” — has looked in a long time.