“My mother used to say, I’m a ‘fiend for beauty’,” singer Neneh Cherry explained in a voiceover during the Bottega Veneta ‘Salon 01’ show for the Spring/Summer 2021 season. Her narration, carried on a vibe-y beat, sets a different kind of tone for Daniel Lee’s Bottega, one that is surprisingly intimate and introspective.
One of the most interesting qualities of humanity is that we are the only species on earth that has a concept of beauty, and furthermore, seek beauty out. In the natural world, there might be beautiful animals, but the female peacock isn’t looking at the male peacock and thinking, “Look at the eyelashes on him!” She’s reacting – through evolutionary sexual selection – of the qualities that he has that would make him a good breeding partner. It’s humans that not only define what beauty is (whether those standards are arbitrary or not is definitely up for debate), but who actively seek to align themselves with it. Studies show that even infants will go out of their way to put something beautiful in their line of sight by tilting their heads, craning their necks, or twisting so they can catch a glimpse of it. The idea that we love beauty is beautiful in and of itself.
The idea that we love beauty is beautiful in and of itself.
In many ways, Bottega Veneta has become the standard bearer for beautiful objects in the fashion world, with successes so monumental since Lee took the helm that they were literally pandemic-proof. In the panic-room year of 2020, people were stocking up on toilet paper and ‘Pouch’ bags – an idea that practically defies all logic. According to Business of Fashion, this year, “Bottega Veneta was a standout, with sales surging 21 percent year-on-year amid continued demand for designer Daniel Lee’s revamped designs for the Italian heritage brand. That’s the fastest growth reported by any luxury brand so far this quarter.”
But the thing about beauty is that it’s ineffable. We cannot define the inherent, bone-deep and universal appeal of Bottega Veneta’s collections any more than we could define why big eyes and petite noses are conventionally considered to be attractive. What is evident, however, is that Lee is becoming more and more confident in his ready-to-wear designs as seasons progress.
‘Salon 01’ is evidence that his prowess has reached self-awareness; you can’t be modest after such insane success (although Lee very much remains a humble soul). Take the knits in this collection. Where previous seasons have seen tremendous silhouettes, these are streamlined, focused. They are cut close to the body, and trimmed occasionally in a little flip of fringe. Some of them are slim suits, done in contrasting bouclé finishes that bridge the divide between modern and timeless. They will look as good in Spring/Summer 2021 as they will twenty years from now, or twenty years ago. There is a bounce in the step of his relaxed trousers, and a confidence to his sleeveless knit frocks and boxy tailored jackets.
But this is Bottega we’re talking about, so we have to talk about the accessories. The fabric knits of the clothes get transported over to top-handle clutches in a pastel brigade of confectionary colors, and there are tote versions in the house’s classic ‘Intrecciato’ weave. Shoes are either the iconic square toe, strappy variety, leathery open-toe mules, or crafty and woven sandals. Just in case you thought this was business as usual, there were also latex numbers in the line-up, along with full zip-front dresses and jumpsuits, and one particularly glorious pale salmon pink knit maxi with a fringed v-neck.
The presentation, which took place at Sadler’s Wells theatre in London, attracted an eclectic mix of guests from the art and music world, who surely appreciated both the crafty nature of the collection, and how Neneh Cherry responded to it via the score. In an exclusive quote shared with Savoir Flair, she muses, “The most important thing for me was for the soundtrack and collection to work in harmony. Daniel had an idea that he wanted me to just speak rather than sing, to keep it quite close and intimate as a reflection of the journey we’ve been on this year. I am such a fan of the designs and I am in love with the clothes! So it was such a joy to respond to them through the music.”