Bottega Veneta’s Matthieu Blazy on Making His Own Rules in the Luxury World

Related Article
Fashion
Balenciaga to Unveil Never before Seen Couture at 'The Woman behind the Dress' Exibition
Read Article
Matthieu Blazy interview
SANDER MUYLAERT | BOTTEGA VENETA

In the excellent HBO show Industry, MP Aurore tosses off a singularly chilling remark to her protege Gus, “Eventually, the world will be one big corporation.” It certainly feels like things are trending that way. With conglomerates swallowing creative industries and brand marketing assaulting the senses from every corner of reality as algorithms flatten the creative landscape, it can feel at times as if we are living in one big product bubble. Does anyone else feel fatigued by it all? Ironically, it’s a brand that has proven to be a life raft in a sea of sameness, offering knife-sharp creative ideas and joyful respite from fashion’s dulled edges.

By a logical stroke, this might seem a counterintuitive idea. But, how better to speak to consumers than in the language they know best in a system built to equate ideology and identity with what you buy? Here is where Bottega Veneta is an outlier. By presenting its creative work in a way that is indivisible from craft, it is like a conduit for something greater than itself; it is the teeming of a dozen skilled hands and the result of a billion synapsis firing to achieve innovation. This ability to identify with something real, which is at odds with the norm in our Age of Homogeneity, doesn’t just feel special, it feels practically rebellious.

Having bucked the traditional system, Bottega Veneta exists in its own sphere. Underpinned by a unique philosophy, Bottega asks, ‘Why can’t a brand be pluralistic? Why can’t it be both expensive and worth it? Practical and artistic? Timeless and modern?’ The company is built on pathos and real values, which lends itself to an outsider’s view on marketing that has nothing to do with social media.

At Bottega Veneta, it’s all about authentically connecting people to craft and the humanistic wonder of luxury.

At Bottega Veneta, it’s all about authentically connecting people to craft and the humanistic wonder of luxury. It’s in the name, after all. Its Creative Director, Matthieu Blazy, argues in favor of this philosophy. In an exclusive interview with Savoir Flair that took place in Paris during the Spring/Summer 2023 season, he asks, “What is luxury today?” Over the course of our long conversation, we strike upon intriguing answers.

Matthieu Blazy interview - Kate Moss
BOTTEGA VENETA

When Your Own Initials Are Enough

When you look at an object – a handbag, a piece of jewelry, a woven belt – do you ever consider the many hands that touched it and shaped it? This historical link to making things with our hands, things that are made to help us survive whatever future might be in store – roofs to shelter us from bad weather, containers to store our harvests, tools to fashion into objects of protection and practicality is what sets humans apart. It’s from this long tradition of handcraft that artisans have passed down human heritage and history.

Blazy reacts against luxury that as he says is “designed for social media.” The purpose of Bottega Veneta is to stand for something real, where its values possess just as much conviction as its craftsmanship. “The chance we have at Bottega is that we don’t have a logo,” he says. “This is part of the history of the brand. ‘When your own initials are enough’. I thought back in the day this was genius. It’s somehow very pop and very modern.”

The purpose of Bottega Veneta is to stand for something real, where its values possess just as much conviction as its craftsmanship.

Bottega Veneta intersected with pop and modernity early in its history. Andy Warhol, during the 1970s, employed a fabulous young Italian woman named Laura Moltedo as his personal assistant at the Warhol Factory. During her tenure with Warhol, she was handed the reigns of Bottega Veneta by her ex-husband Michele Taddei who had launched the Italian leather goods company in 1966. Intrigued by this budding luxury house, Andy Warhol stepped in to creatively direct Bottega Veneta Industrial Videotape, a video that the modern-day advertising world might dub a campaign but acted more as a tribute to Bottega’s rarefied luxury aesthetic and its well-heeled clientele. Meanwhile, the NYC-based advertising agency Peter Rogers originated the line, “When your own initials are enough,” which has survived until now as a mark of the house’s discrete charm. So potent is the statement that it needed no explanation when it was reinstated as the brand tagline in March 2022.

Bottega Veneta Doesn't Play by Luxury's Rules, It Makes Its Own

When it was born, there was a quiet essence to Bottega that recherche Italian women instantly gravitated towards thanks to its iconic ‘intrecciato’ weave. This technique was actually developed out of necessity since sewing machines in the 1960s were not strong enough to puncture holes through leather. Artisans came up with a technique of intricately weaving leather strips to form bag shapes, which turned out to be considerably stronger and more durable than stitched versions.

With this idea, the intrecciato is visually our logo. You don’t need to put branding on that.

Thus, the Bottega signature was born. “We have something that is immediately recognizable [the intrecciato],” Blazy says. “It’s a texture you see from afar and that says ‘Bottega Veneta’. With this idea, the intrecciato is visually our logo. You don’t need to put branding on that. I got lucky to work in a place where something like this exists.” With a quiet transmission of the idea of luxury, Bottega occupies an essential corner of fashion – one that has had few other tenants – which requires alternative propositions for women beyond head-to-toe labels. Blazy’s perspective is that he’s making clothes for the person wearing them, not only for the person looking at them.

Matthieu Blazy interview
BOTTEGA VENETA

This sums up Bottega’s unique position in a single sentence, and immediately brings to mind the opening look of Blazy’s debut collection for Bottega Veneta, which appeared to be a simple white tank and relaxed jeans. However, both of them were made from leather and crafted to appear as cotton fabric for the top and denim fabric for the bottoms. To the touch, they are as soft, flexible, and mimic the textures they resemble so closely that it’s a shock to understand the level of development it took to make something so brilliantly simple. “The idea is not just trompe l’oeil,” Blazy explained. “It goes further. It’s about pushing a kind of technology of savoir-faire. That is true of the whole show. It doesn’t scream ‘image’, it broadcasts ‘luxury’, and a form of luxury only known to the person that wears it.”

His first show for Bottega, which debuted during the Fall/Winter 2022 season, continued the ‘New Bottega’ proposition, and one gets the sense that many of the ideas we saw from the house before might have been Blazy’s to begin with. What has changed is the lived-in feel of the designs. The Bottega woman is a woman who is going places both figuratively and literally, she is on the move, she is traversing the globe, she is unstoppable and unstoppably chic, a woman that many would aspire to be. “Bottega Veneta is in essence pragmatic because it is a leather goods company. Because it specializes in bags, it is about movement, of going somewhere; there is fundamentally an idea of craft in motion. It is style over fashion in its timelessness. That is part of its quiet power,” Blazy states.

Matthieu Blazy interview
BOTTEGA VENETA

Quiet Luxury

Although understated luxury might be the foundation upon which Blazy and his masterful atelier build collections, Bottega pieces make a pronounced impression. In his debut collection, there was a series of joyful leather skirts stitched inside with a wild flourish of fringe that undulated forward with every step the models took. They were mesmerizing, and the Internet gushed over them, affectionately naming them ‘muppet skirts.’ They also cost $29,000, a mark that Bottega knows the worth of its high-level craftsmanship. The volume was also turned up on shimmering slip dresses, thigh-high intreccio boots, and fur coats embedded with molten gold shapes.

At first, audiences were optimistic but cautious about Blazy’s direction for the brand. It didn’t matter to him. “We don’t compromise on what we show,” he stated. “Take the tank we made. It was really funny. I heard many people say, ‘It’s way too simple’. I was like, ‘It’s the opposite.’ Some people will never get the message or think it’s too intellectual. But, people ended up embracing it! The job is not about the day of the show. It’s about the six months before that. If the results are appreciated, well then, it’s obviously nicer.”

Next, we arrive at his sophomore show. From “High Fashion Twitter” and Discord channels to fashion forums and social media comments, it garnered some of the most fervent Internet buzz we had ever witnessed. When it comes to collections, there is always talk of cohesion, especially whether or not a designer presented a cohesive vision. At Bottega Veneta, the cohesive idea was diversity. “The world has changed. It’s more accepting of individuality, which was a big idea behind the show really. When we started talking [about the show] we kept on talking about uniqueness,” Blazy said.

The world has changed. It’s more accepting of individuality.

He investigated looks that work for one woman but not another and gave identity to women at different stages in their lives. Kate Moss, for example, wore a flannel and jeans (actually both made with tremendous complexity from leather). “At the end of the show, it’s people who tend to edit this idea better than you,” Blazy said, exhibiting their individual preferences in their chosen style of dress. “That’s how you connect,” he surmises. “We are exploring different characters and then we bring them together. That’s why the set we built was like bringing the world into a small room.”

Matthieu Blazy interview
BOTTEGA VENETA

The set was designed by Gaetano Pesce, the famed Italian architect and industrial designer. Pesce’s flooring at the Bottega Veneta show resembled a world map, a raw spill of technicolor resin whose borders bled into one another. They were actually abstractions of Gaetano’s own face. Lining the space were rows of brilliantly marbled chairs, each individually and artistically appointed with smiley faces, phrases, and watercolor splotches. “We are all unique. So [Gaetano] made those chairs, and every one of them was unique. That’s the beauty of what we are or what we are not sometimes. The idea of the show was a form of pluralism,” Blazy mused. From the rainy streets outside in Milan, walking into the vibrant show space was like landing on a distant planet.

The chairs from the show are now being sold at Design Miami because Blazy saw them as fitting into Pesce’s art world more than fashion’s and wanted to respect that. He himself is a longtime art and furniture collector, and he is drawn to beautiful and functional objects that don’t necessarily go together. There is an eclecticism in opposites that attracts him. His taste and eye were honed because he was raised around auction houses by his parents (a mother who is a historian and a father who specializes in art), but also by his relationships with Raf Simons, with whom he worked for many years, and Pieter Mulier, who now helms the Alaïa brand.

Where It All Starts

People are seeking to understand Blazy within the scope of Bottega Veneta’s designs, but he is the first person to admit it all comes together because of his intimate work with his atelier. He has a wonderful reputation as a good listener with a strongly attuned design intuition. While some brands create elaborate narratives behind shows, a Matthieu Blazy collection might not start from a huge overarching idea but may begin with a tiny detail. “Sometimes, we start from a very small scrap of fabric or a finishing, and then the idea extends beyond it and goes to the silhouette,” he describes.

The way he works with his atelier comes naturally to him after spending decades in multiple roles within the industry. “I was a junior, I was an intern, I worked within the atelier,” he lists. “I think I know what it takes to build up a collection because I occupied many different worlds. I think there is a dynamic in the process that I really understand.” But he is no “designer dictator”. In fact, he believes that clear communication and respect are not enemies of good ideas. In fact, he thinks the opposite. He seeks input that is honest and not fear-based. “Building your collection is always an adventure,” he says, “there are so many moments where things could go wrong. It’s a system where the process is complicated enough that we can try to improve and make it better.”

I think I know what it takes to build up a collection because I occupied many different worlds.

Blazy is incredibly hands-on inside the studio and with the design team. He describes a “normal day” as being inside the studio, going over what some of the designers on his team have proposed, interacting with people all day. It’s a job he immensely enjoys. Since some of the ideas in the development stage take a lot of testing and trial-and-error, Blazy acknowledges that it takes a village to perfect a single design. “I have always worked inside the atelier,” he says. “For example, when I was at Margiela, my office was in the atelier. At Céline, Phoebe [Philo] encouraged the designer to work directly with the atelier, even if it’s to make something very quick. It doesn’t have to be perfect to express an idea.”

The Luxury of Connection

Now we have arrived back to the question of luxury, and what it is today. When designing for a global market, many of the world’s biggest brands set out to appeal to all consumers, which is an enormous proposition given just how different global markets can be. This is not the Bottega method. “Everyone can do whatever they want and if some of those people want to recognize themself in what we do at Bottega, it’s fantastic. If they don’t, fantastic as well, you know?” Blazy quipped.  When asked if he cared about the approval of the fashion establishment, Blazy chuckled and said, “It’s always nice when people tend to understand your job. It’s pleasant when everything that we have tried to build up is suddenly understood.”

Matthieu Blazy interview
BOTTEGA VENETA

There is a clear-eyed confidence to Blazy’s approach, one that he doesn’t mind digging deeper into. In the world of high fashion, he sees room for all manner of voices and ways of expressing design aesthetics. “For me, fashion is a game and it’s a conversation,” he says. “Not all brands add to the conversation in my opinion, but because they’re there, it gives variety.” He sees room for everyone at the table: “If fashion was just about a brand like Bottega, we would live in a very, very boring world.” Furthermore, he doesn’t mind one whit if some people aren’t into what he’s doing. “I also get that some people don’t like Bottega or don’t recognize themselves in what we are doing, and they prefer to go to the logo. That is fine for me,” he says.

In other words, to each their own. It’s a refreshing idea: instead of trying to be all things to all people, Bottega has carved out a lane so significantly and recognizably its own that it doesn’t have to look over its shoulder at what other people are doing. Infamously, Bottega Veneta has no social media presence, which could be seen as a drawback. However, the brand sees it as an opportunity to do something different. For Blazy, ‘The Square’ – a project Bottega hosted in Dubai for Ramadan in 2022 – is the ultimate example.

“The approach was way more local, not global,” Blazy said. It was distinctly devoid of products and branding was kept to a minimum – save for interiors saturated in the now-iconic Bottega Veneta ‘parakeet green’. “We asked ourselves, ‘Can we do something that’s not about products, and is just an experience that can be shared?’” he continued.

“The essence of ‘The Square’ is curation. I don’t know if you really curate people, but you curate interests among them, which is what we did,” Blazy described. “We had them bring their knowledge to share.” The event featured an emotional poetry reading by British-Sudanese activist, basketball player, and poet Asma Elbadawi, who read from her book Belongings, a goosebump-inducing acapella vocal performance by Mustafa the Poet, and a screening of Yemeni filmmaker Shaima Al Tamimi’s short film Don’t Get Too Comfortable. Meanwhile, Dubai’s hottest omakase restaurant Moonrise and its French-Syrian Chef Solemann Haddad constructed the food program. Blazy draws a parallel between the event’s majlis and piazzas in Italy, where people gather together. For him, it’s a cross-cultural conversation that relies on a common foundation of gathering and togetherness.

It’s also a concept they plan to continue, with Beijing and São Paulo as the next cities. “Bringing people together to meet, talk, and share is universal,” he said. Since Blazy arrived, there have been other initiatives that resonated deeply. The first was the ‘Bottega for Bottegas’ for the festive season, which featured 10 specialized Italian artisan brands – from chocolatiers and ceramicists to soap-makers, and another was its partnership with (the world’s best bookstore) The Strand in New York City. “This is a good example of how we connect with people,” he says.

Matthieu Blazy interview
STEPHEN SHORE | BOTTEGA VENETA

In creating its unique universe, Bottega has established a few strong pillars. First, it exists for people who wear the clothes, not only for the people who look at them. Therefore, its form of luxury is about the sensuality of touch, the feeling of extraordinary craft, the longevity and durability of hand-made designs. It has recently leaned into this idea even further with the launch of the ‘Certificate of Craft’, its lifetime warranty on its iconic bags. Bottega sees a multi-generational future for its products, passed down from mother to daughter, father to son, over many lifetimes.

Second, it has carved a communication form that eludes typical social media marketing. It creates its collaborations, partnerships, and campaigns within the context of communication, humanism, and applied arts. “The approach is definitely more spirited and physical,” Blazy describes. In bucking the mass system – which luxury has tended to embrace more and more – its marketing is bespoke and crafted for the specific markets it speaks to. In a league unto itself, Bottega Veneta has invented its own language of luxury.

Be in the know.
Every day, receive Savoir Flair's top articles straight to your computer or smartphone. It's never been easier to stay up-to-date on the latest fashion, beauty, and lifestyle stories.
Click to get the latest news on your device
You can stop notifications at any time.
Unsubscribe from our notifications
Click to unsubscribe from notifications on this device.
Be in the know.
Every day, receive Savoir Flair's top articles straight to your computer or smartphone. It's never been easier to stay up-to-date on the latest fashion, beauty, and lifestyle stories.
Connect using Facebook Messenger