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The Maier Of Italian Fashion: Tomas Maier Of Bottega Veneta

SOME 11 YEARS into his role as creative director of Bottega Veneta, Tomas Maier has established a keen understanding of his audience. Slowly, carefully, he has used that understanding as a tool to build the equivalent of a brand skyscraper—taller, bigger and better. But it’s not been without the precise control—ever-so-evident in his designs—that Maier accomplished such a feat. In fact, the German-born designer credits a building block approach for the brand’s steady growth.

 “The challenge is to remain true to the brand’s identity regardless of trends, and I think we’ve done that.”

“I often say that Bottega Veneta has grown by letting one thing lead to another; [meaning] that we have always been very careful to introduce new products in keeping with the desires of the customer and the aesthetic sensibility of the brand,” he said.

And isn’t it so obvious.

One needn’t really study much further than his impeccable persona to understand that he oozes implied sensibility. His posh, understated aesthetic that, while not harsh, never goes unnoticed, is exactly in-step with that of Bottega Veneta’s.

“When I began at Bottega Veneta, I established four key principles that define the brand–fine quality materials, artisanal craftsmanship, contemporary functionality, and timeless design,” Maier said. “These principles inform my design as well as every other aspect of our business.”

Maier won’t let those principles waiver for anything. In a world where so many equate the value of a product with the amount of extras adorning it, Maier managed to build an empire around the idea of simple, functional elegance. And he explains why this approach works for the house of Bottega Veneta, emphasizing that while every brand has certain core values, for Bottega Veneta those are understatement and functionality—two components omnipresent throughout the brand’s heritage.

“Our customers come to us because they share those values,” Maier said. “The challenge is to remain true to the brand’s identity regardless of trends, and I think we’ve done that.”

There’s no doubt that the man understands how to speak a brand’s language. His background is quite extensive. He’s had stints everywhere from Guy Laroche, Sonia Rykiel and Revillon, to Hermés, where he worked for 10 years designing ready-to-wear and leather goods. In fact, it was in 2001 that Tom Ford snatched Maier from the famed fashion house to take the reigns at Bottega Veneta, knowing full well that he would come armed with the precise elegance that it would require to make Bottega Veneta stand out amongst other labels. At that time, the fashion house was knocking on bankruptcy’s door and Ford, who was then at the top of the Gucci Group, knew that Maier would be able to map its way out.

Ford was spot on.

Tomas Maier exuberates elegance. Not just the man; his personal business, an eponymous brand with freestanding outposts as well as several retail distributors, stands strong on the same foundation. Expertly curated, the multi-label boutiques are built on quality and pristine aesthetic. And speaking of building, Maier, son of an architect, plays a great roll in the development of the Bottega Veneta boutiques. Concept stores in their own right, they act as an extension of the brand down to the silver picture frames punctuating the space, adorned with a woven motif that mimics that of the leather goods the brand has made famous.

“The design concept is unique to Bottega Veneta,” Maier said. “We developed it to reflect the values and identity of the brand—everything from the tables to the vitrines are custom-made to our specifications using the finest materials.”

And while we understand that Maier stands for clarity in message in all things across the brand board, we wonder the role he plays himself in the development of this “unique” design concept— a question he doesn’t let linger for long.

“I’m closely involved in the design of all Bottega Veneta stores, but I have a wonderful team who make sure that every element is exactly right,” Maier said.

Most notably in the South Florida market, site of the newly relocated and somewhat expanded Bal Harbour outpost of Bottega Veneta. Truly there are a lot of changes happening at the Bal Harbour Shops with the bidding adieu to some long-time tenants and the open-armed welcoming of new neighbors. There is a shuffling of existing brands that are moving up or down, and across corridors—this is true of Bottega Veneta, as well.

“The new Bottega Veneta store is larger than our previous one, which means we can offer our customers a wider selection of products and a more spacious, comfortable environment,” Maier said. “I’m especially pleased that we will be able to showcase the fine jewelry collection.”

When speaking of the expansion into jewelry, it becomes obvious that Maier is all about decorating one’s life. To that end, it was no surprise that he recently added a fragrance to the brand’s repertoire. This is something that is obviously a key lifestyle element for Maier, as his own boutiques are superbly edited in that department, offering a myriad of the most delicious fragrances for the home and body. So naturally, we wondered what role he played in developing the scent, and in the spirit of aesthetic, the packaging.

“I do think fragrance is an essential part of personal style,” he said. “I had a very clear idea of what I wanted for the Bottega Veneta fragrance and worked with perfumer Michel Almairac to develop the scent. We were very hands-on in developing the packaging because that, to me, must embody the brand.” He went on to explain though, that while a customer might find pleasures in both brands, Tomas Maier embodies more of a “time off” focus, while “Bottega Veneta is designed for a more global lifestyle.”

This from the mouth of a man that travels the globe and works primarily from the design studios of Bottega Veneta’s Milan offices. But Maier chooses none other than Palm Beach to call home.
We say bravo to Maier for understanding the nuances of sun and sea.

“I’m sure that I’m a better designer because I live [in Palm Beach,]” he said. “I draw both strength and inspiration from the natural beauty, the energy, and the unique culture of Florida.”

We love to hear that. He goes on. “I love the physical beauty of Palm Beach, both natural and architectural. I also love the style and sophistication of the community—people are worldly and elegant, but with a relaxed attitude. That combination of formal sophistication and graceful ease is something I strive for in my work.”

That particular reference rings true, for I recently styled Haute Living cover girl Melania Trump in a simple Bottega Veneta gown that had the almost instantaneous power of transforming the natural beauty into something almost more beautiful through its simplicity. She was modern and relevant, but well-edited and without fuss—a difficult feat in a day of feathers, sequins and 3-D appliqués. And what, you might wonder, exempts Maier–and Bottega Veneta, for that matter–from going over the top to deliver their message?

“Restraint is a choice,” he said. “Not an exemption.” Well said.

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New York February / March 2014
New York February / March 2014