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Tomas Maier’s Mission: Growing His Own Brand

The designer is starting the next chapter of his signature brand, and it revolves around substantial and strategic expansion.

NEW YORK — Tomas Maier is starting the next chapter of his signature brand, and it revolves around substantial and strategic expansion.

This story first appeared in the April 15, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

With Kering’s recent investment, Maier, who masterminded Bottega Veneta’s transformation into a luxury powerhouse, is implementing several moves to grow his own label, which he has operated, somewhat quietly, since 1997.

Among them: the just-opened Tomas Maier office and showroom at the Fuller Building here with ample room for the growing staff and the significantly enhanced collection come resort, and the planned growth at wholesale and at freestanding retail, the latter kicking off this fall with the designer’s first Manhattan boutique at 956 Madison Avenue.

There is a lot on the to-do list, but Maier, who also serves as Bottega Veneta’s creative director, is maintaining his calm demeanor. He brings such sentiment to his business philosophy, which takes a more subtle, measured approach to brand-building — “humble” is a term he likes to pepper his conversation with.

“We don’t need one more fashion show, or an ad campaign for two years, only for it to then disappear, or the glitzy store with the glamorous opening party that closes six month later,” said Maier, sitting in his new, sparsely furnished office, which has views of East 57th Street. “I don’t want any of that. I like it very professional, but also humble. I like the money being spent to go to the right place, and that is product development and the ways we can relate to wholesale and retail clients.”

He launched the label with business partner Andrew Preston and a specific vision: “An edited and an essential designer’s point of view on casual living,” the German-born designer said. “We have the real luxury brands, we have the designer brands, and then the rest, but I don’t really think there is a designer who focuses on that need for my time off, my free time, my weekend, for the casual side of life. That’s what I am interested in.”

Until now, he accomplished that by focusing mainly on swimwear, knitwear and jersey, supplemented in his two freestanding stores with edited selections from other designers, as well as lifestyle merchandise, from scented candles to dog leashes and books.

Kering, Bottega Veneta’s parent that also owns Gucci, Balenciaga, Stella McCartney and McQueen, took an undisclosed stake in Tomas Maier in November with plans to infuse the label with the right capital for growth.

“I am fully confident in Tomas Maier’s immense talent, as the creative director of Bottega Veneta and as the founder and designer of his own namesake brand,” said Kering chairman and chief executive officer François-Henri Pinault. “Tomas’ vision on casual living is something that is missing in the market, so there is a real opportunity for growth.”

The brand is already benefiting from Kering’s investment, starting with the New York headquarters, which will serve as the company’s base alongside existing offices in Delray Beach, Fla. Located nine floors beneath his Bottega Veneta studio in the same building, the space captures a simple but impactful vibe: The open environment is marked by plywood tables that set off the Fuller Building’s original stone floors. The ceilings were blown out for height, with exposed piping painted in white that adds a modernist, urban touch. Plywood walls and sliding doors add warmth to the sentiment.

Maier, who worked with architect Robert Young, was keen to keep the space open “so people can communicate,” from studio management to wholesale, retail and creative departments.

He will formally introduce the space with the resort season, which he will present to retailers and editors next month. The women’s and men’s collections will be wider in scope than anything he has shown in the past and include T-shirts, polo shirts, a denim assortment and accessories such as handbags, scarves and shoes.

Maier will continue to work with many of the resources he previously sold in his own stores in East Hampton, N.Y., and Palm Beach, Fla., though the plan is to collaborate with them on Tomas Maier-branded product.

“Now that we have this possibility, we are developing all the different categories, and I will not source those elsewhere anymore,” he said. “For example, I will have all the categories for men that make sense for the casual lifestyle. Tailored suits, no, but a Windbreaker, a deconstructed jacket…absolutely.”

He is keen to keep price points realistic. “If I find a T-shirt that I like, I buy it two or three times,” he said. “I think the prices should be relative to what you see. A T-shirt for $285? That’s a little much.

“You could say there are a lot of people who do nice casual things at a price point that is very acceptable,” he added. “Sometimes I have a problem with that, because I don’t like how it’s designed. The look is there but the product may not be 100 percent. It doesn’t fit right, it doesn’t wear well, and I have a problem with the make.”

Much of the women’s and the men’s ready-to-wear and accessories such as bags will retail below $1,000. The line is mostly manufactured in Italy, but entirely in the European Union. “There needs to be an integrity to the product and standards, and so it’s a little tricky to get the price point right, but I like that challenge,” he said.

Key areas in the near future include scent — “because it’s something I have been working on in quite a big way at Bottega for the last few years,” said Maier — as well as skin care.

The designer is making a major statement in October when he opens the 2,800-square-foot Manhattan store between 75th and 76th Streets — “long overdue because we have a lot of clients in New York,” according to Maier.

“I live on the Upper East Side,” Maier, himself a resident of the neighborhood, said. “That obviously means another store we want to open is downtown. I am already looking.”

The label is wholesaled to about 50 stores in the U.S. and Europe, including Barneys New York and Net-a-porter.com.

“With the enlargement of the collection, we are going to go worldwide with wholesale immediately,” said Daniela Ott, who was named ceo of Tomas Maier with the Kering investment and also serves as chief operating officer of the Kering Luxury Division. “We have showrooms in New York and in Milan,” the veteran Kering executive said. “In terms of retail, we approach it a little bit differently. Given it’s an American designer brand, we want to focus on the U.S. first. We will start with the Madison Avenue store, which we will open in the fall. We have a few more openings down the road. Once we strengthen the brand awareness in the U.S., then, retail-wise, we will take the brand global.”

Next year, the company plans to add two to three U.S. stores, and Miami, where Maier once had a store, as well as Los Angeles and Malibu are on top of the wish list. By 2017, the plan is to go global, with stores in Europe and Asia, including Japan and Hong Kong.

Ott called the potential “enormous,” citing Maier’s distinct vision and take on casual living as something “our clients are requesting.”

For Maier, the timing was right to step up his focus on his signature brand.

“We have done a lot of work [on Bottega Veneta], and I was very focused on building that while maintaining this brand,” said the designer, who has helped grow Bottega to a 1.02 billion euro — or about $1.35 billion — business. “There came a time, after 10 years, that I said [of his own line], ‘I have maintained this but haven’t put the effort into it that I should have, and should now.’”

He keeps both identities very separate and will continue to do so even as he amps up his focus on Tomas Maier. “I know what Bottega is about so well because I have set that frame,” he noted. “It’s about material, color, softness. Here, it’s more casual, more relaxed. I am more concerned about what the woman can wear to pick up her kids at school before driving into the countryside on a Friday night, for example. I am not concerned about making a beautiful dress for an occasion, or a great coat you keep for a couple of seasons just because it is a fabulous piece.”

Such point of view underscores his reluctance to present Tomas Maier on a fashion week runway.

“I don’t think this product needs it,” he noted. “It’s better in a showroom. I won’t say that one day we couldn’t do a small show in the showroom, but a real fashion show — I don’t think we will ever go down that road and create clothes for a runway. It’s not about this.”