MILAN — Bottega Veneta is “a magical brand,” believes chief executive officer Bartolomeo Rongone, who goes by the name of Leo.
However, there are no supernatural powers behind the growth of the brand, which in 2021 logged a 24.2 percent increase in revenues compared with 2020, surpassing the 1.5 billion euro mark. Compared with 2019, revenues rose 32 percent.
Rongone attributed the success to the “exquisite design with extraordinary craft” of the products and the company’s ability to maintain a strong, intimate relationship with clients and customers alike throughout “the challenging period and despite the impact of the pandemic,” creating different physical “moments of contact.”
“I am very proud of this milestone, reached through a solid strategy and a long-term perspective,” he said of the 2021 benchmark.
In the last quarter of 2021, sales increased 15.2 percent to 433 million euros. Compared with the same period in 2019, they climbed 31 percent.
In 2021, operating profit amounted to 286.5 million euros, up 66.6 percent on 2020 and representing 19.1 percent of sales.
For fall, the brand is returning to Milan Fashion Week — a highly anticipated show also because it will unveil the first designs by Matthieu Blazy, who was named creative director in November, succeeding Daniel Lee.
Rongone revealed that the show on Saturday will be held in Milan’s Palazzo San Fedele, which is expected to house the company’s new headquarters before the end of 2023. Originally the site of the Manzoni theater, the building, which stands near the Duomo cathedral and the La Scala theater, was built circa 1870 and is currently being restored.
“Matthieu really wanted this location precisely because of the theater, its energy and heritage,” Rongone said.
Bottega Veneta has been absent from Milan for a few seasons, as Lee previously held shows in London, Berlin and Detroit. “Matthieu and I are proud to be back and we are convinced we should be here. This is a global brand, not only connected to Italy, but the Camera della Moda as well as the Chambre Syndicale and the other councils are putting together an audience, exposing multiple brands and making sure a connection is preserved, giving visibility to young designers and we want to be supportive of creativity,” Rongone explained.
Asked about the changes in the top creative spot after Lee’s surprise exit after three years — deemed by several sources as a layoff — Rongone enthused about the pieces of the fall collection he had already seen. “I’m excited, Matthieu has such a wealth of experience, having worked at Celine [with Phoebe Philo], with Raf [Simons at Calvin Klein], and at [Maison] Margiela. He is a very curious person, has a broad cultural background and is a real creative talent.”
Blazy joined the company in 2020 as the brand’s ready-to-wear design director and Rongone believes he is “ready for the challenge, he is in the perfect position. He knows the brand, the codes of the house and the heritage.”
That said, the executive underscored that Bottega Veneta should “not be linked to a single person, the brand stems from the passion of a collective group of people. It is a very inclusive brand with exclusive product.”
The executive has further driven the exclusivity of the brand by eliminating all markdowns. “We aim to be one of the few companies that provide lifetime warranty for products that customers will treasure and appreciate for a long time,” he said.
Rongone has been streamlining the brand’s wholesale accounts — increasing the number of concessions and also taking over online partners.
Last year, retail accounted for 75 percent of total sales, up 29 percent compared with the previous year. The wholesale channel grew 16 percent.
Rongone did not disclose a percentage for e-commerce, as per company policy, although he noted that it has grown.
Bottega Veneta has 263 directly operated stores and the CEO said the company is not focused on increasing that number significantly but rather is investing in expanding the existing venues to better display the growing apparel category for both men and women — “the fastest-growing category in these years,” he said.
The stores will be refreshed with a new concept but differentiated depending on the location, but always with a link with Bottega Veneta’s territory, hence the use of Palladiana floors, terracotta and glass.
Asia Pacific represents the biggest market for the company, accounting for 39 percent of total sales last year. Rongone touted China’s “huge potential.” A new boutique will open in Shenzhen in May, followed by a unit in Shanghai at Pudong Airport in July. The Shanghai IFC store will be refurbished in September.
South Korea was also a key contributor to growth.
Western Europe represented 24 percent of sales. London’s Sloane Square unit and the Paris boutique in Avenue Montaigne will be renovated and expanded in 2022.
North America accounted for 18 percent of the total. “Since I joined, the U.S. has become one of the fastest-growing markets, gaining speed as in 2018 it represented 11 percent of the total,” said Rongone, adding that a store in Dallas will open in December and the existing San Francisco store will be refurbished in June. Bottega Veneta opened a store in Manhattan’s SoHo in December last year.
Japan, a historically significant market for the brand, represented 10 percent of the total, and the rest of the world 9 percent.
Rongone, who joined the Kering-owned company in September 2019, was previously COO of Saint Laurent in charge of rtw, leather goods and shoes, as well as global retail operations and client engagement. He arrived at Bottega Veneta at a time of rapid change for the brand, which the year before had hired Lee to succeed Tomas Maier after 17 years as its creative director.
Rongone began his career as a market analyst in the luxury sector and joined Fendi in 2001, becoming head of business intelligence before taking on senior roles in the supply chain, merchandise planning and client relationship management.
He has been building his team, tapping, for example, Alejandra Rositto last October as CEO of the Americas. Asked about what he looks for in a candidate, he said that “apart from competence, passion is a key component, as well as trust and empathy.”
The executive is passionate about Bottega Veneta’s “fascinating story” and believes that it’s been “largely untold.”
Archival photos — including one of Lauren Hutton, who famously carried a Bottega Veneta clutch in the 1980 film “American Gigolo” — hang on the walls of his luminous office, juxtaposed with new pieces and colorful, modern furniture.
During the interview, Rongone underscored how since the early days, when Michele Taddei and Renzo Zengiaro founded the company in 1966, Bottega Veneta has “always celebrated the uniqueness of each individual.” This is something that the executive believes remains relevant to the brand — obviously reflected in its catchphrase “When your own initials are enough,” which has been defining Bottega Veneta’s customer since its origins. When the individual is at the center, no logo is necessary, underscored Rongone.
Shortly after Zengiaro left Bottega Veneta at the end of the ‘70s, Taddei handed over the company to his ex-wife Laura Braggion, who headed the company with her second husband Vittorio Moltedo and traveled regularly to New York. Rongone recalled that Braggion became an assistant of Andy Warhol, whose studios made the short film “Bottega Veneta Industrial Videotape” in 1985, and she contributed to the expansion and the success of the brand in the U.S., opening the first store there in New York in 1972.
In addition to its distinctive leather weaving design, the Intrecciato, the “Bottega green” that has become a signature color for the brand has also been a long-standing reference, noted Rongone. “The Veneto and Venice territory inspires us, the Palladiana and terracotta flooring, the colors of Burano and the glasses of Murano, connect the Genius Loci and become incredible vehicles of energy.” The facade of the brand’s Vienna store was green back in 1993 and in the Warhol film, there are dust bags that, at the time, were in the same green color.
Rongone enthused about Bottega Veneta’s archives at the company’s headquarters in Montebello, near Vicenza. A school to train new artisans remains active there.
“True luxury requires time, we think in terms of days, not hours when we make each bag at this complex level of craft,” he said, in a constant balance between craft and creativity, pointing to the brand’s storied coat of arms, which says “labor and ingenium” or craft and creativity in Latin.
Asked about a potential price increase, he admitted the rising costs of energy “could lead to an increase, but we will see” throughout the year. He underscored the company uses “extremely expensive and prestigious materials,” so that an increase could be less tied to external factors and more to a further increase in quality.
In terms of product extension, Rongone said 2023 will be “very important” for the launch of new fragrances and he predicted that a home and furniture line “will be back pretty soon. We take pride in all our collections and make sure that each is perfect and beautifully designed. We are confident we can deliver the level of quality and emotion [the brand promises].”
He said he was “very satisfied” with the results of the eyewear collections produced by Kering Eyewear, but noted that “we don’t think by category,” rather of products that “can complement or express” the brand.
While Bottega Veneta under Lee dropped off Instagram last year, Rongone said the decision allowed the company “to use social media in a different way, giving the audience the opportunity to talk about us, removing the limit of our presence, but we are not absent, there is a connection through people talking about us.” He contended that this allows “concrete expressions of creativity in different ways.”
By the first half of the year, the company will release a new website with a new design, he revealed.
In other projects, the company will sponsor the Biennale Danza, the international festival of contemporary dance, for the second consecutive year. It will run in Venice July 22 to 31 and will be directed by Wayne McGregor.
In parallel, Bottega Veneta is also partnering with the Palazzo Grassi Punta della Dogana Pinault Collection to support “Dancing Studies,“ a set of performances by choreographers William Forsythe, Lenio Kaklea, Ralph Lemon and Pam Tanowitz, inspired by the exhibition “Bruce Nauman: Contrapposto Studies.” The exhibition is open to the public until Nov. 27. “Dancing Studies” will be celebrated with a dinner hosted by Bottega Veneta and Palazzo Grassi during the opening week of the Biennale di Arte on April 21.
Also, Bottega Veneta has chosen to partner with the Festival de Hyères for the first time this year. That will run Oct. 14 to 16. With the Bottega Veneta grant, the house aims to support creativity in all its forms and will award the winner of the Photography Grand Prix the opportunity to collaborate on one of the brand’s campaigns.