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Bergdorf Goodman is having a Bottega Veneta moment and hoping recession-weary shoppers feel it, too.

This story first appeared in the April 14, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

While the Italian brand and its signature “intrecciato” weave cast an understated aura, there’s nothing subtle about the Bergdorf presentation. The Fifth Avenue store has created a “World of Bottega Veneta” showcasing the brand’s burgeoning assortment.

 Existing in-store shops for Bottega Veneta women’s and men’s fashions, jewelry and handbags have been buttressed by temporary installations on the main floor, in the Fifth Avenue windows and in the men’s store all cross-merchandising the range of home and fashion products. Also, on Bergdorf’s seventh floor for decorative home, the loft area, which normally houses an array of brands, is devoted exclusively to Bottega Veneta, aside from a settee and a few other elements that complete the tableau. Collaborative efforts are displayed, such as handblown glass done with Murano, porcelain with KPM, armchairs in association with Poltrona Frau, as well as consoles in gunmetal or calfskin print, a folding camp bed, lamps with linen shades, a folding screen doubling as a headboard, pencil trays, photo frames and other desk accessories.

The Fifth Avenue windows will be on view through April 22, while the seventh and main floor installations will remain through May 31. All of the elements were in place last week.

To mark the partnership, a cocktail reception for Tomas Maier, Bottega Veneta’s creative director since 2001 who has led the buildup of the 43-year-old, $535 million brand into a lifestyle collection, will be held at the women’s store tonight. “For me, the core of the company is always the leather goods and that is where I started, what I concentrated on,” Maier said in an interview. “Over the years and seasons, the assortment grew but always in an organic way, never with a plan to market this or that. It has been more about the client — what clients requested.”

New products had to relate to what was presented before, and there’s a continuity, i.e. leather furniture inspired by the luggage and the weave leitmotif. With belts, Maier explained, “Why would we do them before we had pants? Just because we were doing leather goods? No. If I sell pants, then I need belts to hold up the pants.

“Our relation with Bergdorf Goodman has been a very organic evolution as well. The relationship grew over years, over seasons and seasons. It started at some point with the bags, which became a bit bigger over time. More leather goods were added. At some point, they decided to buy shoes, later ready-to-wear for men and then women. It just grew.”

The Bergdorf strategy, marking the first time all things Bottega Veneta are in one place other than the brand’s own boutiques, is a clear sign that even battling the recession, the retailer can’t resist flaunting high luxury. The store went so far as to have Maier do an exclusive interpretation of Bottega Veneta’s Fenice handbag, in handwoven oxidized deerskin with the weave pattern. The limited edition bag, with a price tag of $2,700, sold out in a few weeks.

With prices, Bergdorf’s doesn’t flinch. Bottega Veneta’s large library table costs $25,600, while the 18-karat yellow gold bracelet with a pavé diamond clasp retails for $56,900. There are also $5,479 sfera drop earrings in 18-karat yellow gold, $6,800 copper nappa bags, and caramel jacquard dresses for $6,800.

Prices do descend, with crepe dresses around $3,000, sandals in the $1,000 range and men’s pants starting at around $1,000. Bottega Veneta does provide a range, from exotic skin bags to others in canvas; bags that are woven or partially woven. “That is very, very important. I can get the price down,” Maier said. “But it’s nothing new. It’s not a reaction” to the recession. There are also $30 votives and $150 bow ties, while the iconic knot clutches in leather retail from $1,880 to $2,750.

Bergdorf and Bottega managements believe the brand embodies true luxury and investment dressing, justifying the prices. Some might also consider that, in challenging economic times, Bottega Veneta becomes a more socially acceptable purchase, rather than something flashy or fleeting in style. In the Bottega Veneta vernacular, bling is a bad word. It’s about refinement, workmanship and classic styles.

“For us, nothing has ever changed in the product. It’s something that is logo-less, about quality, and about lasting design not in your face,” said Maier. “I tell my clients you don’t need to replace this bag, this is good design, quality, great make. Something which is lasting, not a disposable fashion product of the season. We never talk about a fashion bag or an ‘It’ bag. For me it’s all nonsense. What’s an ‘It’ bag? It’s like a marketing product.” He said it’s nice to see one of his products on a magazine cover. “But to see a woman wearing the dress makes much more sense.

“When our clients come to our stores, they look very carefully, then they get interested,” Maier continued. “They like to hear about the product. Does that mean they buy that day? No. They think about it because it is an investment. It’s money. It’s about something you [really] want. Not that quick impulsive buy. It’s very important to give as much information to the client to understand how the product is made — the craft behind it, the human hand in it. That is what makes us move. People involved in representing and selling the product can be trained and can learn about the product.”

Added Linda Fargo, Bergdorf’s senior vice president, fashion office and store presentation: “The term luxury has been applied loosely to too many products over the years, but when you have an opportunity to examine anything from the studios of Bottega Veneta and obtain the service that Bergdorf Goodman can offer, you will understand what true luxury can be. That is what we hope our clients will experience through this event. The strength of our business together proves that product with intrinsic value, timeless design, excellence in craftsmanship and the ability for a client to express their individuality through their choices are important to consumers right now. Bottega Veneta is definitely about lasting value and beauty and that’s a quality to which we believe people are drawn, especially now.”

Maier believes that in fashion retailing generally, “I think everything needs to be out there — all kinds of products. Some people love logos. Some love glitzy, and that’s all fine. All have a reason to be there. But I have always believed there are people that don’t want that.”

For the future, “I am interested in working on fragrance. Definitely. Timepieces too.” He also wants to explore more home furnishings, including flatwear, which isn’t offered yet, and more seating.

“It is really important to diversify,” Maier said of the brand, which is owned by Gucci Group, though apparently there’s no urgency to speed the product production. “I don’t feel pressured,” he said. “This all grows out of instinct and demand, and the feeling I have. Like any product it depends on the collaboration, who you are working together with. You want the other side to bring the same kind of expertise and integrity. You need to take a lot of time to meet all kinds of different people out there.”

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