It’s hard to imagine Bottega Veneta, which last year surpassed the 1.5 billion euro mark and has reached global brand status, as a struggling, off-the-radar, near bankrupt leather goods label back in 2001 — and many may have forgotten that the acquisition of the brand was spearheaded by Tom Ford and Domenico De Sole, who were leading the then-Gucci Group.
Gucci Group Takes the Reigns
De Sole at the time revealed that Bottega Veneta had been at the top of the list of his acquisition targets, and with Ford, realized the brand’s strong heritage based on high-quality leather accessories and shoes and Italian craftsmanship had huge potential. He believed the brand could exponentially grow its revenues, which in 2000 amounted to approximately $50 million.
Ford did not get involved in the design of the collection, as he was taking over the over the design of the Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche rtw line, which Gucci Group acquired in November 1999. Instead, Tomas Maier was appointed to the role of creative director of Bottega Veneta.
Initially, Gucci Group bought a 66.67 percent stake in Bottega Veneta via a capital investment of $96.2 million and the purchase of shares from its stockholders for $60.6 million, for a total of $156.8 million. The remaining 33.33 percent was in the hands of its shareholders — the Moltedo family.
Bottega Veneta’s Start
The company was founded in 1966 in Vicenza, Veneto, by Michele Taddei and Renzo Zengiaro. 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 was the brand’s creative director. She would contribute to the early success of the brand in the U.S., becoming an assistant of Andy Warhol, whose studios made the short film “Bottega Veneta Industrial Videotape” in 1985, and opened the first store there in New York in 1972.
The brand had achieved success in the ‘60s and ‘70s as an expression of high quality, discreet elegance and craftsmanship. At the time of the takeover, Bottega Veneta had 12 directly operated stores in the U.S., five in Europe and four in Asia, and the Italian luxury group mapped out its strategy to control distribution in Japan — historically a strong market for the brand – including the operation of 19 stores.
Ohio-born Edward Buchanan joined Bottega Veneta after graduating from Parsons School of Design in 1995, and with creative director Laura Moltedo, he was tasked with developing the brand’s first ready-to-wear collection as design director. The first fashion show for the brand was staged in October 1998 at Palazzo Serbelloni. Buchanan left the company after six years to launch his own Leflesh brand with Manuela Morin, also a Bottega Veneta alumna, and Giles Deacon joined the creative team for one year.
The Moltedos exited Bottega Veneta shortly after Gucci Group’s acquisition and Patrizio di Marco was recruited from Céline, where he was president of U.S. operations, to join Bottega Veneta as chief operating officer in May 2001. The following month, he was promoted to CEO, while at the same time, Tomas Maier was tapped as the brand’s creative director, thereby setting up Bottega Veneta for its reinvention.
Thomas Maier Codifies The Bottega Blueprint
The German-born Maier, who had spent nine years at Hermès and previously worked at Guy Laroche and Sonia Rykiel, was an unlikely savior for a company steeped in Italian tradition. But the tenets he set down — no logos and no compromises — redefined Bottega Veneta in an era of luxury branding run amok.
The women’s rtw line had made its debut in October 1997 and was briefly scrapped by Gucci. Maier reinstated it and in 2004, the company introduced menswear and quickly established its signature look: refined, realistic and steadily evolving, never trendy.
From the brand’s signature Intrecciato woven leather bags and leveraging the strength of its artisans, the history and cultural background of the region itself, Maier had set to create a lifestyle label. As the ‘90s logo mania raged on, he was attracted by the brand’s tag line that resonated with the designer, who preferred sophisticated designs promoting individualism: “When your own initials are enough.”
Di Marco was tasked with repositioning Bottega Veneta in the luxury range, which was a tough call because the brand had strayed from its roots and diluted its brand DNA by embracing a flashier, less luxurious identity and had very little left of the old archives.
The clarity of the vision and its disciplined execution paid off, and, after structuring its global organization and distribution, growing revenues more than tenfold in six years, in 2009 di Marco left the company on a high note and was called to lead the Gucci brand, succeeding Mark Lee as CEO.
Bottega In The Aughts
In January 2009, Marco Bizzarri, previously at Stella McCartney, was appointed president and CEO of Bottega Veneta, and although his arrival coincided with the global recession, he also succeeded in leading the brand through another growth phase.
He continued to build the brand on discreet luxury and craftsmanship, establishing new 108,000-square-foot headquarters in Milan and investing in the company’s human resources by providing its employees with a new headquarters in 2013 — the stately 18th-century Villa Schroeder-Da Porto, ensconced in a park about 16 miles from Vicenza, in the Veneto region of northern Italy. The site obtained the LEED Certification at the Platinum level developed by the Green Building Council, helping Bottega Veneta to become the first Italian company to reach that level in the fashion and luxury sector.
The building included the atelier, management and administrative offices, storage of precious hides, the archives comprising 5,000 bags, a museum, a restaurant and its own school of artisan, which was internalized. Bottega Veneta conservatively restored the 54,000-square-foot villa, which is protected by the Italian government’s department in charge of historic buildings and monuments, maintaining its local-stone facade, portals, columns, statues and fountains. He drove growth in Asia and further expanded the brand’s retail footprint, opening a flagship in Milan.
Adapting To The Landscape
In 2014, Bizzarri went on to become CEO of Kering’s newly created Couture and Leather Goods division, directly supervising most of Kering’s luxury brands. Former Valentino and Ermenegildo Zegna Group executive Carlo Alberto Beretta was appointed CEO of Bottega Veneta in January 2015 and exited a year later, succeeded by former Hugo Boss CEO Claus-Dietrich Lahrs, at a time when the brand was impacted by the luxury downturn, as analysts lamented a lack of product innovation, imbalanced pricing architecture and over-dependence on the Chinese and tourist clientele and limited brand awareness in developed markets.
In 2018, after 17 years, Maier left Bottega Veneta, Under his tenure, revenues went from 48 million euros to almost 1.2 billion euros in 2017, but the brand had struggled to keep up with rapid changes in the consumer landscape, as demand waned in its key market, Asia, and it failed to tap into a Millennial audience.
He was succeeded by Daniel Lee, previously director of ready-to-wear at Céline, which followed earlier stints at Maison Margiela, Balenciaga and Donna Karan.
In Sept. 2019, Bartolomeo Rongone, who goes by the name of Leo, previously COO at Saint Laurent, succeeded Lahrs.
Lee helped revive the brand, turning it into a hot selling ticket and a trend-setting, influential label, injecting a new and youthful spirit to the collections. His designs, especially the accessories — from the signature Pouch bag, which was introduced in his first collection in 2019, or the Cassette bag and the Lido sandals — all flew off the shelves. He built momentum for the brand with disruptive strategies like erasing its Instagram account and staging traveling fashion shows in locations including London, Berlin and Detroit.
In a surprising split, Lee exited the company last November, which was deemed by several sources as a layoff, given the designer’s complex personality. According to sources, Bottega Veneta was losing key figures within the company, starting from prized and highly skilled veteran artisans at the company’s headquarters in Vicenza to pivotal managers who clashed with Lee, who was often described as uncommunicative.
A New Era
Matthieu Blazy, previously design director, was promoted internally, a few days after, and held his first show as creative director on Feb. 26. The event marked the brand’s return to Milan Fashion Week and did not disappoint retailers and the press, as the collection was praised for respecting yet evolving the codes of the house and its precise and chic tailoring and strong accessories.
Rongone has helped Bottega Veneta in 2021 log a 24.2 percent increase in revenues compared with 2020, surpassing the 1.5 billion euro mark. Compared with 2019, revenues rose 32 percent. The CEO and Blazy are planning to move the company’s new headquarters in Milan’s Palazzo San Fedele, where the show was held, before the end of 2023. The executive has further driven the exclusivity of the brand by eliminating all markdowns and by streamlining the brand’s wholesale accounts — increasing the number of concessions and also taking over online partners.