An Invitation to Touch At Bottega Veneta
With marshmallow knits and beaded hems, Daniel Lee's new spring collection for the Italian label shows a softer side.
The one positive note everyone seems to have taken from a year that completely broke the way we lived our everyday lives, is how it forced everyone to slow down. At least in the fashion industry, it seemed to force a lot of (much-needed) introspection, although if this lasts or is immediately forgotten once things get back to as close to normal as they possibly will, no one can tell. At Bottega Veneta, the pivot to video after real-life fashion shows were no longer a possibility, this has meant we have gotten to know creative director Daniel Lee in a much more personal way that I’m not sure would’ve been possible any other time.
Earlier this summer, he released one of my favorite fashion videos of the year, featuring many of his style influences and icons, like the musician Tricky, the dancer Michael Clark, and even Neneh Cherry all talking about their ideas of style, gender, and identity. Lee is not in the film and yet watching it feels very personal, like we are peering into his diary.
This same feeling carried through his presentation for Spring/Summer 2021. He staged a fashion show in a small stage in London earlier this year—salon style. A few socially distanced people, wearing masks, sitting scattered throughout the stage of a small theater in London. On the soundtrack, Neneh Cherry talking about her life philosophy over an ambient musical background. “It’s good to be bold,” she says, and starts laughing. The first model comes out in an electric green—the vibrant color Lee has turned into Bottega’s new trademark—two-piece suit. A little fitted jacket with gold buttons, worn with a car-wash-hem skirt and matching curved-heel platform mules that would not seem out of place in the pages of dELiA*s. “I was just thinking, my mother used to say I’m a fiend for beauty,” Cherry speaks when a a matching version in baby blue comes strolling out a few looks later. Suddenly I am thinking about Hard Candy pastel nail polish with the little “candy” rings around the cap. Although Lee made his mark when he took over the label with his padded textures that were reminiscent of both marshmallows and the Michelin Man, it was also a little hardcore—something about textures that invite a squeeze, the wet, slicked-back hair and exposed décolleté had a very in-your-face sexuality about it. Now everything seems to linger with a different kind of languid sensuality.
“I love the idea of being able to make a lot with very little,” Cherry says a few looks later.
Every look makes me want to reach out to my computer and touch it. There are nubby knits turned into slip dresses, beaded-car-seat skirts that dangle at the hem, a silver mesh going-out top, and wide-leg trousers that billow as the models walk. The clothes are worn with a certain ease even though their silhouettes are structured and acutely aware of the body that carries them underneath.
“Yeah, what is beauty, beauty can be so… it’s so many things, isn’t it,” Neneh Cherry is speaking again, like a prayer. “It’s the rough and the smooth, you know: the straight, the narrow, and the wide open.”
Then, a group of male and female models walk out, wearing matching looks in all over prints that seemed to have at their roots, the work of the German conceptual artist Rosemarie Trockel. The print extends to the platform mules and the oversized clutches that no doubt would make the best pillow to rest your head on in the train or the bus or a plane. Something that would bring a little comfort from the perils of modernity (one things, wistfully from their couch for their whatever-hundred day in a row).
I think of PJ Harvey’s iconic look with the blue eyeshadow. I am not surprised when Harvey figured prominently in an accompanying book of images that detail Lee’s inspirations. I think, Ah! another way he’s letting us get to know him.
Then my favorite piece in the show comes out: a thick knit blue jumper worn over a light pink polo shirt in the same thick stitch. The model even carries a little handbag done in the same yarn as the dress. It all looks delightfully home made, I think of all the times my grandmother said, “I can make that for you at home,” but the versions she made always seemed a little off. Now I wish I had those pieces still, though they’d obviously no longer fit me. The charm is in the human hand, I know now. It’s got no sex appeal on paper, but in action, this knitted ensemble seems to ooze the erotic.
Towards the end, a model walks out in long, gauzy, silk dress. On her feet are not Bottega’s signature padded sandal mule, but rather a little pair of green and blue sneakers worn with a yellow sock. They make no sense together and yet they are perfect. That I would’ve loved the clothes regardless of how they were introduced to the world is a given, but I love that in the process they’ve uncovered a little bit more about the human behind it all, the personal connection that makes you keep clothes in your closet forever, attached to a memory, to a feeling, to a moment in time.