Creative director Daniel Lee took the Italian luxury brand to Michigan to showcase its spring collection.
On a flight from New York to Detroit, a black-clad editor asked: “Are we going to the Bottega Veneta Show?” “No, I just really love cars,” said a similarly serious-looking retailer. Bottega’s impending event seemed unlikely to give rise to hundreds of fashion-industry people, some of whom flew in chartered planes with the Italian luxury fashion brand. It’s not a regular stop on the fashion week circuit but Detroit was once known as the “Paris of the Midwest” because of a 1705 letter Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac sent to his boss. He proclaimed the city’s Parisian potential. (Monsieur Cadillac’s coat of arms, although not entirely authentic, was eventually used to create the Cadillac automobile logo.)
Bottega Veneta’s Detroit show this week was full of excitement. This is a testimony to the energy generated by Daniel Lee, a British designer who has transformed the once-silent Italian label into a star for Kering luxury conglomerate Kering. Mr. Lee, a lover of cars and techno, said that he has been “obsessed with Detroit” since his first visit six years ago. He is eager to share it. It was established in 1966 by Bottega Veneta. Mr. Lee made Detroit a hot destination for fashion accessories and conceptual ready-to wear, particularly in the “parakeet” shade.
This shade of green is appearing amid the industrial buildings and brick facades of Detroit as the brand hosts one of its salon concepts. The salons are part traditional fashion show, part cultural event. Previous salons were held in Berlin and London last year. On Thursday I was greeted by a long-haired woman carrying a large parakeet-colored shopping cart printed with “Bottega Veneta”. The label opened a pop-up shop in Corktown, named after the 19th-century County Cork potato-famine refugees. It will be open for three months and sell its goods alongside art, records, and books. This partnership will continue until January 2022. The treasures include vintage Detroit poet laureate Naomi Long Madgett books and $2,100 Bottega Veneta skates in parakeet.
The show took place at the Michigan Theatre. A crumbling 1926 marvel, the Michigan Theatre was home to parakeet. Models wore short party dresses, glittering separates, and snazzy high-heeled sandals. The front row saw a paler parakeet on the bag and feather-accented shoes of Lil’ Kim. She was joined by Mary J. Blige and Kehlani as well as Burna Boy and Kehlani. The show featured music by Moodymann and Carl Craig, Detroit techno icons.
After the show, Mr. Lee spoke up in a passionate interview and said that he was excited to create a collection that would reflect the city’s rich history of innovation. Some pieces were covered with metal threads in an homage to automotive engineering. Rubber elements–beads flat sequins and threads–could be used to recall tires or records. “Everything at Bottega, is actually an engineering feat,” stated Mr. Lee.
British designer, David Lloyd George, was fascinated by the U.S. and made it a theme in his designs. He also wore a Marilyn Monroe-ish style dress and some workwear pieces. Mr. Lee stated, “I really wanted an American monument.” He said, “I was really excited about the idea of “What is America workwear and denim, sportswear.”
Although Mr. Lee’s intentions seem to be genuine and creative, Bottega Veneta has never felt more motivated to reach the American market. In August, Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke out calling for more wealth redistribution in China and reducing excessive incomes. This shock shocked fashion conglomerates, which have relied on China for years as a strong luxury market. The subsequent sale of 60 billion euros (or $70.26 billion) from the market value LVMH Moet Shennessy Louis Vuitton Richemont, Hermes Richemont, and Kering – the Bottega Veneta owner, caused panic among these companies. Luxury brands have become more dependent on the U.S. market due to this China frost.
This stuff is a huge seller, there’s no doubt. Another one of those large green shopping bags was waiting for a client at the Corktown popup. It was stuffed with shoeboxes, and stapled with a $5,800 receipt. These shopping trips add up globally. Bottega Veneta’s third quarter revenue was EUR363.4million, an 8.9% increase over the previous year. “Business has been really solid since Daniel Lee joined us,” stated Sam Lobban, the New York-based SVP for designer and new concepts at Nordstrom. The brand is sold at Nordstrom’s stores.
Is it possible for everyday people to see such a successful brand as a positive outsider, particularly in a complex city like Detroit? After the show, Mr. Lee exclaimed that “we have a large group of people here who love us, I think it’s a really sincere way.” The people I spoke with were positive about the experience. Chris Schanck (a local furniture designer) said that Daniel took the time to “look around” and brought “creatives not suits.” Another waiter at one luncheon organized for the salon at the Shinola Hotel said that he was thrilled that “Milan’s largest fashion house” chose to exhibit in Detroit.
However, the joy was not insurmountable. At the parakeet-green-carpet pop-up, a woman in parakeet green tried out high-heeled sandals. She said, “They’re beautiful. But they hurt like hell.”