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Bottega Veneta's Tomas Maier Rails on It Bags, Designer Cult of Personalities Like Karl Lagerfeld

Bottega Veneta's Tomas Maier Rails on It Bags, Designer Cult of Personalities Like Karl Lagerfeld

>> To say Tomas Maier is a perfectionist is an understatement — The New Yorker just profiled him, and when writer John Colapinto went to visit the designer at Bottega Veneta's Milan headquarters, one of the PRs inspected Colapinto beforehand, picking off a "microscopic" piece of lint and commenting: "Oh, God. If that's there, he won't be able to think of anything else." In fact, Maier, who is now 53, dropped the "h" from his first name in his thirties, for symmetry's sake.

Maier refuses to live in Milan, "a city whose many design flaws he finds too frustrating to bear," Colapinto writes, so he spends a lot of time in airports between his home in Florida and the Bottega office in Milan. "I just sit there [at the airport] and look at people and I see what's the malfunction and how can we help that man," Maier says. "I pity him! That he makes his life so miserable — himself! — by carrying some ill-functioning bag that rips his jacket half off and gives him a bad shoulder ache at the end of the day. And it makes him look an idiot on top of everything."

Under Maier's guidance, Bottega — which was "weeks from bankruptcy" when he started, he says — has seen sales increase 800 percent in the past nine years. And part of that can be attributed to the Cabat bag Maier created — one of the label's top-selling items — which features no logos, no hardware, and no adornments, but carries a six-thousand dollar price tag. It's something of an anti-It It Bag.

"The It Bag is a totally marketed bullshit crap," Maier says. "You make a bag, you put all the components in it that you think could work, you send it out to a couple of celebrities, you get the paparazzi to shoot just when they walk out of their house. You sell that to the cheap tabloids, and you say in a magazine that there's a waiting list. And you run an ad campaign at the same time. I don't believe that's how you make something that's lasting — that becomes iconic as a design."

Maier sends the Cabat down the runway every year, unchanged, except for a difference in color or leather treatment. Only about 500 are made each season, which invariably sell out, and although Bergdorf Goodman and other luxury retailers have pleaded with Maier, he refuses to sell the Cabat bag anywhere but at Bottega Veneta stores.

When he first joined Bottega, Maier notified his bosses at Gucci Group (which owns the label), that in his first year designing for the brand, he would give no interviews and run no advertising. He also didn't want his name attached. "At that time in the nineties, lots of companies were called Tom Ford for Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, Dior by John Galliano — you know, everything had an endless name," he explains. He hates the idea of designer cult of personality — of Karl Lagerfeld, for instance, he says: "Who cares how thin he is? Hasn't he reached a point in life where he can relax."

He's also anti-materialism: "I'm not somebody who likes to possess. I'm not the person who has six hundred suits. I want to have two suits. Actually, I want to have one suit, and I replace it." He applies that feeling to how people should shop, insisting that Bottega's goods are not beyond the reach of the middle class, which has been trained to want too many things. "Anyone, he said, could afford one $550 hand-painted cashmere scarf," Colapinto writes. "'Just have less,'" he said."

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