Mr. Maier, how much attention do you pay to the rest of the fashion industry?
I don't look. I find it distracting. I'm more interested in our customer, who he is and what he's looking for. In my twenties, I looked at everything I could. I went to every fashion show, I sneaked in anywhere I could. I wanted to absorb the most I could and see a lot. I think that's important when you're a student or when you're starting out—you need to see things. But then I think there comes a time when that's just distracting, always looking at what other people do. I think the people who are the best are the people who concentrate on their own thing.
So in order to succeed as a designer, one doesn't have to take part in the glamorous circus the fashion industry is so well known for?
No, and I'm proof of that. I like to be a kind of rebel. I hate when people say, "This is set in stone. These are the rules. This is how you do it." I hate that. It's stupid, and the recipe doesn't even work most of the time.
That you need a show and you need to pay people to sit in the front row who have nothing to do with nothing and you need to have this article and that article. Then you do all of that and you're out of business two seasons later and nobody talks about you anymore. Nobody even talks about the fact that you are out of business. I find that very upsetting, this stupid system. It doesn't have to be like that, and I think we proved that at Bottega Veneta.
But people looked at your minimal approach very skeptically at the beginning, didn't they? You famously removed the brand's logo from all items in your first collection.
Sure. When we started, big-department-store executives would come to the show and they would say, "You'll never sell one of these wallets. You'll never have a small-leather-goods business, because as long as you don't understand that a wallet needs to have the logo or the name of the brand on it to sell, you will never make it in this industry." And I said, "Okay. Thank you for letting me know." [Laughs] I think you can do anything if you have a conviction and you have a belief that your product is right because it is designed for function. Besides, you can sign the product in different ways to make it recognizable. You can make it recognizable by design.
Definitely. Artists have done that for centuries.
Exactly. You don't have to put a signature on a painting to know if that is a Manet, because you can just recognize a Manet by the color sense, a Rembrandt because of the light, a La Tour because of the candlelight on the face. You don't need to look at names. Why do we like architecture, and why do we like certain architects? Because we can drive by a building among thousands of buildings and we can say, "This is a Richard Meier," or whoever. I like to design products that don't need to have names on the buttons. If you have a little bit of culture and you have a little bit of sensibility and understanding, you know what it is.
Many brands find themselves on the opposite side of the spectrum, where the image of the fashion designer and the logo of the house seem to be more important than the product itself.
Why does the product need to define a person as this or that? Let the product take on the personality of the wearer. It should be about the wearer, it shouldn't be about the product. I should look at someone and not think about what you are wearing, which is actually perfectly the case when I look at you, for example. It does not even come to my mind for a second, and that's how it should be. We should think, "Can we make something pleasing to you?" I think it is a big problem in today's world that a lot is done just to please the media or to get picked up in the media, it's not done with the consumer in mind. And I think that you can't forget about that, because that's whom you work for at the end of the day.
So what are the most important aspects of a product from the consumer's perspective?
Functionality plays a key role, because nothing means anything if it doesn't work. For any product. Nothing at all. If I design a perfume bottle and it leaks in the end, then what is the point? It's just design for design's sake, and I don't like that. I find it unbearable. It's not just to make something that looks different, it's also a matter of fact to make it work. It doesn't mean anything if it doesn't appeal to anybody in the end. Why are you doing anything if nobody wants it?
Are you against embellishment?
No, I have nothing against embellishment. I'm all for eccentricity, I'm all for the unexpected and for making it exciting for people. But there has to be a reason. If it's just to be put in a window to make a bit of an effect, I don't find that very stimulating creatively.
Read more of the The Talks With Tomas Maier.