On an oppressively hot June morning in Milan, Tomas Maier stands quietly, arms crossed, in the corridor of Bottega Veneta’s headquarters. Creative director of the label since 2001, the 51-year-old German designer arrived here at seven o’clock in the same rumpled three-button cotton suit he wore to a cocktail party last night. (He didn’t pull an all-nighter; when he likes something, he tends to wear it over and over.) His close-shorn hair is a shade darker than the stubble on his chin, and his protruding brow makes him look like he’s in a state of perpetual disquiet.
It’s about 45 minutes before Bottega Veneta’s spring 2009 show, and save for an espresso-machine mishap that threatened the supply of preshow cappuccinos for guests, there have been no malfunctions, wardrobe or otherwise. Things always run perfectly when Maier is involved. The mood backstage feels the way the beige walls and carpet lookcalm, uncomplicated. Maier unfolds his arms and walks over to a three-by-two whiteboard neatly arrayed with 31 photos of 31 models dressed in different versions of the paper-thin jackets and loose, high-waisted trousers that are about to come down the runway. Maier smiles as though he knows something no one else does, points to an image of a deconstructed cashmere jacket, and nods. “We’re thinking about what’s essential in a man’s wardrobe, and I really think that at the end of the day, the essential is the jacket,” he says, his accent making the word jacket sound like checkered.
Maier walks into an adjacent room, where the same jacket hangs on a rack along the wall. He leafs through other pieces from the collection before stopping at one item. “This is like the typical thing,” he says, grabbing the sleeve of a waterproof navy jacket. “I go to New York for three days for work, it’s drizzling outside. Do I want to wear a raincoat? No. Then I find out I have to have a drink at the King Cole bar, and they don’t let you in without a jacket. This is for those situations. You have to think about a lot of thingsthere are needs for men. You have to make it easy for them.”
Since being handpicked by former Gucci Group creative director Tom Ford in 2001 to reinvent what was then an artisanal-handbag company best known to well-heeled Italian women, Maier has set forth a string of dictates that challenge industry conventions: No logos (the company’s tagline is “When your own initials are enough”), no celebrity freebies, no radical swings in aesthetic from one season to the next. Maier, who scoffs at the notion that a $3,000 suit or $2,500 satchel should be obsolete after six months, has pushed Bottega Veneta past the noise of trend-driven fashion and into the quieter realm of understated luxury. And with annual sales approaching $500 million, Bottega Veneta is now Gucci Group’s second-largest brand.