“He’s a master of reducing it to the essence,” says Robert Polet, the chief executive of Gucci Group. “There’s a wonderful German expression: In der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister. In the reduction the master shows himself.”
Oh, yes, German precision. Maier, who grew up in Pforzheim, near the Black Forest, has it in his bones. His father, an accomplished architect, instructed him in form and proportion when he was a child, pointing out the lines of roofs or the façades of buildings. Those lessons found practical application when at 19 Maier moved to Paris to attend the prestigious Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. He spent the next two decades honing his pared-down approach in the design studios of Guy LaRoche, Sonia Rykiel, and Hermès.
“When somebody talks about [architecture] all the time, you start to look at it and you start to see it,” Maier says over breakfast in New York several weeks before Bottega Veneta’s spring show. “You realize how when proportions are wrong, that can make something fabulous.”
That sensibility was visible in his fall jackets, nipped at the waist with rolled shoulders that peaked ever so slightly. At first the proportions appeared wildly askew among the skinny pieces dominating other collections, but when paired with wide-legged pants they looked balanced and fresh. Not surprisingly, the silhouette showed up a season later on other runways. Maier likes his collections to evolve organicallythey remain resolutely free of bells and whistles. “There’s a lot of men out there that don’t want to wear screaming fashion, and Bottega Veneta fills that void,” says Tommy Fazio, men’s fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman. “Tomas brings an attention to detail that is unprecedented.” Or as Andrew Preston, Maier’s companion of 20 years and his retail business partner, puts it, “Tomas has a very critical eye and will always see what’s wrong. It’s a gift and a curse at the same time.”
Maier’s discerning nature infiltrates everything from his work for Bottega Veneta to his namesake collection to his well-appointed home and garden in Palm Beach, Florida (one of the two eponymous boutiques he owns is there; the other is in Miami), to his collection of fine-art photography. At times, his manner can be blunt. “Yes, I’m demanding,” he says, nodding as if concurring with his own statement. “People are spending a lot of money, and I am very, very aware of how pricey what we sell is, and I think there always needs to be a realistic relation between the product and the price.”
On a topic like fashion houses’ collaborating with artists, though, his tone takes on an edge. “I lose all esteem, not for the designer or fashion housebecause people will do whatever it takes to make moneybut for the artist,” he says. “For me, it’s like selling your soul.” So you’ll never find him teaming up with a go-to guy like Richard Prince or Takashi Murakami. Nor will you see him courting celebrities. He assiduously avoids Milan’s trendy fashion restaurants, dining at a small trattoria near Bottega’s offices; instead of having a driver take him from his hotel to his office, he walks. “I like to be on the outside,” he says. “I don’t like the whole thing of ‘fake.’”