How to look a mil­lion dol­lars. Granny chic and a love of Wedg­wood. Ken n Thomp­son. Hot Buy.

The Weekend Australian - Life - - FOOD & WINE - ANNA MUR­PHY

Aroom full of rich peo­ple can feel at times like the pad­dock on race day: they wear their swanky la­bels as os­ten­ta­tiously as the jockey wears his silks — the lo­gos, the only marginally less ob­vi­ous “codes” of a par­tic­u­lar house, there for all to see. But not al­ways. “I have friends in the fash­ion in­dus­try who say you can go to a cocktail party and put a name on ev­ery dress,” says To­mas Maier, cre­ative di­rec­tor at the lux­ury brand Bot­tega Veneta. “And then there is one dress you can’t put a name on.” He pauses and smiles. “And that is the Bot­tega dress. That is good. I take that as a com­pli­ment.”

Stealth wealth is Maier’s stock in trade. He cre­ates qui­etly beau­ti­ful clothes and bags of su­perla­tive qual­ity, clothes and bags that feel in­cred­i­bly spe­cial to wear or carry. (An ap­par­ently sim­ple coat may have com­plex seam­ing that makes it “a sur­prise, a per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence for the wearer”. A leather bag may be lined with baby suede, “so it is gen­tle when a woman puts her hand in to get her keys”.) How­ever, those clothes and bags prob­a­bly pass un­no­ticed by all but the best­trained eyes. “Our clients are al­ready some­body,” is the way Maier sees it. “They don’t need any­one else’s name on their back to make them.”

That’s not all. Maier favours what Andy Warhol once called “the poor-rich look”. Here is a de­signer who has been known to rum­ple his clothes art­fully be­fore they ap­pear on the cat­walk, who some­times adds linen, or even metal, to wool “so that it holds the creases”. (That’s right: while the rest of us iron our high­street garb, Bot­tega cus­tomers are pay­ing through the nose for built-in creases. As F. Scott Fitzger­ald once said: “The rich are dif­fer­ent from you and me.”)

Maier’s ex­pla­na­tion? “I al­ways like things that ap­pear worn, bro­ken in, that look like they be­long to the per­son. My old cardi­gan that has holes in the sleeves is much bet­ter than the new one I never pull out.” By mak­ing new clothes ap­pear old, Bot­tega can make new money ap­pear old, too: no won­der it is so well loved by the more ad­vanced type of al­pha.

There are no holes to be seen on Maier to­day. We are sit­ting in his preter­nat­u­rally silent, not to men­tion tidy, of­fice in New York, the 58-year-old Ger­man wear­ing an ensem­ble that could be de­scribed as a per­fect storm of stealth and wealth, if only a storm weren’t so noisy: a Bot­tega camel suede blou­son jacket, a camel cash­mere crew­neck from his own To­mas Maier la­bel, Levi’s jeans, black Nike train­ers. Then there is his jet­set­ter tan: the re­lent­lessly in­ter­na­tional Maier’s pri­mary res­i­dence is in ev­er­sunny Florida. “I love colour,” he tells me, “but I don’t wear it much. This is a colour­ful day for me!”

In fact, colour — quirky mixand-matches — is part of Maier’s lan­guage at Bot­tega Veneta, where he has been in charge since 2001, an im­pres­sive eter­nity in fash­ion. It all started with a phone call from Tom Ford, then at Gucci Group — now Ker­ing — of which Bot­tega forms a part. Af­ter two decades work­ing as a free­lancer — “the best imag­in­able train­ing ground” — Maier had set up his own ban-the-bling la­bel fo­cused on luxe re­sortwear. To­mas Maier the brand would prove to be “a beau­ti­ful call­ing card”, as To­mas Maier the man puts it, for the Ital­ian brand that had long had the tagline “when your own ini­tials are enough”.

Founded in Vi­cenza in 1966, Bot­tega was at first ex- clu­sively a leather goods com­pany, cel­e­brated for its in­trec­ciato or wo­ven leather. At its peak in the 1970s, own­ing a Bot­tega bag was the ul­ti­mate in so­phis­ti­ca­tion, but the brand was on the verge of bankruptcy by the time Maier was ap­pointed. Your own ini­tials seemed no longer to be enough. How­ever, Maier, de­spite wide­spread scep­ti­cism, in­sisted that they were. “When we started, big de­part­ment store ex­ec­u­tives would say: ‘You’ll never sell one of th­ese wal­lets. You have to have a logo on it to sell. You will never make it in this in­dus­try.’ ” He laughs. “And I said: ‘OK. Thank you for let­ting me know.’ ” The last laugh is in­deed his. Bot­tega is now the sec­ond big­gest Ker­ing brand af­ter Gucci, with 88 per cent of rev­enues com­ing from leather goods. What Bot­tega Veneta can’t do with leather isn’t worth know­ing about. At its fac­tory, a minimalist’s dream, leathers are tested with as­sorted Pro­fes­sor Branestawm con­trap­tions for re­sis­tance to abra­sion (1500 cy­cles), load-bear­ing (up to 3kg — what on earth do his cus­tomers carry in those hand­bags of theirs?) and much else be­sides. The light-as-afeather Cabat tote is made on a spe­cial last and has an in­trec­ciato fin­ish that looks the same on the in­side as the out­side. A ver­i­ta­ble Ru­bik’s Cube of an ac­ces­sory, it takes one of the fac­tory’s most skilled crafts­peo­ple eight hours to com­plete. For a man charged with de­sign­ing an in­cred­i­bly ex­pen­sive prod­uct — the la­bel’s in­trec­ciato bags be­gin at around $4000 — Maier dis­plays a sur­pris­ing

Bot­tega Veneta cre­ative di­rec­tor To­mas Maier; cre­ations for the spring­sum­mer 2016 col­lec­tion, top, and au­tumn 2016, right; leather clutch, $6500, be­low; in­trec­ciato mes­sen­ger bag, $3790, bot­tom

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