In June, Bottega Veneta named Celine’s former director of ready-to-wear Daniel Lee, a relative unknown outside of the industry, as its new creative director. As soon as the news broke, speculations swiftly pegged the Italian house’s appointment as a shift to fill the conceivable void in the luxury market left behind by Phoebe Philo’s departure from Celine; a strategy to resupply the practical and effortless fashion the modern wealthy women favoured but could no longer find at the aigu-less Celine. Following the debut of the new Celine — under the divisive jurisdiction of Hedi Slimane — questions whether Lee would reincarnate the spirit of “old Celine” lingered on.
Lee’s answer finally came in the form of his Pre-Fall 2019 proposal. Softness and sensuality were explored in off-kilter proportions which somehow hung just about right: Necklines came scooped in a narrow oval; leather skirts and wide-leg culottes flared and were slashed slightly below knee-length; several trousers were loose-fitted, leaving more leg room from the knee down. Tailoring was definitively sleek, and knitwear, decisive and witty. Lee’s footwear selections, too, were familiar yet entirely his own: very square-toed, awkward, but unwaveringly appealing.
“There is a synergy between men’s and women’s clothing,” writes the collection’s press statement. Sprezzatura — an Italian word for an undefinable nonchalance that’s almost impossible to pinpoint — is at the crux of the collection. Yet more palpably so for the men’s offering. As their female counterpart now is, the Bottega man is smart and composed. His wardrobe is “just what I like to wear”, Lee says. From the nuanced quirks — “handkerchief square” pushed out from the inside of a blazer’s pocket, delicate knit cut-outs exposing the wrists — it was evident that to Lee, god is in the details.
A true Celine graduate, Lee’s sense of fabrication is faultless. Though leather, and the experimentation of its intricacy, was at the core of it all. Bottega’s cerebral intrecciato — the house’s signature method of knotting, weaving and braiding leather — was blown up and incorporated into its extra-large Cabat carryalls. The technique was further explored in supple leather trousers, seen on both women’s and men’s, melded into their centres.
This may be everything any Philophile, a phrase for the devout disciples of Phoebe Philo, would jovially pile up in her, or his, proverbial shopping carts to make up for the palpable absence of their design inamorata — yet it was much more than that. For this collection, Lee observed real-life Italians on the streets of Milan and their ways of dressing, noting women the likes of actress Monica Vitti and fashion figures Franca and Carla Sozzani as his starting point. It was the notion of modernity in reverence to the roots of Italian dress codes, stripped off the excess today’s runways tend to indulge in. Lee affirms this to Vogue, “I like real clothes. I think there’s a need for a return to elegance and sophistication.”
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