Retailers are dropping left and right, but Bottega Veneta just opened its largest flagship store yet—and celebrated by moving its fashion show to N.Y.C.
Going from Bottega Veneta’s brand-new New York City flagship to the Bottega Veneta fashion show, housed in the iconic American Stock Exchange Building, is a surprisingly unsurprising experience. The couches where models will chat easily during the show, the elaborate dining room table setups, even the slate-gray color scheme: it seems like everything’s been moved from the store to the temporary stage. The models even walk the runway toting the same bags—with the same stamped-on initials—customers can get in the store. The only giveaway? Julianne Moore, who joins for the runway festivities. The event is intended to showcase the new collection, but also to celebrate and promote the label’s spanking-new shop in New York City, now the largest flagship location in Bottega’s portfolio. Bottega typically shows in Milan, but it made a one-time exception this season to properly launch the store. A monumental new store deserves a monumental runway show.
At first glance, Bottega Veneta’s new store comes at an odd time, an era when the retail industry is allegedly rotting. News surrounding the strength of the retail industry is like all news today, which is to say it’s pessimistic, confusing, and depressing. There are already 3,600 store closures planned for 2018, and today Americans are spending half of what they spent on clothes compared to four decades ago. But Bottega is zagging in the opposite direction: not only is it opening any old store, it’s erected the largest, vastest, ritziest, and most impressive 15,000-square-foot shrine in its portfolio. Sounds crazy, but the move makes sense for a label like Bottega.
Bottega Veneta, designed under the direction of Tomas Maier since 2001, charges luxury prices for items that don’t scream “luxury.” This is the point: rather than a logo, Bottega’s most recognizable visual cue is its trademark woven leather, called Intrecciato. You’re less likely to see the label’s clothes in street style galleries than you are on classic Hollywood leading men on a red carpet, or in the closets of jetsetting CEOs. And the new store is designed to provide these types of customers with an experience befitting their platinum status. “The idea behind the Maison is to provide our clientele an exclusive experience in an intimate and highly personalized setting,” Bottega Veneta designer Tomas Maier tells me over email.
It’s pouring rain when I first arrived on the corner of Madison and 64th Street to take in the new Bottega Veneta flagship. While the brand has gutted the interior, the exterior is left untouched: it looks genuinely like an unspeakably large New York City brownstone. There is no window without a custom white awning, and warm orange light is projected from hidden lamps onto the facade. The store looks like a boarding school a character in a Wes Anderson movie might attend.
Bottega shares its street with the likes of Chanel, Alexander McQueen, and Givenchy, along with expensive brands like Loro Piana, Roger Vivier, and Leggiadro Pomellato—together, the block is a haven for customers who prefer to shop in person, who can afford to purchase one-for-one items, and can read the phrase contact specialist for price without feeling sick to their stomach.
Inside the store, Shaq-sized burgundy couches create living room-style spaces on each floor. Notably, the store houses the brand’s first-ever floor dedicated entirely to menswear. Sitting on an end table next to the couches is a small half-emptied bottle of San Pellegrino, there to hydrate customers shopping for $960 Intrecciato trim hoodies, $2,250 Intrecciato leather backpacks, and $660 Intrecciato leather sandals. One story up is the Apartment, a space Bottega Veneta uses to display its home goods. There’s a full-on dining room properly set for six people to have the kind of meal that requires two Bottega Veneta spoons, two Bottega Veneta knives, two Bottega Veneta forks, and both a Bottega Veneta wine and Bottega Veneta champagne glass. Hanging on the wall next to the table is museum-grade artwork by Lucio Fontana. Fontana’s art has hung in the MoMA, the Guggenheim, and The Tate, and now the fifth floor of the Bottega Veneta flagship.
Back on the bottom floor of the Bottega Veneta store is an area where customers are encouraged to customize products. Personalization is one of the many strategies retailers are trying out in hopes of beckoning customers back to physical stores and, unsurprisingly, Bottega’s made it key to its new shop as well. “Our slogan is ‘When your own initials are enough,’” a Bottega representative reminds me while showing off a station where buyers can stamp their own initials on any number of leather goods.
If the store seems like a luxury fantasia, that’s the point. If there’s any space showing positive signs it’s the luxury sector. Luxury malls are flourishing, and other designers attest that shoppers simply can’t pay enough for already high-priced goods: Tom Ford told WWD in an interview this week that finding people to buy his expensive wares isn’t the problem. In fact he’s dealing with the complete opposite dilemma. “I get calls from our store managers all the time saying we need more things that are more expensive,” he told WWD. “When [they] say more expensive, they mean more special.”
Bottega Veneta’s New York store is designed with this in mind. Maier says that the Apartment space, in particular, is made to host clients who have the means to warrant a private shopping session—there are even the kind of “hidden fitting rooms” that usually lead to the Batcave. The original Bottega Veneta New York City store, opened in 1972, hosted customers like Andy Warhol and Jacqueline Onassis. Bottega feels like a label that attracts shoppers whose names are more likely to appear in The Economist than TMZ, but the new store will hope (and need) to keep bringing in Onassis-quality shoppers in 2018, too.
In this rich-get-richer economy, luxury consumers desire more specialty experiences, more high-priced items that customers can show off. The store is designed to fulfill that desire. In tandem with its new store, Bottega’s launching a New York-exclusive collection, complete with iPhone cases stitched with a map of the New York City Subway. It’s not exactly a typical Bottega Veneta design: simple-verging-on-anonymous, but costing the average person’s monthly grocery bill. Instead, it’s limited, exclusive, and bold—and not likely owned by many others. It distills what the store is trying to do generally: provide unique enough experiences and products that a customer feels compelled to step into the store to buy, rather than just to shop online.
As the Bottega Veneta fashion show ended, things turned into a party. Guests stepped onto the platform where the models were just walking and ran with their phones in the air toward Maier, who was standing next to Gigi Hadid. They took pictures of Maier and Hadid—but also of the concrete facade, the Italian art in the background, the big plush couches, Gio Ponti furniture, the models huddled around a dining room table, a roped-off John Chamberlain sculpture, and the funky little three-legged side tables. Every design element matched what customers could expect to find in the new store. And everything was getting photographed and posted to social media—where, perhaps, it would catch the eye of a future Intrecciato customer. Maybe even one who’d buy in person.