In less than two years, Matthieu Blazy has energized Bottega Veneta with a truly original design vision steeped in invention, storytelling, intensive craft and showmanship.
His spring show was gripping, transporting and often breathtaking, with an electricity rivaled in Milan perhaps only by Prada.
You could feel it immediately as you stepped into the show space: its floor a bright blue expanse of ceramic tiles that brought to mind a seafood shop, or a swimming pool. Upon it was printed a naively drawn map of the world, and a menagerie of fish, birds and even the designer’s pet dog.
After a trilogy of collections rooted in Italy, Blazy flung open his imagination to the world, inspired by a line in one of his favorite books, “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac: “Are you going somewhere? Or are you just going?”
“That line is very beautiful because it opens a world of possibilities. And maybe the collection is the answer to that question,” he mused during a preview last week in his studio.
Anyone who has been to an airport post-pandemic knows about the pent-up hunger for travel, whether it’s to experience another culture, or discover different landscapes, plants and wildlife.
Blazy’s cultural references were blurry, partly because many of them occur in multiple geographies and nations. For example, stretching Bottega’s signature Intrecciata technique into new realms, he asked artisans to reprise basket-weaving techniques employing strips of leather dyed and treated to faithfully approximate the look and feel of banana leaves, which are used throughout Asia, South America and also Southeast Asia.
He certainly wished to avoid any charges of cultural appropriation by being too specific. That said, “I’m sick and tired of not being able to refer to other cultures, because the world is made out of this richness,” he said. “I think culture, arts and crafts belong to the world.”
Blazy also wished to exalt the wonders of nature. During the preview, he picked up several photos of runway looks and turned them upside down, demonstrating how his fringed leather tops and cocoon coats resemble cacti, or exotic flowers in full bloom.
About two thirds of the way through the show came feather-like fringe treatments on bubble-shaped skirts and bustier dresses that made one think of exotic birds. Some of his sandals seemed made of vines that grew beautifully around the foot.
Even without knowing the collection’s narrative, you could spot the creatures and characters: the castaway in a T-shirt or a black bathing costume; the sailor with button-front pants and a big rucksack; the business commuter in pinstriped knitwear, and the nomads in their handsome blanket tailoring.
Blazy has an approach to embellishment rooted entirely in savoir-faire, not razzmatazz, and it’s perfectly suited to Bottega Veneta.
That said, the rustic sweaters and oversize coats, woven from leather to resemble tweed, herringbone or spiky fur, often looked too heavy and bulky for a spring collection. Blazy supersized peacoats and overcoats for men, and experimented with big, firework-like bursts of raffia on the mesh dresses that closed the show.
But practicality takes a backseat to the fashion thrills this blockbuster show delivered.