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From the Cassette to the Jodie, a History of Bottega Veneta Handbags

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From the Cassette to the Jodie, a History of Bottega Veneta Handbags

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The visual language of Bottega Veneta handbags—and of the label as a whole—is mainly shaped by what goes unsaid. That is, there’s a less-is-more approach, and you won’t find a brand logo on a single item. Instead, you’ll see an identifiable signature, the intrecciato woven leather treatment, which, since we’re on the subject of languages, translates to intertwined in Italian. Furthermore, Bottega Veneta means Venetian shop, which brings us right to the beginning.

John Stember

Bottega Veneta was founded in 1966 in Vicenza, Italy, by Michele Taddei and Renzo Zengiaro. The basket-weave technique so famous today was really just a workaround to a technical problem: At the start, the leather-goods company didn’t have sewing machines capable of accommodating thicker swathes of leather, so thin leather was used—but in order to make Bottega bags more durable, the leather was woven at the diagonal. It didn’t take long for the label to go global. By the 1970s, a Bottega Veneta shop had opened up in Manhattan, luring the likes of Andy Warhol who, in a lesser-known photo, can be seen kissing a Bottega loafer. (In 1985, the Pop artist would also make a short film for the Italian label.) It was also embraced in popular culture: Lauren Hutton memorably carried a brown Bottega clutch in American Gigolo—a moment that the label paid homage to in 2018 by reviving the bag and bringing Hutton out onto the runway.

Photo: Courtesy of ©Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection
Photo: Vogue Runway

Around that time, “When your own initials are enough” became Bottega Veneta’s slogan, hinting at the luxury brand’s if you know, you know ethos. (This was not a place for monogram canvas fabrications and logomania.) And because it wouldn’t be an Italian heritage label if there weren’t a bit of family drama: In the 1970s, co-founder Zengiaro gave the company to his ex-wife, Laura Braggion, who took the reins alongside her second husband, Vittorio Moltedo. All this went on until 2001, when the Gucci Group (now a subsidiary of Kering) bought up the company and appointed German designer Tomas Maier as creative director. In 2005 came the label’s first ready-to-wear collection, with fragrances, jewelry, sunglasses, home decor, and more categories following soon after. But in lieu of a flamboyant, *la dolce vita–*style lifestyle brand, Bottega only whispered of luxury. (After a 2006 runway show, Vogue described Maier’s aesthetic as “stealth wealth.”) Maier revived the Knot Box clutch from 1978, introduced the Cabat tote bag, and played a significant hand in reaffirming Bottega’s dominance in the global fashion game after a quiet period in the ’90s.

In June 2018, Daniel Lee took over the creative directorship of Bottega Veneta and turned the label into one that churned out It bag after It bag—all without the use of a single logo. Early in his tenure, Lee gave the world the Cassette and the Jodie bag, and the fashion set still hasn’t gotten over it.

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