Bottega Veneta started 2021 off with a power move. The first week of January, the Milan-based luxury brand pulled a Greta Garbo for the digital age and went dark on all its social media platforms, deleting its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts in one fell swoop. It sent fashion media into a tailspin and kept it awhirl by the fact that Bottega declined to comment on the strategy at hand.
It was a bold one, for sure. Hasn’t social media been It, the Alpha and the Omega of everyone’s communication and marketing blueprint for the last seven or so years? What does disappearing mean? Is the brand playing a long game on a social media blackout or is it a short-term yet very clever stunt? Will other brands follow? For now, that’s unknown, but it’s kicked off an interesting discussion on the state of social media in luxury.
“I think it’s refreshing and something that’s long overdue,” says Tony King, CEO and creative head of King & Partners, the luxury branding and digital agency whose clients have included Victoria Beckham and Carolina Herrera. “I think what they are trying to do is bring back some of the mystery that used to exist around these brands. I think it's gotten so uncool. Every single aspect of everything is shown to everyone all the time.”
Indeed, Bottega Veneta is cool right now.
Two years ago, Daniel Lee, a young British designer, previously head of ready-to-wear under Phoebe Philo’s cultish Céline, presented his first collection as creative director at Bottega Veneta. The feeding frenzy was instantaneous, driven by the intrigue for Lee’s time in Philo’s studio and the fact that fans were starved by the void she left. To a great extent, his vision filled it.
The influence of old Céline looms large over new Bottega’s shoes and accessories, many of which have become huge hits. You can’t swing a Pouch or Cassette—two of Lee’s most popular bags, defined by their puffy, pillowy shapes—without hitting a hundred influencers carrying the same style. Then there’s the square-toe shoes and sandals and exaggerated lug sole boots, whose wonky silhouettes at first looked very strange to the eye and are now being imitated up and down the market. The ready-to-wear is more forgettable. The brand numbers are good—Kering reported a 20.7 percent jump in comparable revenues in the third quarter.
The previous summer, Lee had been plucked from obscurity to replace Tomas Maier, Bottega Veneta’s maestro of 17 years, who had engineered an ethos of quiet luxury—“When your own initials are enough” was the brand motto under Maier’s direction—and steered it to become one of the top three brands in Kering’s portfolio. Maier’s Bottega wasn’t necessarily “cool” but it was an important player in the luxury game. Ample groundwork had been lain. The house’s signature woven intrecciato leather was already a bona fide blue chip, heritage luxury motif when Lee got his hands on it, amplifying it in new, chicly cartoonish proportions and colors.
The branding, too, has become much louder under Lee, who reimagined the packaging in vivid, traffic-light green with an airy minimalist logo designed by creative directors Carina Frey and Stefanie Barth. The shopping bags have a distinctive triangular cut-out to create a handle—the triangle is now a signature branding motif on clothes, belt buckles, and other accessories.
Early on, Lee, a millennial, expressed his distaste for social media. Yet social media loves him and his work, and his palette and quirky proportions play well on the medium. Instagram accounts, such as @bottegaveneta.by.daniellee and @newbottega, a riff on the wildly popular @oldceline, devoted to Philo’s work, are highly curated feeds of Bottega product that have garnered significant followings, 37.6k and 363k respectively. The hashtag #bottegaveneta turns up 1.9 million posts; #newbottega, 50.6k, all generated by what is known in social jargon as “the brand community.”
Ana Andjelic, a luxury consultant and author of The Business of Aspiration, argues that Lee has made enough noise with his product, his branding, and his fans that the reverb is such that BV can afford to go quiet on social. Being out of sight, doesn’t necessarily mean being out of mind. It can mean the opposite.
“When you think about cultural savvy and cultural aspiration, and when you see celebrities like George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, and those that capture people's imagination, none of them are all social media,” says Andjelic. “Bottega Veneta is recreating the luxury strategy that is about being culturally relevant, but not readily accessible. This comes with an asterisk. This is not a traditional luxury strategy. It only means that Daniel Lee is so confident in the quality and design of its product and the aesthetic vision for this brand, that he trusts the brand community to do the brand’s job for it.”
One person happy to do just that: Laura Rossi, the Florence-based art direction student who runs @newbottega, the account she started in spring 2019 shortly after the designer's runway debut. In the days after Bottega deleted its official account, Rossi said her followers shot up and that she’d received many supportive messages from them.
“This community has always been super engaged and enthusiastic,” she says. Asked how if this will affect her access to product and campaign photos to post, she says most of her content comes from editorials or amateur photos taken customers, noting that campaign photos are usually published on a variety of platforms, not just Instagram. Rossi, who is not repped by an agency and doesn’t do sponsored posts, said she’s “on good terms with the brand.” Asked if she’s ever been compensated by it, she replied, “I attended their show in Milan in the past two seasons and got a couple of items gifted for the occasion, but no I don’t directly partner with them.”
So, Daniel Lee’s new Bottega Veneta has acquired a lot of digital equity in a short amount of time. The brand is cashing in on it—for now. One luxury digital executive, who preferred to remain anonymous to speak candidly, says that it’s precisely because Lee’s tenure is relatively new that he’s able to pull off such a move. “He doesn’t have to turn the Titanic,” the source explains.
But it does mean the brand is relinquishing control of its image on extremely popular platforms. Andjelic and King note that it frees it up to channel its social media mega budgets and resources into other, potentially more creative projects, and speak to customers who are actually spending. Most brand pages on Instagram have converged to a snoozy norm, anyway.
“We're consuming the same social platforms,” says Bryan Yambao, aka Bryanboy, the first-gen blogger and influencer. “I just feel like what contributed to Daniel’s rise, rather than his imagery, is what people are doing. How many—sorry for my language—how many influencers have you seen with a fucking Bottega bag?”
True. But where is the point of origin for brand buzz and communication? Where’s the home base? Especially now when the fashion system, which was already atrophying pre-Covid, has been put on a ventilator with fashion shows at a halt, in person retail plummeting and in-person contact extremely limited?
Rossi’s @NewBottega has over 300k followers but @chaneloffical has 42.7 million; @louisvuitton has 41.8 million, @dior has 34.1 million and @hermes, the platinum-plus certified standard of quiet, unattainable luxury has 10.5 million. That’s a lot of eyeballs even if they aren’t all buying.
No one interviewed for this story saw other brands following Bottega’s anti-social lead.
Yambao is putting his money on the brand’s imminent return to the platforms. “It's a straight-forward publicity stunt,” he says. “I'm actually personally counting the days until they actually go back or claim, ‘Oh, it was just like April Fools'.’”
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