Models in Bottega Veneta at Milan Fashion Week on Saturday / AFP

Tomas Maier would never call himself an artist, but his Bottega Veneta collections are obsessed with the idea of the artisan

Fashion isn’t art. Let’s get that straight. However, they are both bought by the same bunch of people. The aesthetically informed, or at least aesthetically interested. And the rich. I’m frequently struck by the similarities between always-empty art galleries and mostly deserted designer boutiques: both dormant, waiting for a rich client to walk in and Hoover up the wares. In a sense, both are only valid if someone eventually does.

I ended up thinking a lot about art after watching Tomas Maier’s show. He would never call himself an artist, but his Bottega Veneta collections are obsessed with the idea of the artisan. They are also much appreciated – the label’s total revenues for 2014 stood at €1.13bn (£820m), an annual rise of 12.6 per cent. There’s a consistency to Maier’s clothes, which means that consumers who buy Bottega are confident they are investing in a sure-fire hit. They are reassuringly expensive, reliably conservative. They’re a bit like buying an Old Master – Bottega Veneta is not going to tank with the indiscriminate faddiness of the contemporary market. Maier also doesn’t seem to be moving anywhere. Significant, given that Gucci’s head has just been replaced, and that Peter Dundas’s Pucci show last night was apparently his last.


So, consistency: if Maier’s Bottega menswear show in January was devoted to artists – creative types who wear flowy trousers and pussy-bow blouses – this womenswear offering was, seemingly, devoted to the ladies who buy their work. They wear those blouses and trousers too, but while a challenging offering for him, for her it works perfectly fine. This collection was like a stroll through an art gallery, or an especially moneyed client’s home, opening with Yayoi Kusama’s polka-dots, treading through a Franz Kline gallery of abstract slashes in patches of needle punch, to a scrambled Cy Twombly scribble in print or lace and then Kusama spots again, like retracing your steps.

We’ve seen fashion toy with arty games before. A lot. The interesting thing with Bottega – and a few other examples – is that it isn’t a heavy-handed attempt to meld the two disciplines. Miuccia Prada dubbed her winter collection “Soft Pop” on Thursday night, and in retrospect there’s a perversion of normality that recalls the work of John Currin, as well as all that spongy jersey fabric feeling a bit Claes Oldenberg.

Tomas Maier’s Bottega Veneta collections are obsessed with the idea of the artisan (AP)

I hold no truck with the idea that art denizens all frock up in Comme des Garçons like a walking soft sculpture. I reckon they’re buying Bottega, and Prada. Although I overanalyse and see Kusama and Kline in these clothes, Bottega Veneta customers (even the ones who own Kusama and Kline) will just see nice felty strips and polka-dots, well placed, that will appeal to their refined eyes.

Maier, clever as he is, didn’t mention art. He quoted the urge to express “individual creativity” as an abstract source of inspiration. He also mentioned beautifully made clothes. That’s what women want to wear, not something that looks as if it should be hanging on the wall.