Is Bottega Veneta the New (old) Céline?

Words by Jody Hume | 7.31.19
As Phoebe Philo’s Céline fades further and further into the rear view mirror, where can we look for beacons of inspired minimalism? Gone are the days of the iconic Daria Werbowy and Juergen Teller campaigns. The brutalist architecture references. The Joan Didion cameos. Of course, there will always be the archives (and ahem, The RealReal is the perfect place to scout for #oldcéline finds). But mining that finite collection isn’t quite the same as the excited expectancy of seeing new designs walk the runway, appear in campaigns and hit the shelves at stores IRL.
Perhaps we need a protégé? There’s good news on that front. Philophiles’ prayers may be answered in Daniel Lee, former ready-to-wear director at Céline in the era of Philo, and recently tapped Creative Director at Bottega Veneta. As his new designs have emerged since his Fall 2019 debut runway collection, there has been a distinctly Céline-esque vibe in the air again. Here, we break down their common ground.

The Art School Connection 

Philo and Lee both designed for Céline, but their common fashion paths don’t end there. In fact, they started in the same place: Central Saint Martins, the London art school famous for turning out some of fashion’s most celebrated and innovative designers (viz. Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Stella McCartney and Marc Jacobs to name a few). Philo’s 1996 graduation collection is said to have included “huge gold jewelry,” a thread that seems fairly easy to trace to the influential statement jewelry she would later design at Céline — though mysteriously record of those designs has gone missing. On the other hand, Daniel Lee’s designs for the 2011 CSM graduation show are available, and in them you can see shapes and ideas he brings to Bottega — the asymmetrically draped dresses, coats and sweaters for FW19 and Resort 20 may now be accented with chunky, woven details instead of knots (only right for the house known for all things intrecciato), but the throughline is there. 
Post-graduation they each cut their teeth assisting other designers. Philo followed her schoolmate Stella McCartney to Chloé before later taking over as the label’s Creative Director. Lee worked at Maison Margiela, Balenciaga and Donna Karan post-graduation. When Lee landed at Céline as Director of Ready-To-Wear Design during Phoebe’s tenure, they were at the same place once again.

Bottega Veneta Maxi Cabat, one of Daniel Lee’s first designs for the brand


The Digital-Recluse-With-An-Obsessive-Insta-Following Phenomenon

Daniel Lee is not on Instagram. His absence on the platform has a whiff of digital purism even though he claims, “I just don’t like it [Instagram], but that doesn’t mean I’m serious!” Either way, he’s a man after Phoebe’s own heart. Once proclaiming that “The chicest thing is when you don’t exist on Google,” Philo has also avoided a personal presence on social media. It’s a move that seems to underscore the attitude that her designs don’t need to be overshared or intellectually explained — they speak for themselves.
But that hasn’t stopped fans. Exhibit A: In the wake of Philo’s departure, collective grief and admiration found an outlet in viral Insta account @oldcéline. Created by Toronto-based graphic designer Gabriella Boucinha, it’s an archive of iconic campaign imagery, reposts from Céline obsessives and features on Phoebe that’s become the virtual gathering place for anyone who wants to keep the spirit of Céline alive. But if @oldcéline is an elegy for the end of an era, Daniel Lee’s Insta stan account is all about the future. Which brings us to Exhibit B: @newbottega. A kind of twin to #oldcéline, it was also created by a devoted fan, Italian fashion student Laura Rossi, eager to compile inspo for existing and emerging designs by Lee. Want to see what fashion people are putting in their new It clutch pouches (answer: lemons, wine, beauty products, more pouches)? Can’t get enough square-toe sandals? Excited about a cool, exaggerated new take on intrecciato? It’s all there. And like @oldceline, it’s a place where fans can share their own photos and (chicly) geek out on their collective love for a brand that speaks to them about something more than just fashion. 

Bottega Veneta: The Pouch Black Intrecciato | The Pouch Olive Nappa Leather | The Pouch Red Intrecciato


The Ugly-Cool It Pieces

Let’s start with the shoes, since Phoebe gave us so many. The extremely chunky-heeled pumps. The fuzz-covered pumps. The polarizing, fur-lined Birkenstock-style sandals that sparked a revival that’s still going strong. Some of the first pairs of high-fashion, verging-on-orthopedic sneakers that were also a harbinger of a much larger trend. The sock-like ballet heels. Honestly, there are too many to name. And Lee is ready to keep this jolie-laide tradition alive. With an army of square toes, old-lady-looking heels that women of every age will think are very right now, and unconventionally oversized takes on intrecciato, he’s already creating the kind of off-beat pieces that women are obsessed with (and that sell out, fast). 
For his next trick, Lee applied the same ethos to one of his first handbag designs for Bottega Veneta: The Pouch. A deceptively simple design that’s already making the celebrity and street style rounds, there’s something almost grandmotherly about it, while at the same time it’s covetable and undeniably luxe in terms of materials and craftsmanship. It feels like a new It bag has been due for a while, and when maximalism has had its turn, where is there to go but to something more subliminally cool? Which brings us to Lee and Philo’s next similarity.

The Non-Logo Logo Take On Luxury

Old Céline and new Bottega offer an antidote to fashion’s obsession with logos. While both Philo’s and Lee’s designs are recognizable, they’re more ‘non-logo logo,’ exuding a cool integrity over the screaming of overt branding. And in a sea of maximalism, it could be minimalism’s moment for a triumphant return.
But this isn’t all to say that Daniel Lee is just an ersatz Philo. While the echoes are (thankfully!) there, his own point of view is emerging, and the project of revitalizing Bottega’s unique house codes will differentiate him as well. Bottega has always been about understated luxury, something its motto — ‘when your own initials are enough’ — encapsulates. Lee’s stated goal is to “maintain the codes of the house—craftsmanship, quality and sophistication—while imbuing them with a new perspective and modernity,” and you can begin to see it taking shape. He riffed on the house’s usually delicately scaled signature intrecciato in playfully big and boldly bright ‘maxi weave’ for his first collection of totes and the deliciously puffy cassette bag. The detailed cut-out leather in his first collection was also a sign of innovative things to come. 
Minimalism isn’t small on meaning — that’s what people, and particularly women, loved about Philo’s Céline. Her decade at the house was an era about women dressing for themselves, for comfort and fluidity in modern life, for confidence and power. Less was more, but it didn’t preclude bold moments, and practicality met experimentation in a way that resonated with modern women. If Lee can do the same at Bottega, an old new tradition will stay alive.
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