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Remodeling the House

How dependable Italian classic Bottega Veneta became fashion's newest darling.

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Laura Moltedo, the owner and creative director of Bottega Veneta, is sitting in the company's gleaming new headquarters on the Viale Piceno in Milan, and she's getting very excited about a magazine. So excited, in fact, that she rushes out to find a copy. Pop is a new British publication that's the brainchild of the stylist Katie Grand. "So Katie," says Moltedo of the cover, which depicts Stella McCartney swinging on a stripper's pole. Moltedo has good reason to be proud of Grand, who has worked as Bottega Veneta's creative consultant for two seasons now. Along with Giles Deacon (designer) and Stuart Vevers (accessories), she has helped Moltedo transform a dependable if dowdy accessories house into a hot fashion name. And all in the space of around eighteen months.

Bottega Veneta's collection for next spring can only accelerate the transformation. It's the most uncompromising statement the house has made since it introduced its clothing line just over two years ago. "It mixes masculine and feminine together," Moltedo says. "It has a tough attitude." Butch chic was everywhere during the 2001 fashion season: sharp-shouldered pantsuits, shirts worn with ties, endless military references. But Bottega Veneta's version was done with just enough humor to make it work. There were neon-pink leopard-skin-print pantsuits, a bronzed version of its trademark woven leather used for a blazer and matching sun visor, and a black power suit accessorized with a briefcase -- an idea derived from the mention of a Bottega Veneta briefcase in the opening pages of American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis's homage to homicidal fantasies and high fashion.

The starting point for the collection, says Katie Grand, came when "Laura and I were talking after the last show in February about what the spring 2001 collection should be about, who the Bottega Veneta woman would be. I just said, 'This season, the Bottega Veneta woman is a man.' It was a flippant remark, but it also made sense. The time felt right to do a hard-edged collection."

It is Grand's sense of timing that Bottega Veneta is banking on. If you're an accessory house adding a clothing line, you can hire a marquee name designer (as, say, Louis Vuitton did with Marc Jacobs) to gain kudos, or you can go with a team. Grand works with Moltedo and her designers to shape the house's image and act as a kind of fashion barometer, figuring out what will play in six months' time, or who is the right photographer to shoot its advertising campaigns. (Vincent Peters, a rising photographer whom Grand has worked with for some time, shot this fall's ads.) By choosing to work with a stylist like Grand -- formerly of the indie bible Dazed & Confused, now fashion director of The Face -- Moltedo has made a conscious decision that her label should be at fashion's cutting edge. If it can show itself to be that little bit hipper and cooler than the rest, Bottega can stand out from every other luxury house throwing its bags into the ring. In effect, Grand has been hired to help the house reach the point at which, she says, "you pick up a piece of clothing and know that it's Bottega Veneta."

And this, of course, is something the Old Guard can appreciate, in spades. "Working with young people like Katie and Giles has taught me a lot," says Moltedo. "I like their attitude." She closes the issue of Pop that sits before her. "These days," she says, "attitude is everything."


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