Early on in the pandemic, Bottega Veneta announced a new show model: Milan was out, and off-schedule, salon-style shows were in. Creative director Daniel Lee would take his collections on the road and engage with both local talents and local audiences in the cities where the brand posted up. First was London, his home base, last October. A show at Berlin’s Berghain nightclub followed in April. Salon 03 was staged tonight at Detroit’s Michigan Theatre, a 4,000-something-seat movie palace built amid the city’s spectacular automotive-fueled boom in the 1920s that was converted into a parking garage during its even more spectacular 1970s bust.
Mary J. Blige and Lil’ Kim were among the stars who jetted in to watch. From New York, a planeful of reporters, magazine editors, and stylists, plus the young designers Peter Do and Hillary Taymour, made the trip too. For many, if not most of them, it was their first time in the Motor City. Curiosity about Detroit, and about what Lee and company could get up to there, were the attractions.
Writing in The Atlantic in 2011, Ta-Nehisi Coates pointed out, “Over the past few years, Detroit, the blackest big city in the country, has been hot with reporters and filmmakers who’ve assigned themselves the work of comparing the city’s mythical past against its precarious present.” A decade later, unlike New York or Los Angeles, it’s still the kind of place that has something to prove. Enter Bottega Veneta and Daniel Lee.
“I’m obsessed with Detroit,” Lee said after the show. “I first came here six years ago and fell in love with the place. I’m from Leeds; it’s the industrial heartland of the U.K., and Detroit being the industrial heartland of America, I feel this kind of connection.” Then there’s the music thing: “Detroit really is the birthplace of techno, and techno was the music that I was growing up to and going out to. I wanted to use my position to shine a light on all of that.”
The day’s events included a culture tour that made stops at the mid-century Hawkins Ferry House in Grosse Pointe; the world’s first and only techno museum, Exhibition 3000; and the studio of furniture designer Chris Schanck, who is among the Detroiters who contributed to Bottega’s three-month pop-up shop at a decommissioned firehouse in the city’s Corktown neighborhood. The techno creatives Moodymann and Carl Craig were responsible for the sonic components of the show.
Lee has made a strong impression in his three years at Bottega Veneta. Fashion’s first-movers were quick to pick up his softly constructed Pouch bag and wear his square-toed heels, and the trickle-down effect has been noticeable from the accessories floors of high-end department stores to the high street. That hemlines have risen and fashion has turned toward sexier silhouettes are arguably part of the Lee effect too.
Given his choice of venue, he said he asked himself, “What’s American?” It was definitely the sportiest collection he’s shown so far, with tennis whites, dark-rinse jean jackets and skirts, and tracksuits engineered in a crosshatch check knit meant to imitate the house signature intrecciato motif. A pair of white dresses had the 1950s halter-neck va-va-voom of Marilyn’s famous Seven Year Itch dress, only Lee paired them with sneakers.
In spite of the sportswear and workwear influences, there was a lot of interest at the level of the fabric. “For me,” said Lee, “Bottega Veneta is really a house of technique.” The season’s elevating, couture-ish details came in the form of intarsias and embroideries of a Tyrone Lebon photograph of Mica Argañaraz circa spring 2020 in nothing but Bottega’s sparkly pumps—a clothes-as-canvas kind of proposition.
And much of the outerwear was shot through with metal threads, which gave the anoraks and blouson jackets and the pants they were worn with the glossy color and kinetic dimensionality of John Chamberlain’s old car sculptures. Chamberlain rejected the metaphors that were heaped on his art, but he could give as good as he got. He once said of his work, “It goes from being the waste source of one being to the life source of another.” In the glorious wreck of the Michigan Theatre, that idea resonated.
This article was originally published on Vogue.com.