“For this collection, I wanted to find a format that, in this moment, felt human—domestic, even,” Bottega Veneta creative director Daniel Lee says via email. “We are currently lacking the intimacy that comes from human contact with our friends and family, so our answer was, ‘OK well, let’s do some very, very intimate viewings of the collection.’”
I close my laptop. Opposite me on my living-room carpet is a large, brown cardboard box, inside which is the story behind Bottega Veneta’s SS21 show, otherwise known as Salon 01 London, The Importance of Wearing Clothes (this is also the title of an accompanying artbook by German conceptual artist Rosemarie Trockel, which we’ll come to later). Whereas last season, in Milan, I attended Lee’s AW20 catwalk unveiling in a pair of the house’s 9cm-high ‘vintage blu’ Lido mules, today I’m in knitted tights, slippers, and a swaddling wool polo neck.
Casting aside the fear that I’m inadvertently about to slice through a conceptual artwork, I take a pair of large kitchen scissors and a deep breath, before dragging the tip of the blade along the edge of the box.
What’s inside the Bottega Veneta SS21 box?
Another brown cardboard box, but this time the heavy-duty adhesive tape comes in Bottega Veneta’s signature, glossy ‘fern green’ and opens up a world of ASMR possibilities when I slowly snip away at it. Inside is a matching green zip-up messenger bag containing a collection of objects—three weighty books and a 12in record—revealing the experience of making Salon 01, which is, of course not Lee’s first collection for the house, but marks the start of a more intimate approach for the brand. On top was a typed note, ending: “Love Daniel.”
The power of the physical fashion encounter
“I felt that fashion was moving towards becoming reliant on digital presentations, which is not necessarily something that resonated particularly with me or the brand,” Lee adds in the email. Book 01—a gorgeous glimpse into the inspirations behind the collection—is an ode to the muses that lend meaning to the word ‘style’: artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, model Tina Chow, and musician PJ Harvey among them.
Book 02—titled The Importance of Wearing Clothes—was created by Trockel, who is best known for her knitted wool paintings that are part of a mixed-media practice, which challenges traditional notions of femininity. Its pages are a love letter to the process of making and wearing clothes, and for the most dedicated Bottega Veneta stans, it shines a light on all of the pieces that didn’t make the final edit.
“My first and also most recent impression of Daniel Lee was, and is, of an almost silent gentle presence with an extreme focus on his work,” Trockel says. “He never wastes his breath on superfluous chatter.”
During their exchange, there was an almost daily flow of objects coming from Milan—both material experiments and finished garments. “And in return, my photographic impressions and surreal juxtapositions [were] virtually communicated to Daniel and his team,” she adds. “With Daniel‘s artisanal discipline, he operates in a sphere usually reserved for artists.”
Book 03 was photographed by Lee’s frequent collaborator Tyrone Lebon and captures the collection itself as seen through the eyes of a very small number of friends that Lee invited to experience an intimate show in October.
The secret fashion show
Kanye and North West, British rapper Skepta, choreographer Michael Clark and playwright, composer and actor Sheila Atim, were among the talents who attended the small, secret Salon 01 London show that Daniel Lee held in the city’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre, one of the world’s leading dance venues. The soundtrack—a live spoken-word performance by British singer Neneh Cherry—can be heard on the 12in record, the final, glossy green object inside the messenger bag.
“Daniel had an idea that he wanted me to just speak rather than sing, to keep it quite close and intimate as a reflection of the journey we’ve been on this year,” Cherry says. Her words on the record were a rousing score for models Adwoa Aboah, Edie Campbell and Barbara Valente as they strode across the empty stage—a nod to the simplicity of fashion history’s early salon shows and an extension of the house’s ‘leave no trace’ philosophy. Tune into Lee and Lebon’s film of the event via Bottega Veneta’s digital channels and you’ll see that there was no ostentatious set—just the models, a clutch of socially distanced friends and some extremely desirable clothes.
Daniel Lee’s connection with dance
Some of Lee’s first experiments in fashion were the dance costumes he made as a child, growing up in Bradford, north England. Later, as a student at London’s Central Saint Martins college, Sadler’s Wells productions broadened his creative outlook, with everything from classical to all-night raves honing the modern Bottega Veneta aesthetic.
The clothes: Daniel Lee meets ‘domesticity’
“For this collection, we’ve definitely been influenced quite heavily by domesticity, the idea of comfort and handicraft, all inspired by the fact that we’re at home,” Lee writes. The collection is extremely tactile (even by Bottega Veneta’s cuddlesome standards), with the majority of the fabrics and finishes (bouclé, crochet and knit) hinting at soothing home furnishings.
Aboah wears a zinging knit dress, with matching snap-handle clutch and mules, which riffs off the nostalgia of homespun 1960s knitting patterns. As usual, there’s Lee’s idiosyncratic and intuitive use of colour: melt-in-the-mouth sherbet yellows, Hockney blues and faint sunset-pinks. In between corseted zip-up jackets (see model Jean Campbell’s look), skirt suiting and a deliciously shiny aqua party dress, there’s a heaping of homemade knitwear, hence why the artistic collaboration with Trockel makes so much sense.
“It’s all very much about comfort, there’s a lot of stretch and generous fabrics,” Lee’s email explains. Backstage, the models wore house renditions of classic hotel robes and slippers, designed to match the fabric of the pink and green evening dresses.
Accessories mavens will already have spotted the ‘Puffy Dear’—a pillowy briefcase that blurs the line between work, cocktail and casualwear—and the high-jinks chunky wedge heels that round off the collection’s matchy-matchy feel. The question now is: how soon can we wear it on a dancefloor?