In an age of overcommunication, Bottega Veneta has become one of the hottest brands in the world by shutting up. Most labels give us logos, the same handful of celebrities, and variations on mostly interchangeable bags and big sneakers. But since taking over the Kering-owned luxury house in 2018, Bottega designer Daniel Lee has left a pathway of glow-in-the-dark breadcrumbs that have hypnotized consumers and flummoxed and titillated fashion insiders. Under Lee’s reign, Bottega has blown the formerly discreet brand’s signatures, like “intrecciato” woven-leather bags and a subtle triangle logo, into outrageous proportions; deleted its Instagram, the primary vessel for fashion and celebrity messaging; launched a digital-only star-studded zine; laid an almighty claim to the entire color lime green; and replaced fashion shows with secretive salons from which images are closely guarded. Meanwhile, the boyish redheaded Lee rarely gives interviews. The image is one of a mysterious entity churning out culty fashion. In July, Bottega announced its latest enigma: it would show its Salon 03 collection, ostensibly Spring 2022, in Detroit.

Fashion brands are under a microscope when it comes to issues of race and class, and it was a ballsy move for a European luxury brand to sweep into a city with a history as complex as Detroit’s and make the case for strong synergy. The day leading up to the show unfolded like a gentle argument—first laying out Lee’s interests, said a Detroit-based publicist recruited to help with the event, in design, engineering, and sound. Reporters and editors were taken to the W. Hawkins Ferry house in Grosse Pointe, a remarkable Walter Gropius-esque box with a corkscrew staircase from the 1960s. (Its newish owners, Anthony and JJ Curis, have restored the home and filled it with Nick Cave soundsuits, a creepy-cool totem of butterfly and tiger balloons by sculptor Adam Parker Smith, and a Kaws sofa made of manipulated Snoopy stuffed animals abutting the more expected Knoll sofa and chairs.) We went to the studio of furniture artist Chris Schanck, who’s preparing an upcoming show for the Museum of Art and Design in New York and has a piece in a new Bottega pop-up in Detroit; women in hijabs applied screaming pink foil to hard pieces of foam. We went to a techno museum, Exhibit 3000, housed in the studio of the label and collective Underground Resistance, where DJ John “Jammin” Collins described the way four Detroiters in the early 1980s combined a political consciousness around the decline of the city with a passion for Afrofuturism and house music to create the genre. Techno DJs used to wear masks, Collins said, because they were vessels for the music—their own identities didn’t matter. Aha!

With the history of techno and modern design under our belt, we headed to the show at the Michigan Theatre, a wildly opulent movie palace built in the 1920s that later became a parking garage. Detroit has become known for these ruined spaces, images of which pop up as viral content on social media every so often, but in real life they are tender and intense allegories for a city built by its auto industry, and then carved out by industrial and bureaucratic neglect, along with transportation and housing policy that disproportionately affected city-dwelling Black residents. The building, with a big white box of a fashion show set plopped in the middle of it, was not so much a reminder of what was once but a symbol of what is now: the odd passion for preserving a state of decay.

Bottega invited about 240 guests, half of whom were Detroiters (including those who had hosted us that day). Many European luxury brands have relied on consumers in Asia for their pandemic turnarounds, but Bottega, in fact, owes much of its recent success to the US. The attendees spoke to the brand’s stateside popularity: even second- and third-rowers were in some of the brand’s wildest, priciest looks, like a floor-length crazy shearling coat with tails at the hem, and the biggest versions of those jumbo’d-out intrecciato shoulder bags. Many were flocked in the house’s now-iconic green; one guy, in black overalls, a green turtleneck and a snood, removed a pale pink sparkly mask from his face and put a vape in his mouth, which lit up like a traffic light flashing “go” when he inhaled. “This really feels like an event,” an editor observed to me.



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