Hell Bent for Leather at Bottega Veneta

No material better represents the current moment in men’s fashion than leather. All of a sudden, it seems that everyone has a sick leather jacket, or a pair of badass leather pants—and not the kind that reads kinky, like it belongs in a techno club in Berlin. Instead, the leather garments that are taking over are more romantic, with deep patinas and dramatic shapes—a result, perhaps, of our urge to dress with energy and personality in our new post-pandemic-restriction era of togetherness. (For everyone who’s not on the stealth wealth kick, that is.) What piece of clothing has more main character energy than a big leather jacket?

It’s probably not a coincidence that this trend aligns with the rise of Matthieu Blazy at Bottega Veneta. Since taking over from Daniel Lee in late 2021, Blazy has turned leather clothing into an art form, using the material to create some of the most expressive and just plain interesting garments in fashion, like merlot-hued leather trench coats that move almost like gabardine, or those trompe l’oeil leather jeans that celebrity fit gods like ASAP Rocky and Omar Apollo can’t seem to get enough of. The jeans, which look like well-worn dad jeans but which are really printed leather, struck me as particularly genius when they opened Blazy’s first collection, a thinking man’s approach to casualwear. They’re also kind of humorous, something fashion needs more of. It’s fun to play Blazy’s version of Is it cake? when looking at his clothes: Is it leather?

Blazy answered that question again and again at the Bottega Veneta Fall-Winter 2023 show, held on a damp Saturday night in Milan. A pinstripe nightshirt? Leather. A gray flannel overshirt? Also leather. A pair of socks? That’s right: leather, knit out of fine strands of the stuff. A lightly padded inky shawl collar overcoat, and a structured croc-effect robe coat? Well, those were easier to spot, but no less impressive.

According to Kering’s annual report, Blazy’s funky, brainy approach to luxury is working. The Milanese house had record sales in 2022, with revenue up 16% year-over-year.

Amidst the backstage crush of admirers after the show, a pride-flushed Blazy spoke about the importance of technique to his vision for Bottega. “We talk a lot about craft, and [this season] we wanted to make it a bit less dusty, continue to, not clean it, but improve it. So the idea was to go innovative,” he said. One such innovation was to shave leather in order to make garments lighter, and presumably achieve a more fluid and fabric-like drape.

Leather is by no means new territory for Bottega Veneta; the brand’s calling card, famous from its billionaire-beloved bags, is its “intrecciato” leather braiding. But Blazy pushed even that old-world craft into crazy new territory. Two models held three-foot-wide cigar-like bags that looked like they could have emerged from the studio of Italian futurist Umberto Boccioni, whose bronze statue “Unique Forms of Continuity in Space” had pride of place on the runway, alongside two first-century Roman runners on loan from a museum in Naples.

The idea was to highlight the prouder aspects of Italian history, in contrast to the state’s messy modern political situation. Blazy said the many overcoats, a couple of which had leather linings flanging out over leather neckties, were also inspired by his time in the country. “The layering is something I love about Italy. Its style, its allure of fashion. When I am in Italy I always look at how women and men do the layers. It’s very sophisticated, even when it doesn’t work. It’s so personal,” he said.

There were an enormous number of non-leather-related ideas and techniques across the collection’s whopping 81 looks, too, thanks to an intentional decision to add to rather than edit the collection. But Blazy closed the show by bringing back an old favorite: those trompe l’oeil jeans. Before heading to his own afterparty, Blazy said he did so to close the chapter on his first three collections—described in accompanying show notes as the “Italia trilogy”—implying that next season will bring a whole new set of characters into Blazy’s Bottegaverse. It was then that I realized that Blazy’s boiled wool overshirt was—duh—actually made of leather.

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