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Daniel Lee Exits Bottega Veneta, Leaving Few Clues For What’s Next

Lee’s singular brand of pared-back, sensuality reinvigorated sales for the logo-free Italian house. Where do the designer and the Kering-owned brand go from here?
Designer Daniel Lee is exiting Bottega Veneta, owner Kering said in a statement Wednesday, a surprise move the group described as a “joint decision.” Tyrone Lebon.

Designer Daniel Lee is exiting Bottega Veneta, owner Kering said in a statement Wednesday, a surprise move the group described as a “joint decision.”

Since 2018, Lee, who previously worked in the studio of Phoebe Philo’s Céline and at Donna Karan, brought new heat to the logo-free, “stealth wealth” Italian brand with tactile creations that blended minimalism and sexiness.

During his three-year tenure, the brand played with the texture and proportion of the house’s key intrecciato signature, putting out novel yet immediately recognisable bags that drove renewed sales momentum.

A new creative organisation for the brand will be announced soon, Kering said.

Sales rose 2.2 percent to nearly €1.2 billion in 2019 and managed to keep growing through 2020, a year when the coronavirus pandemic saw the broader luxury market fall by 23 percent, according to consultancy Bain.

A Kering spokesperson declined to comment on the reasons for Lee’s departure.

A fashion week attendee wears Bottega Veneta shoes and a handbag. Getty Images.

The soft-spoken Yorkshire native was a little-known, behind-the-scenes figure before being tapped by Kering to take over the house at the age of 32. Time will tell whether the designer is stepping back from the high-pressure world of billion-dollar businesses or if his big break at Bottega Veneta has opened the door to an even bigger role somewhere else.

While there are currently few creative vacancies at the top of luxury fashion’s major brands, the industry’s game of designer “musical chairs” has been at a standstill at a time when the post-coronavirus recovery is fuelling a new cycle of growth. The gap between top-performing brands and others who are still struggling — but ready to invest in catching up — could pave the way for more designer shakeups.

“My time at Bottega Veneta has been an incredible experience,” Lee said in a statement. “I am grateful to have worked with an exceptional and talented team and I am forever thankful to everyone who was part of creating our vision.”

Kering chairman François-Henri Pinault thanked Lee for his “singular vision” that “made the house’s heritage relevant for today and put it back to the center of the fashion scene.”

Lee’s departure is sure to disappoint fans of the concept dubbed “new Bottega,” including fashion-conscious young shoppers who had previously snubbed the staid label but found themselves snapping up the designer’s “it” items like Puddle boots, Pouch clutches and padded Cassette cross-bodies.

Those items hit the market hard and fast and helped Lee, who inherited significant clout from his work with Phoebe Philo, establish himself as an original voice in his own right. At the BFC’s Fashion Awards in 2019, he took home prizes for Designer of the Year, British Designer of the Year, Accessories Designer of the Year, and Brand of the Year in one night.

During Lee’s tenure, a revamp of Bottega Veneta’s approach to communication included a sudden social media blackout (the brand deleted its own accounts and began holding its shows behind closed doors). The move served as a bold appeal to consumers who were weary of a fashion world saturated with digital marketing, but counting purely on influencers to spread the brand’s message online may have been a risky gambit long-term.

Kering will need to appoint new creative leadership who can keep up the momentum at Bottega Veneta without giving consumers whiplash.

“We await more details, but this does not appear to be a positive for Bottega Veneta or for Kering,” Jefferies analyst Flavio Cereda wrote in a note to clients.

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