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As the longtime creative director of Italian fashion label Bottega Veneta, Tomas Maier specializes in painstakingly crafted luxury goods. The company’s woven leather Cabat bag, for instance, requires two artisans and 40 hours of hand work and always has a waiting list. So when it came to planning Bottega’s new American flagship, German-born Maier, whose father was an architect, was typically exacting. “It was a long endeavor—five years,” said Maier, 61, the night before the store’s opening in February. He had a hand in everything from lighting to furnishings.
Maier, who divides his time between New York and Palm Beach, with the occasional trip to the atelier in Vicenza, Italy, was noticeably excited to show off the voluptuous five-story, 15,000-square-foot emporium on Madison Avenue at 64th Street. If Maier is the label’s stealth refinement made flesh, the new store (the largest of the company’s almost 300 locations) is its divinely understated brick-and-mortar embodiment.
The latest example of the brand’s stand-alone design schemes (Mediterranean revival in Beverly Hills, classic palazzo in Milan), the store combines three landmarked 19th-century townhouses that were previously private residences. After a complete gut renovation designed to retain the homelike feel while aligning the disparate floors, the buildings are now anchored by a grand glass-sided staircase that floats up to the mezzanine.
Though the daylight-filled space, with its double-height ceilings and windows, is imposing and more than a little lifestyle-envy-inducing, it’s surprisingly intimate and considerably more plush than Maier’s own stark downtown Manhattan office. Each of the label’s product categories gets its own floor: Men’s and women’s leather goods are on the ground floor; shoes and fragrance are on the mezzanine; Bottega Veneta’s women’s collections are on two; and the men’s lines are on three.
“I’ve tried to create a journey that is seductive and makes sense for each type of shopper,” Maier explained, “because a man coming in to buy fragrance is in a very different mindset from a woman who is coming in to buy shoes.” (In perhaps a sly wink to the prototypical BV customer, sitting throughout the shop are shapely mannequins rendered entirely in BV’s signature intrecciato woven leather.)
An astute observer of the spectacle of luxury and psychology of retail, Maier knows that today designers have to create nearly transcendent shopping experiences. “We all buy a lot online these days,” he said, “so when you make an effort to go to a store it needs to feel like it’s been created for each individual.”
On the fourth floor, an area has been dubbed the Apartment and, laid out in a pied-à-terre-like setting, the space best reflects Maier’s all-encompassing approach. “I like to bring the way we live into all our stores. This area showcases the whole Bottega lifestyle, including our home and furniture collection.” Artworks by modernist heavy hitters Agostino Bonalumi, Mimmo Rotella, Mario Schifano, and Lucio Fontana share the space with sumptuous BV French velvet sofas produced in partnership with Poltrona Frau. In keeping with the local vernacular, bronze ball-chain screens, Maier explained, are a nod to the metallic curtains in his old haunt, the Pool Room of the erstwhile Four Seasons Restaurant. Although he is a fan of architect Annabelle Selldorf, who redesigned that space, Maier admitted, “I can’t bring myself to go, because I was so hooked before.”
“I’ve been coming to New York since the 1970s,” said Maier. Looking around the room, he noted that the store is really a valentine to his beloved city. “I still can’t get enough of it.”