Tomas Maier doesn’t do anything halfway. When the German-born designer was offered the job as creative director of Bottega Veneta in 2001, he accepted on the condition that he be given total creative control, from product design to advertising and even architecture, to reimagine the then moribund brand. It’s an all-or-nothing approach that has paid off handsomely, with profits growing from 35 million euros to 1 billion euros under Maier’s tenure.
So it should surprise no one that when the company decided to move its atelier from the outskirts of Vicenza, Italy, to a historic 18th-century villa in nearby Montebello Vicentino, within sight of the Montecchio Maggiore castles (where the star-crossed lovers who inspired Romeo and Juliet allegedly lived), Maier saw an opportunity to create an epic valentine to haute-artisanal values.
“Respect for craftsmanship is at the heart of Bottega Veneta,” says Maier, who mostly works in offices in New York and Florida, “and we wanted our atelier to be a workplace worthy of our valued artisans, where they would want to come to work each day. There’s also the matter of location. We never considered moving the atelier out of Veneto because the region is part of our DNA.” (For the uninitiated, Bottega Veneta is literally Italian for “Venetian shop.”)
Located about an hour’s drive from Venice, alongside an unremarkable stretch of highway between Vicenza and Verona, the new environmentally sustainable atelier is inspired by the university campus model and is built on a sprawling 590,000-square-foot park surrounded by vineyards and trees that are more than 200 years old.
Under the direction of Maier, whose father was an architect, the landmark-preserved Villa Schroeder-Da Porto, as it is formally known, was given a discreet restoration that is as painstakingly precise and lacking in superfluousness as the label’s perennially popular, unadorned Cabat bag.
As if to underscore the label’s stealth, logo-free glamour, visitors to the villa, the ground floor of which houses meeting rooms and a museum, are greeted with the company catchphrase, “When Your Own Initials Are Enough,” printed on a wall in the reception area. The only concessions to decoration in this monument to minimalism are the occasional Murano-glass chandelier (but mamma mia, what chandeliers!) and traditional Venetian terrazzo designs on the marble flooring.
Despite the austerity, everything has been art-directed within an inch of its life, right down to the surrounding grounds, which, save for a fountain of Neptune, are so pristine that they bring to mind the perfectly manicured lawns in Brave New World. One half expects the 300-plus artisans, many of them skilled in intrecciato (Bottega Veneta’s signature braiding technique), to be doing cross-weave calisthenics during their lunch break.
In addition to the villa, an existing annex that once housed stables was partially recovered and is now used as the main light-filled, open-plan prototyping area. A third building has also been created to accommodate a lab for experimenting on new colors (there’s a reason why Bottega Veneta colors look anything but squeezed from the tube) and high-tech testing rooms in which robotically operated machines put the label’s signature leathers under every conceivable type of stress, including extreme weather conditions (after all, a $4,000 bag has to hold up as well in Singapore as it does in Moscow).
The extension, which like the other buildings features 100 percent renewable power and locally sourced timber from responsible forestry, is also home to the Scuola della Pelletteria Bottega Veneta, the label’s school for quality leathermaking, which was previously located in the Scuola d’Arte e Mestieri in Vicenza. “The highly skilled type of craftsmanship it takes to make, say, a Cabat bag is not something that can be easily taught,” says Maier. “We’re nothing without our artisans, and any longevity we would expect the company to have is dependent on our ability to train new generations of artisans in many of these age-old techniques.”
As for the premium placed on ecological sustainability, including an air-conditioning system that reduces CO2 emissions, Maier sees it as part of the company ethos, an extension of his rejection of the temporal fripperies of fashion. “Everything we create is intended to last a lifetime,” he says, “and we take the long view in all things. We don’t believe in cutting corners for a quick profit. We want to have the least harmful environmental impact because this is our heritage to protect—both people and place.”