Tomas Maier Talks Bottega Veneta, The Fragrance
When word broke this summer that Bottega Veneta would be launching its first signature scent, fans of the brand rejoiced. Known for a certain polished chic sensibility and some seriously choice leather goods, the brand has been curiously quiet as its peers have entered the challenging world of designer fragrance, one by one. But creative director Tomas Maier was purposely biding his time, waiting for the perfect time to branch out into beauty. “If there’s no image of a woman, there’s no need for a fragrance,” Maier told Style.com in a recent interview. Having spent the last ten years honing the Bottega archetype—”she’s a woman who knows what she wants, is very confident, and is not about trends”—that need is now very real. The resulting floral chypre eau is steeped in Bottega culture; it is meant to smell like leather—old leather-bound books, stored in a house with wooden floors in the Veneto countryside, to be exact—and boasts masculine notes like oak moss, benzoin, and Indian patchouli that are softened by more feminine hints of jasmine sambac and plum. The unexpected aroma is at once spicy and sweet, masculine and feminine, statement-making and delicate. Just don’t expect a flashy celebrity campaign cameo anytime soon. “We don’t work like that,” Meier says. Here, on the eve of his Spring presentation, Maier talks creating scents that “lose time,” why he can’t stand “ghastly” bottle design, and what’s next for Bottega’s burgeoning beauty business.—Celia Ellenberg
So, where did this idea of the house in the Veneto countryside come from? Is it a real place?
It’s an original image—an idea, an input—because I didn’t want to lean on existing fragrances. So I imagined this old house, in the Veneto countryside—that’s where [Bottega] is from—and you have the big rooms; the wood floors; and you have the library walls filled with books, leather-bound books, old leather. It’s very open to the countryside, and outside there’s fresh-cut grass, hay, anything from the farm. I gave the idea to the creators, and eight different noses came back to me with their interpretation. From those eight noses, I picked the interpretation that seemed like what a Bottega Veneta scent should be about. You have to reach the perfect balance, and that’s what takes a long time.
Did you have a lot of experience going into this process, or was creating a signature scent a big learning experience for you?
I know a bit about fragrance&I like fragrance; I like that idea of recalling a memory through a scent, recalling a person, recalling a situation or physical place. I have many fragrances in my stores—fragrances that are not very obvious, and are not very distributed. For example, I’ve been working with Serge Lutens for a very long time because I love his fragrances. I think he’s very talented, and with this little fragrance company we carry from Santa Monica that is all oil-based. I also like some men’s aftershaves from little Italian barbershops—things like that, things that you have to travel to get. And that’s what I like to bring to the table in my stores because that’s why people come to me. But did I learn a lot? Yes. Do I know how to make a perfume? No, absolutely not, because that is a world on its own. It’s a magic world I will never know.
But you definitely know how to come up with a good concept for a fragrance. How different was that process compared to coming up with a concept for a collection each season? Do they overlap in your mind or is it a totally separate head space?
It is a separate space, because it’s a different type of product. This for me, I wanted something that really lasts—it’s there forever. That’s what I like about a good scent; it loses time. That’s what I like about a good bottle design, too; I like a bottle that can remain. The best example for that is Chanel No. 5. That’s as beautiful today as it was when it first launched.
Would you say that’s different from fashion, which can be a little bit more fleeting?
It is a little bit different, yet, like here at this company, we try to do things that are…
Time will tell us if it’s classic. But I do do things that are able to last, because I’m very aware of the investment. I think in today’s world, the disposable years are behind us. I always like to make a product in a way that you can enjoy it for a long time. That’s what this company is about.
So I’m guessing you’re not a celebrity fragrance fan, then? Where do you see your new fragrance in today’s market?
It will not live on its own once it hits the shelf at Neiman’s or Bergdorf’s or wherever, as it will certainly sit next to other fragrances. I can give it as much as I can give, though—a distinct bottle design, an idea. I can give it a distinct cap that I’ve designed; I can give it a distinct scent that is not marketed to the mass market. In today’s world, when a scent is made, it is always made like the latest success on the market. It’s hippie-shnippy from this house, so everything smells like hippie-shnippy for the next four years. That does work, just like, “Let’s just put a name of a starlet on it, and we’ll sell it because everybody likes that scent now” works. But we don’t work like that. This is more about the statement; this is more about something that is a little bit apart and more unusual.
The leather scent is unusual—particularly for a woman’s scent. Was a more unisex eau the goal, or did it just happen coincidentally?
It was part of the concept. I think men could wear it, too. It was very interesting. In the beginning, when I first got the perfume, I got all the testers and I tried it out on myself. I smelled it a couple of hours later and I kind of got used to it, I kind of liked it. I wore it and I had people commenting on it saying, “I really like what you’re wearing.” And so when I did my round of interviews in Europe after the launch in Milan, maybe 70 percent of the editors were male and they all said that they’d wear the perfume themselves. They all said that they really liked the scent and that they could totally imagine men wearing it. I like when it’s a little ambiguous and it’s not so obvious. It’s right down my alley.
The bottle design’s clean lines skew slightly masculine as well.
Yes—it’s quite strong and masculine; I like that, too. I wanted that on purpose because I hate every bottle that’s out there. I think every bottle’s ghastly. I look at perfumes—beautiful perfumes —and the content of the bottle is really amazing but the bottle is so horrific. Like, I could not even put it in my store! So this bottle has a point of view; it has an aesthetic that is linked to this company. I’ve been working on glassware for the last six years, so we have all this glassware that has the engraved bottom, and then from there I developed a bottle in Murano for the extrait. It just has that little extra layer. The eau de parfum [bottle] is a little lighter, which it should be, but it still looks very substantial. It’s really thick, the glass and the bottom and the cap are beautiful, and it has the leather strap that is real leather, not leatherette!
So you’d put it in your store.
Yeah, yeah, I’d put it in my store—I’d put it in my bathroom! I obviously don’t have a problem looking at it.
What about Bottega’s beauty ambitions going forward? Could there be a cosmetics line in the future too?
No, no, no. Just scent. I think the role of scent is very interesting to explore, given that we have a whole male universe here as well. I think our male clients would be very unhappy if there were no man’s scent. Probably, that will be an interesting subject to work on in the future.
Photo: Courtesy of Bottega Veneta