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Bottega Veneta

Bottega Veneta is for people whose own initials are enough. (OK, for those whose own initials and bank balance are enough.) Founded in Vicenza, Italy, in 1966 by Vittorio and Laura Moltedo as a family-owned leather-goods business, the little house that could first built its reputation among the seventies jet set with deliciously soft handbags. With their signature intrecciato weave, they boasted no logo, just a discreet seal inside the bag.

After those early heady days, there was a long lull in Bottega's influence—in fact, by the early nineties, the brand had all but disappeared from the fashion radar—but over the past decade it has transformed itself from an elite purveyor of accessories into a major lifestyle brand, offering clothes for men and women, fine jewelry, and even furniture. In 1998, the Moltedos began to generate media buzz when they introduced flashy ready-to-wear by the British designer Giles Deacon and stylist Katie Grand. Then in 2001, when the Gucci Group acquired the label and installed Tomas Maier, formerly of Hermès, as creative director, the house's campaign to regain its former prominence truly took flight.

Since debuting for Spring 2002, Maier has solidified Bottega's reputation for understated luxury—what one critic called "twenty-first-century no-logo stealth wealth." From tailored pantsuits to romantic goddess dresses, Maier's feminine designs stick to the traditional Bottega Veneta aesthetic: simple, tasteful, and unfailingly elegant. The accessories, also under Maier's guidance, have never left center stage, though today's intrecciato deviates slightly from the classic look, coming in a variety of colors and materials like oxidized leather or tinted lizard. (The collectible Cabat bag, priced around $4,700, can run up to $78,000 for a special order.)

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Tomas Maier

Tomas Maier

Tom Ford, following Gucci's acquisition of Bottega Veneta in 2001, appointed Tomas Maier as its creative director. It was further proof, if any was needed, of Ford's keen eye: Although Maier had clocked time designing for Hermès, he was a relative unknown in an industry that thrives on the star system. Ford, of course, was right. Under Maier's direction Bottega has morphed from a fading Italian leather-goods house to a leading lifestyle brand.

In good Bottega tradtion, Maier disdains logos and flashy celebrity endorsements. His approach emphasizes craftsmanship and quality over theatrics. While handbags have always been the label's heart and soul, Maier's elegant and deceptively simple ready-to-wear has garnered a similarly lustrous reputation for anonymous, understated luxury.

Growing up in the small town of Pforzheim in the Black Forest of Germany, Maier sat at his architect father's knee while he worked at the drafting table and accompanied him to building sites. After training at the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris, he learned the ropes at Sonia Rykiel, Guy Laroche, and Revillon. In 1998, he established a line of celebrated swimwear and separates for men and women under his own name, which are available at his boutiques in Miami Beach and Palm Beach, Florida.

"The product is the star," the gimmick-eschewing Maier once told Women's Wear Daily. (And, having been known to rip the labels out of his own clothes, he actually lives by this credo, too.)

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