Interview Transcript

So taking a step back. You’re at Bottega, year 2000, how did you build a picture of your consumer?

I think we started with what we knew about the existing consumer, which was quite old. We had a very old customer. Then we looked at the landscape of our competitors and where we saw opportunity and the customer that we wanted to go after. Interestingly, Tomas felt, very strongly, that he would naturally attract a design-focused customer, someone who works in the world of art or design. So gallery owners, artistic agents, dealers, etc. He felt that they would appreciate a product that was, first and foremost, was made with a real design obsession.

When we went to go shoot our first ad campaign, rather than shoot with the traditional fashion photographer, with the traditional top model, Tomas was more interested in finding photographers that he collected and that he appreciated and that he felt were more inclined to see the product from their artistic perception. He thought it was interesting to take this commercial aspect – because quite frankly, as beautiful as an ad is, it’s really a marketing asset – and he wanted to have a fine art photographer shoot it, through their lens. It was an interesting approach. He felt that it made sense, because if the customer that he imagined appreciating the product, would recognize Tina Barney or Philip-Lorca diCorcia or any of the multitude of photographers he shot with. They would appreciate the photographer and their work and then, hopefully, notice the product.

It was very unconventional, at the time. Again, this is 20 years ago. It was also a lot of work to find these fine art photographers, who were all working on either a show or their own body of work – they’re not commercial; they’re not in the seasonal scheduling. They don’t have their own hair and makeup team that is available for them. Basically, we had to start over, every season, finding the right photographer for that product, the location that made sense. We had to put a team together, the talent, the hair, the makeup, the stylist, the models, because these photographers weren’t in that world. But I think, what it created, was a very interesting body of work that was further evidence of the brand promise, which was, design first. It’s not something that we really talked about, necessarily, although we did publish a book, ultimately, which was a collection of all the campaigns. It was just, again, through the visual of it and the art aspect and the talent.

In Tomas’s mind, his approach to design was always collaborative, because he had many ideas, but he was working with a group of artisans, that he inherited. Some of them were second and third generation artisans, that had been working at Bottega and knew how to weave, which is a very particular capability. Tomas saw himself as not, obviously, an artisan, because he’s not, but that he could inspire them and challenge them and collaborate with them, to evolve their capabilities, beyond what had, historically, been, which was a type of this intrecciato, but very much, one way.

Through the 18, 20 years that he was working with these artisans, his collaborative approach was, what about this, could this be done, how would you do this? The techniques were phenomenal. There must have been hundreds of different aspects of weave that you could never even have imagined, that he inspired them, asked them, drove them, to create. For him, it was born out of a desire to collaborate. I think, when he was working with his photographers, it was the same collaborative approach. That was, hopefully, communicated to the customer, that there was a collaborative effort in his making of the product, in his communicating of the product and then with the customer themselves. But also, very much respectful of their needs, their feedback – this was before social media, so there really was no dialogue – but wanting to, not dictate, but rather, suggest.

I remember, in the early days, journalists kept asking, what’s the iconic bag? What’s the It bag? He replied, I don’t have an It bag and I don’t believe in that. When asked what the iconic bag was, he said, it’s not for me to say, it’s for her to vote. She’ll decide. That’s how an iconic bag should be made. Not through marketing dollars, not through placing it on X, Y, Z celebrity, not through putting it on a movie. It should be through time and by letting the customer vote and decide. It was very visionary, in a sense, because this was before there was any kind of brand customer dialogue. It was one way, from the brand, to the customer.

In terms of how you said he would work with photographers, it’s almost like that is the message. That is the message to the consumer. You don’t need to state that in words. You can communicate many things by action, in a way.

Exactly. That’s where so many brands today say things, they have a tag line, they have a campaign, they have a hashtag; ad nauseum, hashtag. But really nothing that they are doing, has anything to do with what they’re saying. Or the people they choose to work with or collaborate with or do sponsorships with, it doesn’t ladder back. You leave the customer with a very vague sense of who you are and what you stand for and why they are buying you. They are not just buying the product. We could all carry a canvas tote bag, if it was just about functionality and carrying our things. They’re buying, to buy into an idea, a belief, a tribe, a promise.

Today, what’s happened is, it’s amazing with the internet and e-commerce and social media that it’s so much more democratic, in terms of being able to bring an idea to the market. I applaud that. I love that you don’t have to rely on the top department store or the most important magazine, to decide if you are allowed to. But at the same time, what I find amazing is, I wonder so often, have they looked at the market? Is there a need for this product? Have they done any research? Is this just a pure vanity? Are you looking just beyond your own little vacuum? If you’ve decided that there is a need and an opportunity, great, there’s a white space. But then, do what you say, say what you do. Don’t tell me that you’re a disruptor, millennial, democratic product, but then you just did, at your last event, you served a top-shelf spirit, that is unapproachable, from a price perspective. Sure, it’s a great product, but what does it have to do with your promise and how does it help you cut through all the noise and all of the messaging out there, as quickly as possible, so the customer knows who you are and what you stand for?

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