The June announcement that Daniel Lee, Céline's former director of ready-to-wear, would succeed Tomas Maier at the helm of Bottega Veneta sent quiet vibrations, not shockwaves, through the industry. It didn't change our minds about Bottega, the unemotional fashion house that prides itself as an embodiment of the convivial spirit of Italy. And it shouldn't have: Lee is the second lesser-known designer to be appointed to a top position at a Kering-owned brand, behind Alessandro Michele at Gucci.
But, as his premiere collection that debuted in Milan this week proved, the British designer possesses a preternatural talent for clothes. And it looks like his pre-fall 2019 offering will fill the space left by his previous boss Phoebe Philo when she left Céline this year – and it caters to those upset by the new vision of the French fashion house by its newly appointed creative and artistic director Hedi Slimane.
In other words: Lee's first collection isn't just good, it's great. And it celebrates everything we admire about Bottega Veneta but seldom give it credit for: soft edges on strong silhouettes, its care and craftsmanship toward textiles like leather, silk, and wool, and its subtlety when it comes to wearing clothes you can just tell are worth the price tag. The exact same could be said for old Céline, too, which is why the collection is already being heralded as the replacement we've been yearning for — a suggestion that the younger generation of men may know how to dress women during fashion's most culturally sensitive and provocative age. (Just look at the men of Proenza Schouler, Wes Gordon of Carolina Herrera, or Casey Cadwallader at Mugler.)
The main takeaways: slouched evening-to-sunrise dresses, humble hues (camel, off-white, forest green, deep orange), knitwear to rival that of Céline itself, signature details like the intrecciato (weaved leather), clunky footwear, a few athleisure cameos, and elegant jewelry. If Lee maintains this restrained approach, he could cement his tenure there as opposed to staying for a couple of years and bouncing due to creative restraints or trickle-down pressure from the top.
Lee's pre-fall 2019 collection for Bottega Veneta paid homage to some of the best parts of Milanese fashion — a strong sense of identity, a focus on timelessness in the form of wardrobe essentials, and a sensuality that other European houses lack. He may not yet be the industry's It-Boy, but he's one of the few out there who know it takes more than influence to sell clothes.