Craft. It's a word that's been bandied about a lot recently, young designers spicing up collections with a cack-handed bit of embroidery, commercial behemoths suddenly rediscovering the true joy in a bit of passementerie. That joy, of course, is the boost they can give their bottom line by faking that there's handicraft giving some true value to those sky-high pre-sales figures. Bottega Veneta, however, is another matter entirely - as is Tomas Maier, a designer who truly understand the power of craft. Bottega isn't a house ready to riff off fifty year old handbag designs whilst a starry-eyed creative director pumps out attention-grabbing catwalk stunts. Maier's Bottega Veneta is about progressive luxury, his vision pushing craft traditions out of their comfort zones to invent something new.
New was certainly the feeling we got at the Bottega Veneta spring 2012 collection. I would go to far as to say it felt like a new type of luxury - that seems to be a catchphrase meaninglessly parroted in many a designer press-release this season - but the clothes on show felt interesting and exciting. And satisfying - there was something immensely filling about this Bottega Veneta collection, as if an appetite for good design and great craftsmanship had been sated. There was no flash, no tricks. Just a lot of wearable, desirable clothing - running the gauntlet from sexy summer dresses - sometimes printed in georgette, sometimes sheathed in transparent PVC or banded in leather - through slouchy jeans, geometric knits and a few stunning draped chiffon dresses in degrade shades. The burnt palette of earth tones was enlivened by a few electric shocks of cobalt blue, scarlet, chrysophrase and a pink that bordered on neon; likewise the materials mixed natural with synthetic, combining wool with silk and nylon, quilting or coating the materials to give extra body or lustre. Those effects carried over to the accessories - albeit all in natural skins. Think of a treatment for leather and it was here - alongside half-a-dozen different ways of working crocodile.
More than in past collection, however, it didn't feel as if the designs were subjugated to the craft behind them. Sometimes that has been an issue with Maier's work - spend too long hand weaving, stencilling or embroidering a piece of fabric and you're not left a great deal of time to actually figure out the dress to sew it into. This time, craft and design worked together perfectly, creating a collection far more complicated than any Maier has designed before. So complicated, indeed, that it looked incredibly simple when it hit the catwalk - and that's the most difficult trick of all to pull off.