Sad but true: what is fashion about if not surface? Here, all that glistens is assumed gold, and it's what's on the outside that counts. But Tomas Maier's Bottega Veneta is the last place you expect to see it expounded. This is the house founded on the idea that your own initials are enough and a designer who always finds it more seductive to whisper than to shout from the rooftops. It's stealth wealth for the immensely rich. His Spring 2012 menswear collection was more of the same.
It felt like a return to Bottega core values. The only traces of the sixties expounded so vociferously in his last womenswear show came via the futurism of Couregges and Cardin. The cosmonaut suits of the former made a single appearance as a slim belted overall, but their essence slid through every outfit. Maier started by looking at all-in-ones, but reasoning that few men would be willing to zip themselves into an oversized baby-gro, he instead distilled their streamlined essence into an entire collection. Everything was cleaved close to the body, trousers tapered in, jackets cut close, sleeves narrow, shirt collars small and buttoned right up. Cardin's Mao suits got a look-in in tab-fronted safari jackets, while matchy-matchy pattern gave the impression of a slick unity between separate garments. Covering up for summer? Sounds stifling, but it made perfect sense.
That expanse of cloth, of course, offered Maier ample space to explore the ideas of surfaces: layering pattern over pattern to different visual effects. Sometimes it was head-to-toe - like the lumberjack checks that cross-hatched across seersucker trouser and nappa leather shirt, sometimes a shirt and cardigan matched like a male twinset, and sometimes a chink of contrast sliced an otherwise one-tone outfit in two - a hem of shirt emerging between jacket and trouser, for example. Maier even streamlined that idea, adding contrast waistbands to his trousers.
The clever part was pretty much all of it - most designers would have got stuck on the jumpsuit, knocked out a few editorial-friendly onsies and filled the rest with staid suits. Maier offered a few straightforward suits at the end too, but they came in brilliant white, Aegean turquoise and celadon over shirts in multicoloured pattern or bleached denim, without a hint of black. That was oddly invigorating in a spring season that seems to herald the Great Masculine Renunciation mark two via the two-button black suit. But bucking the trend is what Tomas Maier, and his customer, are all about.