Bottega Veneta's Tomas Maier on the Art of Collaboration

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Photograph by Nan Goldin © Bottega Veneta and Rizzoli USA

The creative director speaks to AnOther about his spectacular new tome, which chronicles over 15 years worth of the house's artist-led campaigns

Whether it’s a flock of birds flying above a wind swept couple mimicking a scene from Alfrid Hitchcock’s Birds or a deluge of azaleas in a Botanical Gardens in the Bronx, the images from Bottega Veneta’s book Art of Collaboration documenting the artist-led campaigns that Tomas Maier has orchestrated since 2002, don’t necessarily lead with product. For Maier, the fuller narrative is more important, hence why he began his 'Art of Collaboration' project back in 2002, inviting 27 different artists and photographers to shoot the campaign imagery for Bottega Veneta. 

Bottega Veneta’s motto is famously "When your own initials are enough" and Maier, having helmed the house for 15 years, has adhered to this ethos of expounding discreet luxury as seen in the famous intrecciato weave. Beyond craft and construction, the campaigns can therefore be seen as Maier’s way of boldly reinterpreting his own creative vision, with the help of artists and photographers he admires and collects himself. In the foreword written by Tim Blanks, Maier describes himself as a “quiet rebel”. Which would explain why he is brave enough to volte face from working with say, South African portraiture photographer Pieter Hugo to poetic fetishist Nobuyoshi Araki, as well shooting with the fashion industry’s greats such as David Sims, Peter Lindbergh and Steven Meisel. Maier’s selection of artists and photographers is intriguingly diverse and the result is a thousand images that are far more than a sum of Bottega Veneta's leather craft prowess. Over email, Maier spoke to AnOther about this enigmatic way of creating campaigns and of course, the art of a successful collaboration.  

On how Maier selects and works with his collaborators…
“I have been collecting photography for nearly all of my adult life. It began long before there was a market for photography, or before it was really understood what role photography played in contemporary art. Later, during the years, I have moved more into collecting the work of contemporary artists who work in photography, and my collection grew in breadth and depth.

"Once the photographer or artist has agreed to collaborate, we meet to talk about what the campaign could be. It is always someone who I admire greatly, and I take great pleasure in discussing the collection with them, and seeing what it provokes in them. Once we have agreed on how it will look, I like to get the campaign shot without any outside intervention, so that the result can be as pure as possible.

"One of the advantages of the Art of Collaboration series is the chance to introduce deeper ideas and narratives into the imagery that surrounds Bottega Veneta. This ideas are often from my understanding of an artist's work, or it could be a narrative that I want explore with an artist. I give the artist the freedom to interpret the collection in their own way, and bring their own signature to the campaign. There would be no point in asking them to collaborate if we were asking them to compromise their vision. Looking through the book, it is clear to see the individual hand of those who have worked on the campaign and the different narrative that they have brought to it.”

On the bigger picture…
“Product is always one of the components in the narrative, but it’s my aim for the product to almost disappear in the image. It is my same wish for the clothing: it should be personal and less of a distraction, less of something to look at. What you want to achieve is that you don’t see anything at all. You just want to see the person. That’s it. It’s the same for the campaigns. The products should become part of the life of the person in the image, so that when you’re looking at the campaign, you are seeing something more.”

On spontaneous image-making…
“The images that we shot with David Armstrong for the Cruise 2013 campaign are a perfect example of how spontaneity and chance can enter the collaborations. We had planned to shoot the images in sunlight in New York, but that day was grey and bleak. The rain kept falling and the sun never came out. David shot all day, quietly and without fuss. The images that he created turned out to be perfect. It shouldn’t have been right, but it was.”

On Maier’s wishlist future collaboration…
“There are many photographers and artists who I would like to work with in the future. I have always wanted to work with Martin Parr, but it needs to be the right collection. I am very careful when I choose the collaborators that their work fits with the line we have just presented, and Martin would need something with the right colour and detail. But this is a long term project. The right collection will come.”

Bottega Veneta: Art of Collaboration by Tomas Maier, is out now, published by Rizzoli.