Prior to ex-Celine designer Daniel Lee’s appointment as creative director at Bottega Veneta, the brand was a sore spot on Kering’s earnings sheet, with several years of declining sales. Now, less than two years since he joined, the brand is growing faster than its sister brands including Saint Laurent and even Kering’s crown jewel, Gucci.
After Gucci’s monumental growth in 2017 and 2018 slowed — with five consecutive quarters of declining growth starting in late 2018 — and the loss of Stella McCartney in March 2018. which went on to join with competitor LVMH, Kering is under pressure to establish a stable of high-performing brands to keep up with competitors. While LVMH’s Louis Vuitton dominates luxury market sales, LVMH has a more even spread of brand success than Kering, with brands like Dior, Fendi, Celine and others all performing well. In the past two years, new creative directors at key LVMH brands — Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton, Hedi Slimane at Celine and Kim Jones at Dior Homme — have made all of their respective brands a financial success.
Bottega Veneta, led by Lee, could be the beginning of a strong, diversified Kering portfolio.
Early signs show that Bottega is already on its way. While the end of 2018 marked the end of Gucci’s growth, it marked the beginning of Bottega’s turnaround. Sales have grown each quarter since, with a significant 7% jump in the second half of 2019 after the first batch of Lee’s designs went on sale.
In an interview with Vogue Business, multiple buyers from places like MatchesFashion and Harrods said that Bottega was high on their list for what they’d be stocking in 2020. Roopal Patel of Saks Fifth Avenue said that Bottega’s handbags and shoes were “bound to have global waitlists.”
Many of Lee’s designs have become massively popular and massively imitated. After his first collection, heavily featuring square-toed shoes, retail analytics company Edited found that there was a 1,550% increase year over year in square-toed shoes being sold at U.S. mass retailers in the fall 2019 season. Discounts on Bottega products also fell dramatically around November of last year, coinciding with Lee’s first collections and signaling that sell-through is likely higher.
According to the 2019 Lyst Index of the most popular fashion brands, Bottega Veneta entered the top 20 for the first time, driven by its padded sandals — the most popular womenswear product of the year based on sales and social media conversation, according to Lyst. Online searches for Bottega Veneta were up by 156% between September and October, thanks to buzz from influencers and a revamped Instagram advertisement plan that included an expanded number of ad formats, the brand put in place at the end of 2018. In the same time frame, they drove up the return on ad spend by more than 200%.
The brand’s social media strategy has shifted significantly, as well. According to data from Tribe Dynamics, between the third quarter of 2018 and third quarter of 2019, Bottega’s influencer posts grew from 30% to 46% of the brand’s total social media output, while promoted posts dropped from 26% to 6%. Tribe said that when a brand’s earned media value is dominated by influencers rather than sponsored posts, the growth tends to be more sustainable.
There were also rumors that Bottega had spent big on sending Pouch bags to many influencers throughout 2019, and the Pouch’s ubiquity among fashion influencers last year did not go unnoticed.
Bottega has also benefited from the changeover in designers at Celine. When Hedi Slimane took over from Phoebe Philo, people mourned the loss of her elegant, understated designs. When Daniel Lee took over Bottega, it wasn’t long before his style was heralded by fashion blogs and consumers as the second coming of Philo’s Celine. Lee’s tenure even inspired the creation of an Instagram account called @newbottega, a tribute to his designs that boasts over 100,000 followers, whose creator said she was inspired to create it specifically because of her nostalgia for the old Celine.
The company’s shift came about partially thanks to Lee’s designs but also out of a concerted effort on Kering’s part to transform the brand. Rather than cutting off resources to the brand when sales were down, Kering has spent the last two years investing more heavily in Bottega, opening its largest store in the world in Manhattan in February 2018 and a new flagship store in Tokyo in December 2018, and bringing in a new CEO, former Saint Laurent COO Leo Rongone, in June 2019. Following, Bottega saw its best results in years — almost 10% sales growth in the third quarter of fiscal year 2019.
“The timing of Daniel Lee’s appointment has been key to the resurgence at Bottega Veneta,” said Kayla Marci, market analyst at Edited. “Maximalism and logomania have dominated fashion for the last half of the decade, and we are now seeing the pendulum swing back toward a simpler aesthetic. Items like the brand’s Pouch [a popular handbag launched in 2019], and the padded sandals are hailed as timeless, and their popularity with influencers has propelled them to achieve cult status.”
But Kering may not be going far enough. LVMH made huge waves last year by launching Rihanna’s Fenty, a new luxury house and the first launched by a woman of color. Kering’s attempts at rejuvenation have so far focused on the same old brands, like Saint Laurent and Gucci, just with an exciting new creative director slotted in.
“Kering must diversify their investments into new emerging talent,” said Syama Meagher, CEO and founder of Scaling Retail. “The existing model of breathing new life into legacy brands through young, hot creative directors is effective short-term, but it doesn’t build the long-term portfolio. Who will be the Stella McCartneys of the future? Will the hot, emerging luxury brands want to be under the Kering umbrella? If Kering fails to show it can foster and support brands of the future, then the model of rotating out creative directors may get old, and brand relevancy will falter.”