Bottega Veneta has been the hottest fashion house on social media since the British designer Daniel Lee arrived at the Milanese label less than three years ago.
The model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley posted no fewer than 39 selfies featuring her “Pouch” handbag in the space of three months. When four British Vogue staffers realised they were all wearing clothes or accessories from the label one day in September 2019, they posted a photo captioned: “We have a new desk dress code @bottegaveneta”.
But in a move which hints at a fashion backlash against Instagram, Bottega Veneta has cut all ties with social media. It is replacing social posts with a quarterly online magazine that Lee hopes will offer “more progressive and more thoughtful” content than scrolling through an Instagram feed.
“Social media represents the homogenisation of culture,” the 35-year-old tells the Guardian in advance of Wednesday’s launch of the magazine. “Everyone sees the same stream of content. A huge amount of thought goes into what I do, and social media oversimplifies it.”
Called Issue, the “digital journal” features a newly commissioned music video for Missy Elliott’s 1999 classic Hot Boyz. El video, which was filmed by the photographer Tyrone Lebon, is the type of content, Lee hopes, that an audience will “sit down with, like you would with a film”.
The move is a curveball, because Instagram has replaced the traditional glossy magazine as the most powerful platform in fashion. Bottega Veneta is a brand in the ascendant, having achieved 4.8% revenue growth last year, when most luxury labels took a severe hit (revenue at Gucci, por ejemplo, was down by 21.5%). As a result, the eyes of the fashion industry are watching, and in a world where social media increasingly shapes culture, politics and lifestyle the implications go beyond fashion.
Issue is an audiovisual magazine with fashion photography, music and video. There are voiceovers and music, but no text. Neneh Cherry narrates footage of Bottega Veneta’s most recent catwalk show at Sadler’s Wells in London. The Berlin-based roller skater Oumi Janta spins on her skates under a disco ball in a silk-fringed cocktail dress, and there is a heart-stopping short film that captures the daredevil rooftop stunts of the British parkour collective STORROR.
The contrast with Instagram, is intentional. “There is a mood of playground bullying on social media which I don’t really like,” says Lee. “I wanted to do something joyful instead. We are not just a brand, we are a team of people who work together, and I don’t want to collude in an atmosphere that feels negative.”
Clothes from past collections are photographed alongside new season pieces, “which just makes sense – there is longevity in the pieces we make”. (After all, a Bottega Veneta cotton-terry T-shirt, one of the simplest pieces currently on sale, retails for £365.)
Lee, who won four British fashion awards in 2019 – a record unmatched by Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood or Stella McCartney – insists that cutting ties with social media is not a stunt, dicho: “This wasn’t about a room full of executives, talking marketing strategy.”
But Bottega Veneta is in the enviable have-its-cake-and-eat-it position of continuing to benefit from Instagram exposure without posting on social media. The buzz around the brand means influencers and celebrities are likely to continue posting their Bottega Veneta selfies. One fan account, @newbottega, has half a million followers. “I’m very happy to be on other people’s Instagram,” says Lee. “That conversation with fans is amazing and we are grateful to have it.”