Does an influential brand need an Instagram account?

Bottega Veneta’s social media exodus suggests a new beginning for the brand -- will it reverberate across the industry?

by Douglas Greenwood
06 January 2021, 2:21pm

Bottega Veneta AW20. Photography Mitchell Sams

Since the Instagram boom of the early 2010s, luxury fashion houses have successfully adopted and steered the platform in their favour, redefining where and how we see the designs we now yearn for. But the Italian brand headed up by internet shy Daniel Lee, Bottega Veneta, has decided to start a new chapter without it: saying goodbye to their nearly four-million cumulative followers across Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, and deleting their accounts on all of those platforms.

There is, perhaps, nothing more boring and irksome than the suggestion that social media is unequivocally bad for us. It does, of course, have its many down sides: the endless pressure and personal comparisons we feel and make with those manufacturing perfect lives; the way it’s changed the way how vitriol affects people online. But if you manage the push past the deluded and the poisonous, you’ll find opportunities for creative inspiration, knowledge-widening and new, border-less friendships. As with most things, there are pros and there are cons.

Perhaps Bottega’s clean-slate decision was made by Lee himself, or perhaps a higher power, but either way it’s a surprise in an industry where digital clout has quickly become the path to brand relevance. You follow the crowds: as media consumption shied away from traditional print media and towards the constant scroll of socials, the advertising budget and in-house staff spend moved with it. What was once worn on the cover of high-end magazines, or on the backs of celebrities in weekly gossip titles, now carries more clout when seen on an influencer’s feed. In fact, studies show that a strong percentage of the current (25-34) and next (13-24) generation of luxury spenders turn to social media to get their clothing ideas, and billions of advertising dollars are spent every year by luxury brands hoping to meet their next customers there.

Perhaps this was the reason Daniel Lee’s quilted leather mule heels became the ubiquitous shoe of the past few years, or why his Pouch and Jodie handbags effectively shaped how accessories should look according to the fast fashion brands who watched Lee’s work closely. They were not only symbols of aspiration, but of tasteful, boundary-pushing style in a social media age that embraced vapid zaniness for the sole purpose of attention-seeking. Lee proved you could enrapture everybody, online and off, without compromising integrity.

Which is where the social media marketing landscape finds itself now. The simplicity of Instagram, simply a new platform for showcasing imagery that would have lived in the pages of fashion magazines anyway, is now being swapped out for more animated platforms like TikTok. An app with roots in dance trends and teenagers doing funny shit for views, quite how you can combine youthful frivolity with cash-spending luxury customers is still being worked out, and most brands are still searching for that serendipitous sweet spot. Could it be, actually, that the social media overload -- exacerbated by a pandemic in which we doom-scrolled for days on end -- is going to lead to a resurgence of the more traditional, slow methods of communication: the fashion magazine’s return to glory? A front-row at an un-streamed fashion show populated by select special guests, who have the honour of passing on the ‘I was there’ folklore afterwards?

When it comes to the latter, Bottega has already embraced that. For Spring 2021, the brand hosted a salon show for a select group of VIP attendees in mid-October, only revealing the looks to the wider public two months later in mid-December. While most brands chose to livestream these shows, effectively placing anybody who wanted to be there on the front row, Bottega held back. Lee himself has said he isn’t a fan of live-streamed shows; a graduate of Phoebe Philo’s digital-shy Celine, that isn’t hugely surprising.

But does this matter when the influential figures of the world, the very ones invited to sit front row at a Bottega show, are going to be the ones wearing them on their grid anyway? What if that second-hand influence was enough to keep the Italian brand at the peak of their power, bolstered by an alluring mystique of its own absence that in itself suggests haughtiness and exclusivity; two of the main reasons consumers buy luxury anyway? It seems like that may be Bottega Veneta’s way of working for the foreseeable, under Daniel Lee’s creative direction at least.

Right now, there’s an unfilled job post at Bottega Veneta’s head office for a Global Social Media Manager. Whoever assumes that position, whether it gets filled at all, will be blessed with either the easiest or most difficult job in the world. By going off the grid, perhaps Bottega has made a statement on the quick information consumption age clear: that it doesn’t align with the time-consuming craftsmanship of the clothes that they create.

Moves like this aren’t completely unheard of: the ‘new-year-new-me’ attitude was recently adopted by Givenchy, as Claire Waight Keller passed the reins of the brand to Matthew Williams. But Daniel Lee still sits firmly in his Bottega position, with no creative overhaul or switching of power expected soon. What can be said is that Bottega is still quiet in terms of why they’ve made this move. It may be the build-up to an even more elaborate relaunch, or a method of drumming up hype for a new capsule or seasonal collection. Either would be strange if Daniel had anything to do with it though, considering the unflashy, considered approach he’s taken to his Bottega tenure so far.

For those still craving a Bottega Insta fix, the account @NewBottega will provide that for you. But the question that remains is ‘What’s next?’. Considering the rate at which the world’s most influential people are buying Daniel Lee’s designs (at Kering, the pandemic hit Bottega Veneta the least hard of their whole brand portfolio), it’s fair to assume that a talked-about move like this will only strengthen their reputation. Perhaps, after a decade spent scrolling through targeted advertisements, the real life encounters with clothes and brand creativity will prove Bottega has made the smartest decision of all.

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