On a Thursday night in spring, the lobby of the Hotel Danieli, near San Marco Square in Venice, stirs awake and, with the twilight at its windows, comes to life in dazzling evening dress. Women weave between the furniture in yellow suits and beautifully draped dresses. Men tread the stone floors and old-world rugs in interesting shoes. The travellers are glamorous and restless, with a charge of misbehaviour spilling out onto the edge of the canals. Venice, the unchanging city, seems in the thrall of energy that is brand new.
Matthieu Blazy, of Bottega Veneta, appears as if from nowhere and whirls down the hotel’s main staircase toward the crowd below. He is tall, with cropped light brown hair, and wears a loose tan summer suit—double-breasted, open, with the sleeves rolled up—over a black T-shirt. His shoes are of soft woven leather, and his manner is of lucid confidence. Late last year, at 37, Blazy was named creative director of Bottega Veneta, the best-known fashion brand from this windy and taste-haunted region of northeastern Italy, after a career that looked to many people like a game of hiding in plain sight. (As the artist Sterling Ruby, who has worked closely with Blazy, says: “I just thought: it’s about time.”)
He had been hired out of school by Raf Simons before moving on to work at Maison Martin Margiela and Céline, where he was known for a pragmatic understanding of the market and an interest in ambitious art. While many young designers were tapped for top posts, Blazy seemed the eternal deputy, gathering authority with small gestures of startling inspiration outside the public eye.
Before ascending to the helm of Bottega Veneta, Blazy was its design director—the No. 2 post, behind Daniel Lee, who departed suddenly last year—and says that little in his working habits changed with the promotion. (“I like to work in teams,” he says. “It’s not me facing products and giving opinions.”) His tastes are considered and secure, but he’s in the habit of whisking them behind his back like a concealed bouquet, the better to hear what others think; he has, unusually among creative directors, a reputation for being transparent, approachable, widely liked. “There’s something egalitarian about the way he works,” the artist Anne Collier, who designed a fragrance alongside Blazy, says. “He’s not an egomaniac or hyper-narcissist or mega-diva or anything like that.” Simons: “Matthieu is, I think, one of the loveliest people I’ve ever met in my life.”
He is also, it turns out, a hard man to keep up with. As the crowd in the Danieli grows, he is suddenly gone, out the hotel’s small side door, where a water taxi purrs in waiting. It’s a cool night, and rain from some low clouds over the harbour has begun to fall. At the Punta della Dogana, a curious triangular outcropping that was once home to a Venetian customs house, he docks and scrambles ashore toward a building that serves as a museum for the art collection of François Pinault, whose company, Kering, acquired Bottega Veneta in the early 2000s. It’s the eve of the Venice Biennale, and Bottega is hosting a dinner for important guests—the only time the museum has ever been cleared for such a dinner. The evening has the crisp mood of investiture: a luxury conglomerate introducing its newest, long-hidden prince.
For years, Bottega Veneta, founded in 1966, focused on luggage and handbags; by the 1990s, it had begun to branch into ready-to-wear clothes. Along the way, its mystique carried from the Adriatic bourgeoisie to the boho Concorde crowd. Andy Warhol produced a sort of cinematic tribute, called Bottega Veneta Industrial Videotape; Lauren Hutton made one of its clasped clutches screen-famous in American Gigolo. (The bag was subsequently reissued as The Lauren 1980.) In 2001, Kering appointed Lee’s predecessor, Tomas Maier, creative director, and for the past decade Bottega Veneta has done more than a billion dollars in revenue each year. When Blazy took the reins, it was with the need to find a place for the brand’s history of discreet craft tradition in a growing global market.
“There’s something egalitarian about the way he works,” the artist Anne Collier says of Blazy
His approach has been to lean toward specificity and art as a relief from the online social churn—or, as he puts it, “How many influencers can really influence something that has been influenced already 5,000 times before?” Blazy’s theory is that our whorling image mania has quietly peeled back from retail desire—that the garments accumulating online likes don’t actually reflect the lasting, wearable, flattering clothes most people want when they open their wardrobes in the morning. Luxury, in the end, means striking stuff and lasting quality. “There’s a multi-lifetime depth in his decision-making—something that exists outside of time and space,” Ye (formerly known as Kanye West), who was an early admirer of Blazy’s work, tells me. “I think it’s super-important in this post-hype Instagram moment that deeply connected individuals have light shined on their platform. It’s time for a reset.”
At dinner, Blazy stands to give a self-effacing welcome speech, laying praise on a performance that the artist Lenio Kaklea delivered in the gallery before seating. (Kaklea, dressed only in beige underwear and black sneakers, ran among cubes of crushed metal—Blazy’s industrialised expression of the squares forming Bottega’s signature intrecciato pattern.) Then, by dessert, he has vanished once again.
“It is my favourite feeling in the world—when you go to a new city, leave the hotel, and start wandering around,” he tells me over coffee the next morning at Caffè Florian, an exquisitely time-worn 18th-century coffeehouse. After the dinner, he confesses, he stayed out with friends until 3am, yet there is little evidence of bleariness. The billowing suit of the previous evening is gone, and he now looks nearly indistinguishable from the stylish visitors queued outside: a white T-shirt, relaxed-fit Levi’s, and a belt dangling down in front like a short tail. As we finish our second coffee, he hustles me across the square to the Olivetti typewriter showroom, a mid-century jewel box of glass, concrete, wood and brass by the architect Carlo Scarpa. It is his favourite space anywhere, he says, for “the modernity, the relevance and the timelessness”.
When Blazy visited Venice for the first time less than a decade ago, at 28, he fell in love with its antiques stores and its glass workshops, but also, he says, with its stirring flashes of contemporaneity: the art; the bold fashion; the transience of everyone who comes by train and boat, stays out until 3, and ventures on to other places. It is an ancient city in perpetual motion, near the heart of Blazy’s own ideas of fashion and interesting work.
“Bottega Veneta is a bag company,” he tells me with a welcoming smile, as if this will explain everything, before vanishing into the throngs of San Marco Square. “It means that you go places—it’s as simple as that.” Blazy is himself a child of movement and the unlikely juxtapositions it makes in a life. Born in Paris, he grew up with an art-specialist father and a historian mother, and spent his childhood hanging about auction houses and absorbing their eclectic range. “One day it would be the contents of an apartment
with 19th-century taste; the next day you might have a shitty-painting auction—and then, in the middle of it, you have one masterpiece,” he recalls. “Being there so much, you kind of educate yourself.”
Blazy is himself a child of movement and the unlikely juxtapositions it makes in a life.
The young Blazy was imaginative, restless and undisciplined. “I wasn’t interested in school—I had some great teachers, but I hated the notion of exercises,” he says. “I was quite wild. Therefore, I was sent to a kind of priest institution in the middle of nowhere in France” (a Marist boarding school in the region of Ardèche). By 15, it was on to military school in England, a not unpleasant experience. “The more boundaries you have, the more freedom you can find in the small things,” Blazy says.
At 16, he was allowed to return to Paris, where he enrolled at an international school with students of different backgrounds. He loved it, falling in with a tribe of kids interested in fashion, a number of whom remain his friends. “I never wasn’t interested in fashion,” he recalls. A neighbour ran a modelling agency and he would watch the first crop of ’80s supermodels pass through the common garden. In time, he learnt to riffle through the magazine-recycling bin, poring over the titles left behind: i-D, The Face, Vogue. For Christmas one year, his parents gave him Richard Avedon’s book In The American West, and he was hooked. “The pictures were incredible—the people looked like characters, but they were also sort of ‘fashion’. You couldn’t put any stamp on it—they looked like themselves.”
Blazy enrolled at La Cambre, the design academy in Brussels. “The system was almost like Bauhaus: you had a fashion course, but you also learnt about music, art, semiology, semantics. You absorbed a lot,” he says. As a student, he interned in the womenswear department of Balenciaga, under Nicolas Ghesquière, and entered the International Talent Support competition in Trieste, with judges including Simons and the fashion critic Cathy Horyn. “We thought, Oh, this is as clear as water—he’s the winner!” Simons says. “And then he didn’t win. I said to him, ‘What are you gonna do? Because I would love for you to come work for me’.”
Simons’ eponymous brand, at that point, comprised fewer than 10 designers; everybody moved among departments, and the young Blazy seized this flexibility. “Matthieu is a very free spirit, almost hippie-like in his mind,” Simons says. “Sometimes you have people around you and they only make what you’ve talked about, but he’s very daring, never afraid to show something quite experimental.” For Simons, this meant a fast, generative kind of work. “I can say whatever I want to Matthieu, and it will never really piss him off. Like, ‘Oh, no, I find that a ridiculous idea, please, no way!’ He doesn’t mind, because he’s so free. And then he brings amazing things.” Simons also noticed Blazy’s collegiality. “The fashion world can be tough, and sometimes we have to behave tough to get things done,” he says. “Matthieu got things done in a very decent, human way.”
One of Blazy’s new colleagues on the team was Pieter Mulier, now Blazy’s long-time partner and the creative director at Alaïa. Mulier was among those to interview Blazy (“He was extremely nervous, poor thing”) and had been puzzled and moved by the way he presented his portfolio. Designers usually bring images of their work, but Blazy showed up with his whole collection in tow—he wanted people to be able to handle the garments. He had made everything himself, and Mulier was struck by his technical and geometric skill. “When you look at Raf’s collections after he arrived, they become pattern-wise much more complicated, much more intricate, and that’s because of him,” Mulier says.
After moving in together, they began collecting art and vintage garments—all periods, all sorts of pieces—many of which they’ve used for inspiration. They discussed work all the time at the start of their 16-year relationship. Lately, hardly at all. “During collections, I don’t show him anything, and he doesn’t show me anything,” Mulier says. “Otherwise we would go crazy.” “What I bring home is the doubt,” Blazy tells me. “Did we do something relevant today? It didn’t look so new, but it felt very right—is it a good thing?”
During the 2010s, Mulier remained a Simons deputy, while Blazy made an industry tour. On the anonymous Maison Margiela team, he was outed as creator of the crystal-studded masks that became a famous feature of Kanye West’s 2013 Yeezus tour. “I gravitated to it emotionally,” Ye says. “Interestingly enough, I used to be shy to wear those masks in public and only wanted to wear them onstage, until I embraced that the world was a stage.” (“It was when Instagram boomed, and suddenly you have the biggest pop star unrecognisable, but everyone knows it’s him,” Blazy says.
“People see it as a milestone, which I find really funny, because it was done quite quickly.”) At Phoebe Philo’s Céline, Blazy worked not on the main lines but on the pre-collections, the better to experience commercial pressure. All the while, he and Mulier remained close to Simons, whose house in the South of France they still visit during off weeks—and whose counsel in pet ownership they sought after acquiring a black Labrador-Pointer mix called John John. “My dog is best friends with their dog!” Simons exclaims. “She—my dog—taught their little boy to swim.”
When Blazy and Mulier took the helms, respectively, of Bottega Veneta and Alaïa in 2021, the new roles brought new pressures to their shared life. “Let’s say it’s not the easiest. Sometimes I don’t see him for three weeks or for a month,” Mulier says. “We’ve always worked together for each other’s goals, and it’s quite peculiar that we realised our dreams at the same moment.” The two of them always worked long hours, too, but now the public—and the corporate—perception of success or failure hung from their names. They knew the stakes. In 2016, Blazy and Mulier moved to New York to join Simons at Calvin Klein, where he’d been hired as chief creative officer. The label was a behemoth, with a fast churn of collections; Blazy and Mulier designed piece after piece and helped launch its redesigned flagship, at 654 Madison Avenue.
In 2018, though, tension between Simons and the brand’s corporate leaders brought the project to a sudden halt, and Blazy and Mulier, who had been excited by the notion of making interesting, ambitious fashion work for a mass audience, left not merely disappointed but creatively demoralised. Blazy took time off, unsure whether to continue in the trade. “I was really questioning: Why do you like to do this job? Why did I start in this job?” He went out to Los Angeles to visit Sterling Ruby and his wife, Melanie Schiff, who were making clothing, and pitched in.
“The pleasure of just making—just working on clothes and silhouette without any commercial idea,” Blazy recalls, “really got me back on track.” What he needed, he realised, was to work at a label where craft and quality were never out of view; where the consumer engine was driven by innovation and seduction, not the retail gearbox. Bottega Veneta became his path back, and by the time he became creative director, he knew his mission. He had seen how brands chasing in-groups could lose sight of the shore, so his label would keep one foot on tradition and the other on open-ended experiment: an artist’s path toward the new. He had seen how global commerce could blur toward anodyne in distinction, so he would play up Bottega Veneta’s Italian roots.
“When I took over the job, I sat with the team—designers, but also people at the company for 20 years—and we asked ourselves a simple question: ‘What is Bottega Veneta’?” he says. “What is craft and where does it sit in tradition? How can we bring modernity? We didn’t talk about shape. We didn’t talk about image. It was the feeling of the brand.” Know where you started, he thought, and you could go anywhere.
“The pleasure of just making—just working on clothes and silhouette without any commercial idea,” Blazy recalls, “really got me back on track.”
In Milan, Blazy wakes early and walks to the office, stopping with John John at the dog park on the way. He loves to walk (he can go weeks without stepping into a car) and likes to smoke (Marlboro Golds), and the bustling sidewalks get his mind going. He tries to be at his desk soon after 8am—he works best in the morning—and usually doesn’t leave before 8pm. “By then, my brain is burnt,” he says. One day, he interrupts his work to meet me at the Bottega Veneta showroom in the shadow of the National Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo da Vinci, where his newest garments hang on carefully curated racks. “I like when clothes look kind of architectural—they should look sexy on the hanger,” says Blazy, whose notion of retail appeal is highly physical: a pang of irresistible desire you feel when you hold the thing in your hand or see it rush past you, not—his horror—rendered flat and filtered on Instagram.
Inside the space, models, many from the runway, trace L-shapes onto a central corridor. Blazy finds himself unable to function in pure silence or solitude (“I never work from home—I can’t,” he says) and visibly enjoys the motion of it all, pausing mid-sentence to admire the flow of a dress accelerating down the centre line. At La Cambre, he learnt to design in the round, and this is how he still works: starting with a pile of interesting fabrics, studying how pieces move and feel, and refining until each garment comes alive.
“If something becomes too worked or isn’t moving, I get bored,” he tells me. “And if it’s changing too much—if it becomes the idea of someone else, or neither her nor my idea—I wonder why are we doing this? I’d rather kill the idea.”
This intuitive approach produces results at once unprecious and unexpected. Blazy is known for setting patterns at unusual angles, substituting unorthodox fabrics and cutting unconventional forms that, on the human body, drape in beautiful and naturalistic ways. “The clothes aren’t necessarily your first idea of what might be flattering,” says Collier. “And then they are, incredibly.”
As we wander the showroom, Blazy pulls a bag off the shelf. “You see the master craftsmanship,” he says. “It has no seams.”
The basket-like weave of this particular bag tapers through a single brass ring into a thick, ropelike handle meant to be slung over the shoulder. Every one must be woven by hand, which means that no two are identical. “That’s luxury,” Blazy says. He further individuated its leather weave, a variant of the intrecciato, by cutting the strips so wide that they fold and crimp unpredictably into place. The bag’s texture is hardy, yet astonishingly soft and seductive to the touch; from then on, I find myself behaving like a small child in the showroom, reaching out to feel everything I see, and don’t regret it: Blazy’s collection is the most richly tactile I’ve encountered. This bag, Blazy tells me, turning it over, was inspired by the Italian cartoon character of Calimero, a chicken carrying his belongings in a tramp bindle. “It’s the bag that opened the show,” he notes.
Blazy is known for setting patterns at unusual angles, substituting unorthodox fabrics and cutting unconventional forms that, on the human body, drape in beautiful and naturalistic ways.
That first show, in February, was heralded as a triumph of traditionalism and innovation all at once. The opening look: a young woman in a white tank top, blue jeans and sensible black heels, striding down the runway with a Kalimero bag slung over her shoulder. Or so it seemed: the trousers, delicately tapered, were actually made of soft leather, printed with layers of ink for the appearance of blue jeans. Was this high-concept irony? Or was it just what it seemed: a timeless, unpretentious street look, full of sexiness and function, with the luxury known only to the wearer?
Bottega Veneta, which Vogue once dubbed a “stealth-wealth” brand, was originally known for putting no labels on the outside of its bags: anyone who knew the company would recognise them, and surely its consumers didn’t seek to impress with brand names. Blazy’s trompe l’oeil opener could be understood as a nod toward the brand’s legacy of discreet indulgence, but it also announced allegiance to the breezy, tried and true. What’s more “fashion”, it seemed to ask, than what real people can look great in, day-to-day?
The whole collection shimmered with a similar duality. On the one hand were the dazzling, daring flights: the exquisite trousers in supple leather, moving like silk; the jackets cut like shirts; the coats in mottled wool made to look like the terrazzo floor in Milan’s Malpensa airport; the baleen-like extensions on a classic skirt. On the other was a collection of irresistible wearability. One coat has dynamic, crescentic sleeves; another jacket, meanwhile, is rendered plainly and simply. (“I’m attracted to the fact that
it looks completely undesigned,” Blazy says. “It’s… a very well-made jacket. And that’s enough.”) The garments come alive in profile. In preparing, Blazy studied Italian Futurism, particularly the work of Umberto Boccioni, and ruminated on Alberto Giacometti’s ‘Walking Man’. “We wanted to be bourgeois from the front—but then when you look at the side: bang!” he says. “That’s our territory, the silhouette.”
As he takes me around the showroom, displaying his latest innovations—a shoe inspired by toxic mushrooms; his forays into yellow and deep green—he keeps returning to the bags. One is called the JJ because, when he set it on the floor and held the strap,
it reminded him of walking John John. Another is inspired by a helmet—not worn on the head but dangled from the hand, a sporty power pose. “It’s a mix between sophisticated and very playful,” Blazy says.
Blazy’s workspace at the brand’s headquarters is a big, light-filled white cube with high windows looking onto the industrial south of the city, revivified with the arrival of the Fondazione Prada complex in 2015. There is a long white working table—no clutter from desks, cabinets and shelves. Instead, Blazy keeps everything he needs stacked on the floor.
“I like to see things from above,” he says. “It gives me a sense of what I have to do.” On the floor right now is a tray of bottled fragrances in consideration for Bottega Veneta’s line. There are two pairs of platform shoes under development beside a short stack of furniture books: Cassina, Poltrona Frau. And there are a couple of Strand tote bags (“My favourite bookstore in the world”), which Blazy is studying for a project in homage to the bookseller. “It’s a way to think about these kinds of local businesses that have incredible values,” he says—to use the weight of luxury to celebrate not only what’s glamorous but, in the face of global digitalia, what’s regional, specific and deep-rooted.
If the Strand work is a hit, he thinks, he can celebrate other cultural institutions in other regions of the world. A foam board leans against the wall, propped in place by a book on the architect Giulio Minoletti and covered with photos of mid-century Italian interiors, most featuring rectangular latticework suggestive of the intrecciato. “What I find critical in Italian architecture, especially in mid-century, is how well it works with the ancient,” he says. “It’s a radicalism that lives with the past.”
Among his friends and colleagues, Blazy is famous—or notorious—for eclectic reference points, most noticeably in his often inscrutable mood boards. One in progress, propped against the wall, looks like one of those IQ tests that calls for finding patterns among disparate elements. The images include photographs of a boy in a train seat dozing against his scrunched-up hoodie, a topless woman grasping the pendulous member of a bottomless man, Warhol cradling a shoe, the interior of the Olivetti showroom, two still-life paintings of under-ripe lemons, and busts of Nefertiti wearing sunglasses by the artist Isa Genzken. I give Blazy a blank look.
Thoughtfully, he begins to explain. That photograph of a brass head? Brass—beautiful and changing as it ages, not blingy, with a relationship to art—is the metal he has chosen to represent Bottega Veneta, especially in the storefronts he is mocking up in a warehouse nearby. Carolyn Bessette in a white shirt and jeans? “She’s just being herself—I can imagine her with a Bottega bag and it would be enough,” he says. (It was this photograph, he explains, that inspired his show’s opening look.) The oranges with coffee dregs and yoghurt on a kitchen counter? “I like the idea that the people of Bottega live in a real environment and make coffee in the morning,” he says. In a moment of digital-image saturation, perfection and glamour and high-flown fantasy aren’t scarce commodities, he thinks—but passing moments of sensual bliss, increasingly, are.
Blazy’s apartment in Milan is a monument to happiness of a very personal sort. “It’s a funny story,” he says. “When I got the job, I went online to see what was on the market, and saw this apartment for rent. I’m like, I’ve been there.” He rang the number and was told he could come see it then and there. “I stepped in and thought, I was here maybe 15 years ago, when Raf was at Jil Sander—it was his place!” He took it at once.
The flat, mostly Blazy’s domain—Mulier works in Paris, sometimes flying down for as little as 24 hours—is pointedly unrenovated. Its far wall is all full-length windows sloping toward a shallow balcony overlooking a fragrant courtyard. The floor is dark green marble, its walls panelled wood. A small stone fireplace with a brass hood and skirt is framed by warm, charcoal-coloured brickwork. Between the entertaining rooms are sliding doors of accordioning black leather, and a portion of the ceiling is done in a rectangular lattice—again, suggestive of the intrecciato. “I came here with very little furniture,” Blazy tells me, “thinking, you know, maybe I’m going to build it up with time. But the more I think about it, the more I think I’m going to keep it empty.”
When Blazy was considering leaving fashion, he tells me, he entertained the idea of studying to be a curator of art. His loved ones talked him down from the ledge.
For now, the apartment is an interesting mood board in bohemian minimalism: a few woven rugs across the marble, some original art on the bookshelves and propped around the living room. A couple of chaise longues are covered in furry white-and-red fabric, with a woven-leather footstool in Blazyian yellow nearby. The kitchen—small, unfancy, pleasant—has a window with a sight line to the Duomo: by conventional measures the best view in the apartment, but somehow, in this setting, a private decadence. As we leave and Blazy pats himself down (“I can tell you which girl had which look at the show, but where I put my key? Impossible”), I notice that the front door is a green much like the one featured at Bottega Veneta: everything old can become new again.
Blazy’s idea of happiness, he says, is stopping by a cafe after work, having a beer or two, and thinking about images as people bustle all around. He takes me to his favourite, Bar Quadronno—the sort of place where students, pensioners and neighbourhood professionals converge for drinks and bruschetta before dinner. The waiters know him, and offer a small sidewalk table under a parasol. Blazy orders a Campari spritz. When he isn’t actively working—a rare phenomenon of late—he haunts galleries and auctions, trying to see what’s going on in art.
“I’ve wanted to bring Bottega to a place where it’s more part of the cultural aspect of society,” he says. There’s also his latest personal venture: the purchase of a house in Paris long owned by the sculptor Valentine Schlegel, who died last year at 95. Schlegel began as a ceramist but became known for her in situ sculptures—she designed Jeanne Moreau’s fireplace—and in that sense her own wholly resculpted house, which Blazy grew up next to, may have been her masterpiece. With the help of an old friend, Blazy is restoring it for use as a shared arts space.
When Blazy was considering leaving fashion, he tells me, he entertained the idea of studying to be a curator of art. His loved ones talked him down from the ledge (“Someone in my family said: ‘Stick to your business—you’re quite good’.”), but the affection remains. He describes himself as a Sunday painter, blissfully mediocre. (What style does he paint in? I ask. “The style is Sunday painter,” he retorts.)
Blazy orders another spritz, lights another cigarette. What he does is not art, he says—it’s craft—but there is still an extended learning curve. “As you encounter more, you know more what you dislike and are attracted to,” he explains. “A few years ago, I would not have been ready to take this job.” He no longer feels that way. Bottega Veneta was not his first creative director offer, he says, but it was the first one that he leapt at with pleasure and no hesitation—the first that arrived when he felt he’d finally reached the end of his long, brilliant apprenticeship. “I was just more confident,” he says, letting his eyes wander to the changing swirl of city life around him. “I was ready to work.”
Photography Rafael Pavarotti
Styling Kate Phelan
Portrait David Sims
Hair Eugene Souleimain
Make up Chaio Li Hsu
Manicure Lauren Michelle Pires
Set design Ibby Njoya
Production Holmes Production
Digital Artwork Dtouch London
Models Mamuor Awak, Mao Xiaoxing, Nyaueth Riam, Mona Tougaard and Wang Chen Ming
This story was originally published on Vogue.com.