Bottega Veneta’s Tomas Maier on Fashion, Art and Emerging Talent

Designer Tomas Maier
(Photo by Collier Schorr)

Since its founding in 1966, Bottega Veneta has differed from other Italian luxury houses in its aversion to trends and its unwavering fealty to the highest possible craftsmanship. Since 2001, when Tomas Maier took creative control, the German has introduced a focus on art and photography. Last year he launched NEW EXPOSURE, an innovative competition to find emerging photographers.

A visualist at heart, Tomas Maier regularly attends international art events and has been known to cite German Renaissance artists Cranach and Durer, as well as Spanish Golden Age painters Zurbaran and Velásquez as inspirations for Bottega Veneta collections, plus a host of contemporary artists. Throughout his tenure at the house, he's employed a mix of high-profile fashion and art photographers to lens the all-important seasonal campaigns. Alternating with the likes of fashion veterans Steven Meisel, Nick Knight, and Peter Lindbergh, these art photographers include Ralph Gibson (fall/winter 2013/2014), Collier Schorr (cruise 2012/2013), Robert Longo (fall /winter 2010/2011), Nan Goldin (spring/summer 2010), and Larry Sultan (spring/summer 2009).

Maier explains to BLOUIN ARTINFO the rationale for his art-world pursuits. "For our advertising campaigns, we work with artists who both complement and enrich our collections through their lenses,” he says. "Obviously the choice goes along with my fondness of their personal work. We always try to think how a specific collection might fit with a particular artist’s work.” He adds, “We work through challenges and solutions in order to create something we are both proud of."

This type of collaboration with the world’s top photogs has inevitably led to some memorable shoots. "We shot with cages of messenger pigeons on location in Miami with Alex Prager for spring/summer 2011,” recalls Maier.  “Her work is simultaneously cinematic and hyper-real. And for fall/winter 2010, we had models jumping off platforms for days, photographed midair by Robert Longo, inspired by his iconic Men in the Cities series."

Maier's NEW EXPOSURE project, now in its second year, seeks out talented yet undiscovered photographers. "For Bottega Veneta, it is important to continue to recognize and nurture emerging talent,” Maier says. “I hope the competition brings attention to upstart talents." Along with Maier, the jury includes Ivan Shaw, photography director at Vogue; Linda Evangelista; fashion editor Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele; photographers Collier Schorr and Craig McDean; world-renowned make-up artist Pat McGrath; and Andrew Bolton, curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. "I also believe the competition symbolizes an acknowledgment from the fashion industry that we are watching."

The winner — who'll walk away with a $10,000 cash prize, a one-year mentorship with the advertising agency Art+Commerce, a mentorship with Shaw at Vogue, and the chance to shoot a Bottega Veneta campaign — will be announced tonight at OpenHouse Gallery on Mulberry Street, New York City. Stay tuned.

Update 9/11/13: In was announced at the reception and exhibition last night that Matin Zad and Jorgen Axelvall are the 2013 winners of the NEW EXPOSURE competition.

See a slideshow of NEW EXPOSURE finalists' and winners' work.