March 1st, 2009
by Nick Vinson
With a new shop in Miami Design District, Tomas Maier is warming up.
Florida-based designer, is best known as creative director of Bottega Veneta, a brand he has pushed into fashion's first rank. But he has also been quietly building up his eponymous line in a manner as understated as his designs. According to Maier, there was no big idea, no plan and certainly no rush, but with a new 6,000-sq-ft store just opened in Miami's vibrant Design District (replacing his 2003 Miami Beach store), another opened in 2007 in Palm Beach, and a third slated for completion in the Hamptons in Easter, the pace may be moving up a notch.
His new store, opened during Design Miami in December, is significant not only to Maier. For Craig Robins of Dacra, the developer behind the Design District, Maier is a major coup. Robins has a master plan to inject edgy and creative fashion into the existing mix of design galleries, furniture showrooms and eateries in the neighbourhood. Marni just opened its third US store nearby, joining recent arrival Y-3. When approached by Robins, Maier was ready to leave Miami Beach, hot on the heels of chefs Ken Lyon and Michael Schwartz, both of whom moved their Miami Beach restaurants to the District. 'It just got so gross there,' Maier says. 'Everyone was moving here.'
Maier founded his own line in 1997 with partner Andrew Preston. His concept is leisure and time off- think silk and cashmere knitwear, easy dresses, polo-shirts, and track pants and zip jackets. There is a refreshing absence of logos (try finding that anywhere else) and a welcome continuity to the collection. His oat-coloured, two-ply cashmere sweater has 'always been in the collection', the V-neck collar and inverted shoulder seam exuding the kind of easy, casual chic he does so well. He always has staple colours in the knits (blazer blue, black, oat and three greys) and long-life dresses - free of ornamentation, buttons and zips. Although his line is sold in more than 100 stores in 30 countries, some merchandise will now be made specifically for each store, to 'keep things special'. If you go to Miami, you'll find items specific to the location and 'climate', and he doesn't just mean the weather.
The new store, a converted pineapple farmhouse, was designed by Maier and the furniture comes from his old store or bric-a-brac shops in West Palm beach. The delightfully original mix of fixtures and fittings includes original prints by Slim Aarons, a Julian Opie lithograph, Woman Undressing, and Harry Benson's photo of Dolly Parton. Maier designed some of the furniture himself (he also does a fine job of that for Bottega Veneta's home collection), including the cash and wrap desk, and he plans to design more.
In addition, Maier curates a mix of merchandise, such as porcelain from KPM (with whom he collaborates at Bottega Veneta), Meissen, Royal Copenhagen and Heath Ceramics, as well as shell objects from Paris-based designer Thomas Boog, mohair blankets from Finland, and Sardinian pillows and towels from 'little artisanal places and people you have to climb behind the mountains to find'. He says it's good to promote all these hard-to-find products, or they might disappear. On the fashion side, there are Minnetonka moose-skin moccasins along with suede Birkenstocks, Persol sunglasses, Lola hats and Tom Binns jewellery.
Then there are books, one of Maier's passions. When not in Milan or New York for Bottega, he can be found early in the morning arranging new books on the shelves and down the steps. Hard-to-find, out-of-print or just not carried by anyone anymore, the books include titles on photography by Joel Sternfeld, Massimo Vitali and Stephen Shore, as well as volumes on architecture from Palm Beach architects Maurice Fatio and John Volk. There's also an entire back catalogue of projects from Candela and Carpenter, from a publishing house in New York that specialises in 20th-century American architects. 'They always have floor plans, for architecture freaks,' says Maier.
On the first floor, Maier has a large gallery space. The first show was the suitably titled 'Leisure' by young French photographer Karine Laval - shots taken in swimming pools and beaches in Cuba and France. Maier is open-minded about this space - it may be a pop-up store for a month, or lent to a furniture designer.
Next for Maier and Preston is a trip down Montauk Highway, tape measure in hand, to plan the new store, housed in a 'really cute old diner in the woods'. When that opens in Easter, Maier will have the East Coast just about covered.