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What We’ve Learned from Bottega Veneta’s Berlin Blunder

Douglas Schowengerdt

22 APRIL 2021

Until two weeks ago, Bottega Veneta was the best example of how to launch a rebrand. Since becoming creative director in 2018, Daniel Lee has transformed the label from a sleepy luxury house into the most coveted brand today. Dubbed the “New Bottega,” it became the It-brand, with stylistic influence that has yet to even reach its full impact. The brand fanned the flame a few months ago by deleting their official Instagram, an indication of their new strategic embrace of mystery. The swelling buzz was at an all-time high when Daniel Lee brought Bottega Veneta to Berlin for their latest presentation, and the brand’s public perception would take a sharp turn.

On April 9th, paparazzi captured select fashion darlings in front of Berghain, a techno club that’s arguably the most famous nightclub in the world and the host of Bottega’s latest show, Salon 02. These photos would serve as the sole attraction for international fashion press, as there are no public images of the show, aligning with the club’s notorious “no photos” policy. Bottega then hosted an afterparty at SoHo House, which several attendees documented on IG Stories. These videos became incriminating evidence of the covid-unfriendly climate of this event, as celebrity guests danced indoors without masks on. The social media backlash was immense, and further details around the event began to leak, like Daniel Lee reportedly refusing to wear a mask throughout production, tarnishing the allure of the event’s secretive nature. With no official statement or official social channels, Bottega Veneta (as well as many attendees) seems to be letting the controversy simmer, all while Berlin grapples with an ever-rising third wave of infections and over six month-long lockdown.

This was a collaboration that makes a lot of sense on the surface, with a high production budget and all-star casting, that could have gone so right––but it didn’t. Scandal now tarnishes this event, as well any content that comes out later. Brands hosting events in the upcoming months have everything to gain as creativity and production innovators, setting the tone for how people can interact with one another as society reopens. On the flip side, there’s also a lot to lose by doing it poorly. So, based on the public outrage, what can we learn from this? Our Berlin-based cultural correspondent, Douglas, attempts to find out.

Exclusivity looks a lot like elitism
In times of smaller circles and more intimate experiences, exclusivity is not a bad event strategy. The critical element is ensuring that this exclusivity isn’t amplified by wider power hierarchies, which is what happened here. Amidst rapid commercialization and waves of very public evictions this past summer, class tensions in Berlin are at a highly combustible level. An event like this that explicitly serves a wealthier, international cast, whilst also disregarding covid regulations, only provokes further resentment. This was a common sentiment in much of the backlash on social media.

Have a foot on the ground before flying in
From my POV based in Berlin, the glitzy decadence of this event was in stark contrast to the covid lockdown that everyone here is managing, as well as the resentment towards brands given the rapid commercialization and gentrification in the city (especially after the rent freeze in the city was deemed illegal). Many in the club scene have also become increasingly vocal with their objections against Berghain, discussions that were eagerly amplified following this scandal. Hosting an international luxury event here just didn’t sit with the current climate of the city.

Clout chasing feels especially shallow atm
Berghain, Berlin’s most commercially successful venue, exists in international imaginations more as a symbol of exclusivity than as a techno club, which seems to be the driving force behind the collaboration. There’s no convincing reason as to why Bottega should be in Berlin, especially given the current covid situation. Without clothes to see, Bottega Veneta was relying on clout to drive the story along, but in the face of scandal, this strategy disintegrated almost immediately.

Local activations need local support
This “localized” event supported two of the most financially-secure cultural institutions in the city. Even without the covid controversy, Salon 02 would warrant critique for its detachment from the cultural scenes it was inspired by. There’s so much opportunity for partnership and making most of the local scene in an activation, so putting greater care towards supporting local institutions goes a long way.

Safety precautions need to be stated upfront
Throwing an event today requires assurance to guests and the public alike that following covid regulations is a top priority. Backlash for safety oversight is swift and almost certain, so it’s essential to keep these concerns at the forefront of event planning. When it comes to health precautions, over-communication is the new norm.

Salon 02 seemed to be a sure success, a textbook event to grab headlines, maintain the public’s imagination, and stir some highly-coveted FOMO. However, with a critical survey of the climate both in Berlin and online, Bottega Veneta should have been able to see the red flags arise. This was an event with a pre-covid sensibility, reflecting an outdated understanding of celebrity influence and consumer awareness, a cultural moment still grounded in the past.

If you want to look towards the future and think about how to craft an event for today’s world, drop us a line. Until then, check out our report on The Future of Experience.

Till next time,
Douglas