When I read that Bottega Veneta would be launching its first-ever fragrance this fall, I was shocked. The Italian luxury line best known for its signature intrecciato leather weaving technique dates to 1966. Given that brands today often launch a fragrance within their first five years, that's 40 years sans scent. This is even more surprising because Bottega Veneta is owned by the Gucci Group, whose roster of brands also includes Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Stella McCartney – none of them strangers to fragrance.
Bottega Veneta has been, since 2002, under the creative direction of Tomas Maier, whose taste is evident in his streamlined silhouettes, which are rich with detail but devoid of affectation. He has, in many ways, brought the firm into the 21st century.
I recently attended an informal morning affair with perfumer Michel Almairac and some fragrance bloggers for a discussion about the long-awaited scent. (Actually, I'm not sure long-waited is accurate, as I suspect that most people didn't realize Bottega hadn't previously ventured into olfactive territory until the limited-edition Murano glass bottle was right under their noses.) It's certainly a lovely scent – refined and aspirational. What it isn't is assertive or overly pronounced. It's a Jaguar in relation to, say, a Bentley. The quality is there; just don't expect oomph.
The luxury-automobile analogy is not by accident; our associations with the smell of leather are as tied to car interiors as to hand-stitched satchels. I was expecting the Bottega fragrance to have some degree of leather, which plays a role in many prestige and niche scents, from Tom Ford's Tuscan Leather to Kelly Calèche from Hermès. Instead, I got a scent that is decisively floral with a piquant top and a barely there leathery base.
Specifically, it's a relatively unpretentious bouquet of Italian bergamot, Brazilian pink pepper, Indian jasmine sambic and two types of refined patchouli.
Where the Bottega fragrance excels is in Almairac's evocation of leather, which isn't, apparently, a straightforward scent, as something supple and luxurious rather than something forceful. The brand, though, is rarefied enough already. The fact that Bottega paired up with beauty behemoth Coty's Prestige division suggests a clear objective to make the scent a commercial gateway.
On that note, I was surprised to find that the Bottega store in Paris didn't smell of the fragrance. There was a bottle on the second floor to sample and spritz, but no ad-campaign posters or videos on constant loop.
Then I looked at the bags on display and thought about how they are fine examples of craftsmanship without showiness or ostentation. That's when I realized what motivated Almairac most of all: longevity. "A leather belt well made will last forever," he says. Ditto a fragrance.