“Say What?”

Tomas Maier

While I was pleased to see a deserving profile of Bottega Veneta’s designer Tomas Maier in the New Yorker last week, I was surprised by the glaring omission of an investigative report on the company’s questionable manufacturing practices. In 2008, Italian reporters for Rai 3 discovered and filmed undocumented Chinese workers making Bottega Veneta bags in a slum-of-a-workshop in the leather manufacturing region of Prato outside of Florence. The workers were paid just a few dollars a day—versus the $25 an hour Italian union workers earn—to do the intricate weave that is Bottega Veneta’s signature and its pride. At the time, Bottega Veneta’s spokesman stated that the work had been farmed out by one of its subcontractors and that the company didn’t know about it.

But there’s the hitch. Bottega Veneta likes to brag—as it did in the New Yorker article— that its products are produced at its home factory in Vincenza, Italy, by loving and
coddled artisans. In reality, it subcontracts, as is the case with all Gucci Group brands.
I witnessed this first hand when I visited Gucci’s manufacturing seat in Prato back in
2004, a scene I describe in my book Deluxe: after touring the main factory, I was taken across the street to one of the group’s many subcontractors, and there, craftsmen were making handbags for Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci. I didn’t see Bottega Veneta that day. But Rai 3 did, on another day, in a filthy and illegal environment, and captured it on film. When Rai 3 broke the news, it landed on front pages around the world. The New Yorker, which prides itself on thorough reporting and extraordinary accuracy, should
have included this information in the piece. Without it, the story comes off as a puff job to suck up to advertisers—something we don’t normally expect from the New Yorker.
* A former highly-placed Bottega Veneta  employee, after reading this post, wrote to say that indeed the company uses subcontractors to produce its leather goods. “It’s really a pity the New Yorker article failed to mention it.”