Tomas Maier and Toshiko Mori at Bottega Veneta’s studio in New York
Tomas Maier and Toshiko Mori at Bottega Veneta’s studio in New York © Kate Owen

Tomas Maier is creative director of Bottega Veneta, a luxury goods brand he helped resuscitate from near-bankruptcy after being appointed in 2001. Today, Bottega has 200 shops around the world and sales of more than $1.2bn a year.

Japanese architect Toshiko Mori is principal and founder of New York-based Toshiko Mori Architect and a professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Her work includes theatre, museum and library projects in New York.

The two have known each other for more than a decade. Mori is working on a residential property for Maier in Maine, New England.

How we met

Maier: We met through [the late American architect] Paul Rudolph. Not in real life but that is what got us together. I was looking to build a house in Florida and was very much inspired by everything Paul Rudolph did on the west coast. Toshiko had built this beautiful house in the [Florida] Keys and then an addition to a Rudolph house that was highly praised. I said, “With Paul Rudolph no longer around, this is a person I must get in touch with. We must have something in common.” We met in Manhattan for a coffee and that’s how we got together. And then our project never happened.

Mori: [laughs] No. We just kept meeting. We would have dinner, have coffee to talk about architecture, and for years he invited me to events.

Maier: It never happened because the piece of land didn’t work out but then we got together in a totally different place thousands of miles up the coast. We found each other again.

How architecture inspires fashion

A Bottega Veneta bag
A Bottega Veneta bag

Maier: Architecture is my big love. My dad was an architect and I grew up in an architect’s office. I was looking at floor plans at age six and going to sites with my father. Just through seeing so many buildings and factories while growing up, architecture has inspired me all along. I love the process – the planning, siting, materials; the respect for the environment. I think it’s so interesting and there are so many things we share in our disciplines, whether it’s the respect for labour, for the make, or the need to have a very contemporary and rational idea.

Mori: I’m actually not good with fashion. I worked with Issey Miyake – I did his shops. I did a showroom when Marc Jacobs started. So spatially, yes, but I don’t know much about the world of fashion. I look at it as an architect: for materials, techniques, how things are made, how things are put together, who makes it. That really fascinates me. Of course fashion is more ephemeral than architecture because it changes every season.

Maier: At Bottega, we are so focused on craftsmanship. We are so focused on the knowhow and the tradition and how we support that. I am not letting that go or disappear. That is my mission.

Mori: I think that is one of the reasons I am attracted to Tomas’s work. Bringing that craft to contemporary fashion is the combination of the ethereal and ephemeral. It dances in a certain state. It makes it do more than survive.

Current projects

Maier: Toshiko and I are working on a project on a piece of land in Maine. The idea is to create a kind of camp with structures that do not intrude on nature, bringing ideas that work with the environment. These are ideas that can be applied by using local crafts, like how fishermen’s houses are built in Japan. The wood planking is charred, burnt, so that it does not deteriorate from the salt of the sea.

Sean Kelly Gallery, New York, designed by Mori
Sean Kelly Gallery, New York, designed by Mori © Michael Moran/Otto

Mori: It’s really a new idea for living and working with nature. This is about exploring how one can engage with nature. There is such a separation between inside and outside …man-made and natural.

Maier:We’ve been to the site many times and we started work three years ago. Our first structure is up. We are advancing. We are working on the second structure now. But it is a very long-term project. It could take five, 10 years.

Mori: It really is a new architectural idea of not considering architecture as a container. It is something spatially different and experimental. We always live in boxes [laughs].

The importance of the seasons

Mori:In theory a part of the project is seasonality. We are losing sense of the seasons. Everything is homogeneous, everything is air-conditioned or heated to the same temperature.

Maier: Even if you travel to the same destination, your experiences are never the same. We have fog in July in Maine that does not burn off before midday. You sit in the morning in the fog and by the time the fog burns off, it’s like wow, here is the view, here is the sun.

Mori:We will meet again in October to see what the fog is like at the beginning of fall. It used to be the way we consumed architecture – over time – but we are losing it. Tomas and I are trying to regain what we lost to an extent. We wanted something that didn’t intrude on the landscape but interacted with it in a smart way.

Maier: We meet at Toshiko’s firm and have great meetings on the floor plans and elevations and models. It’s very fulfilling. It could be endless but we have to cut it off at some point [laughs].

Mori: I do think there is something that is not describable that we share. You understand me, I understand you. Even the time we don’t meet; he’s still thinking about the project.

Maier: Always.

Mori: I’m thinking about it always too. If I read emails from you, I try to read where your mind is. We have created over the years a kind of sphere of thoughts and visions. It just becomes richer and richer.

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