The fashion world is reeling from the sort of gut-punch announcement it hasn’t received in some time. Creative Director Daniel Lee is leaving his post at Bottega Veneta even as he turned the house into, arguably, the buzziest in all of fashion since taking the helm in mid-2018. An official press release by parent company Kering characterizes the move as a “joint decision to end their collaboration.”

“My time at Bottega Veneta has been an incredible experience. I am grateful to have worked with an exceptional and talented team and I am forever thankful to everyone who was part of creating our vision,” said Lee in an included statement.

To say that the announcement was unexpected was an understatement. Bottega Veneta just put on a blockbuster show in Detroit last month and has been steadily releasing a string of must-have accessories. Handbags like the mini Jodie, the pouch, and the cassette all became the kind of “It” bags just as likely to be found on the arms of high-powered fashion editors as they were Instagram influencers. The brand’s Tire boots had become a unisex staple, and the clothing found fans in everyone from Tracee Ellis Ross to Selena Gomez. Lee’s influence at the brand reached the point where it’s now impossible to walk into a Zara or an H&M without seeing distinct echoes of Bottega. Many in the fashion press considered his work the spiritual successor to Phoebe Philo’s much-loved run at Céline (in fact, Lee worked under Philo at the French house). Even when the brand notoriously deleted their Instagram page, it only made the buzz stronger.

The Italian label, known for its distinctive “Intrecciato” woven leather pattern, was always found on the shelves of the finest department stores, but for most of its history adhered to a “stealth wealth” (or “coded luxury”) approach to fashion. The brand would never dream of slapping a logo on the outside of any of its clothing or accessories. Lee had managed to stay true to the house’s codes and 55 years of heritage, while still producing pieces that were instantly recognizable as both Bottega Veneta and yet something new, exciting, and trend-setting.

So why leave now? Well, that’s what everyone is asking. We assume there will be no hotter gossip at tonight’s CFDA awards, where Lee is nominated for International Womenswear Designer of the year. The answer might be obvious if another, more high-profile fashion house had an opening in their creative director’s office, but that’s simply not the case—for the moment, anyway. We doubt that a designer coming off such a successful run will remain unemployed for long.

Not too long ago, creative directors played a round of fashion musical chairs every three or four years, parting ways with their respective houses relatively shortly after being appointed to their posts. But that pace has slowed somewhat recently, which only makes this particular announcement that much more surprising.

For its part, Bottega says that a “new creative organization for the House will be announced soon.”

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