December 06, 2004 12:00 PM

When Jada Pinkett Smith enters Jamie Foxx’s cab in the summer thriller Collateral he instantly pegs her as high-powered and chic. One clue, he says: “Your purse—it’s a Bottega.” The audience never sees the bag—only her smile.

That’s just the kind of subtlety that Tomas Maier appreciates. As creative director of the Italian luxury-goods label Bottega Veneta, he designs lush, intricately crafted—and, yes, pricey—bags, shoes, accessories and clothing that ooze elegance, not flash, with nary a logo in sight. “My opinion is that there should be something on the market for people who don’t like logos,” says the German-born Maier, 47, who keeps his beard trimmed to a two-day growth and rarely veers from his uniform of jeans, crisp shirt, flawlessly cut sports jacket and handmade leather shoes. “Our slogan is ‘When your own initials are enough.’ ”

Apparently they’re more than enough for celebrities like Uma Thurman, Scarlett Johansson, Mary-Louise Parker and Mary J. Blige, who says, “I love their shoes and I love their bags.” Sarah Jessica Parker raves about her pink Bottega tote: “I can stick The New Yorker in there, The New York Times and my son’s bottle and pacifier.”

Maier’s own bag is a large beige suede tote. “You can throw it on the floor, sit on it, hang it up,” he says. “Over time it takes on the personality of the wearer. It becomes your bag.”

Durability is one key to BV’s leather goods, which were must-haves in the ’70s. The label had fallen out of favor when Gucci bought it three years ago and hired Maier to turn it around. Though Maier has since increased sales 60 percent by modernizing the brand, he continues to rely on BV’s meticulous artisans, many of whom are third generation. When he first visited their workshops in Vicenza, Italy, says Maier, “it was love at first sight.” Though Bottega’s wares have luxe prices (ranging from $500 shoes to the $75,000 crocodile Cabat bag, aversion of which even Jennifer Lopez and Madonna were wait-listed for), they’re worth it, insists Maier: “Our customers like quality craftsmanship, good design and they want something exclusive.”

The child of two architects in a small Black Forest town, Maier had an early flair for fashion. As a child, he learned to knit sweaters for himself. Later opting out of the family business (“Too conventional,” he says), he enrolled in a fashion school run by Paris’s Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. But in just his second year he caught the attention of Hubert de Givenchy, who arranged a position for him with the house of Guy Laroche. He added Sonia Rykiel, Revillon and Hermes to his CV before landing at Bottega.

Maier still keeps an apartment in Paris, but now has a waterfront home in Miami too, which he shares with his “fierce, iguana-chasing” Chihuahuas, Pepe and Ruby. On Nov. 1, he opened a boutique there carrying his own line of swim and activewear, which he launched in 1997. That’s not his only proud creation. “I had a garden as a child, and now I have one again,” he says. “Planting and then seeing things grow—I love it.”

By Jennifer Wulff. Nina Burleigh in New York City and Cathy Nolan in Paris

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