Basler’s new creative director, best known for his 20-year stint at Escada, is blending his luxury design aesthetic with the mainstream womenswear brand’s German efficiency.
It’s like that advert - Vorsprung durch Technik - everything’s just so organised and things get done much quicker,” quips Brian Rennie when Drapers asks about his decision to join German mainstream womenswear brand Basler as creative director.
Best known for his 20-year stint at German luxury womenswear brand Escada, Rennie is recognised in international fashion circles for having designed gowns for celebrities including Halle Berry, Kim Basinger, Mariah Carey and Jerry Hall, although to speak to him you wouldn’t know it. Despite reports in the press about a public spat with Michelle Mone, creator of lingerie brand Ultimo, following his departure from Mone’s company MJM International, the Rennie Drapers meets is charming, down to earth and shares many laughs.
Drapers meets Rennie in the German village of Goldbach, about 30 minutes drive from Frankfurt, and home to Basler’s head office. Rennie is late and apologises, explaining he had some issues with his residency but that he is now an official Goldbach resident.
The Scottish-born designer is remarkably settled for someone who only started on March 1.
“Basler is really like coming home,” he says. “I loved working in Germany - 20 years at Escada was basically half of my life at that time and it was my first job.
I came straight from the Royal College of Art into a huge German company, where it was a very well-oiled machine. Here, there is an amazing atelier downstairs, bigger and better than Escada’s with better machines, the tailor is highly motivated and I just love working with the German efficiency.”
Rennie, whose first collection will be for spring 12, has joined at an auspicious time for Basler, which has ambitious expansion plans for the UK and globally.
In the UK and Republic of Ireland, the brand operates 180 wholesale accounts, four standalone stores, one factory outlet, nine shop-in-shops, 12 concessions and five partner stores. Another standalone store in Westfield London opens today with one in the pipeline for Brent Cross shopping centre in north London later this year. Worldwide, Basler will enter 22 new markets in the next four years including the US, China and Russia, adding 44 company-owned stores, 43 partner stores (which differ from franchise stores in that those running them don’t pay a fee) and 31 concessions to its existing portfolio.
Basler is undoubtedly determined to become a key contender in the global fashion market. The company recorded a turnover of €170m (£150.4m) in the year to October 31 and an EBITDA figure of €20m (£17.6m), an increase of 10.8% on the previous year. In the UK, Basler recorded a loss of £608,604, although it insists this must be put into context against a backdrop of retail expansion.
Rennie says some of the German brands that dominated the 1980s have not been as successful in the past few years: “They got too safe. [I want to convey that] Basler is an international brand, so let’s present ourselves in more of an international way.”
He cites his vision for Basler: “Look like designer, feel like designer, act like designer but charge premium.
“There are a lot of designer brands out there and a lot of low-level, low-price brands but we’re at a great point where we can come up with a collection that has a look and feel of a designer brand that is good quality but not at designer prices.”
He is quick to add that Basler will not move away from its roots. “I’m not saying we’re going in a crazy avant-garde designer direction but it is about sophistication, luxury and elegance.”
Basler’s prices range from £35 to £199 at wholesale and from £70 to £499 at retail and Rennie says this will not change. What will though is fabric quality. This begs the question of how, in a market dominated by rising raw material costs, Basler is going to carry out Rennie’s vision?
“I’ll not be using as many fabrics in the collection,” he explains. “I’ll focus on doing more variety within one fabric and save money that way. When you do that you can get better prices from manufacturers.”
Rennie is also hopeful that the designer feel of Basler will also appeal to new customers. “It’s very important to keep the existing customer happy but I also want to bring in a new, more modern customer,” he says.
It is a strategy being pursued by many brands to attract a more affluent, investment piece-focused customer. So what makes Basler’s strategy different?
Basler’s PR quickly interjects: “Because we’ve got the Brian Rennie name behind the brand.” This is the first time Basler has had a designer name associated with it, and it is going to capitalise on it. Rennie’s experience designing for the rich and famous (he even boasts the honour of having designed Jennifer Lopez’s wedding dress for her first marriage) will be leveraged. He plans to introduce a range of red carpet-style evening gowns to the Basler collection. Basler will also show at Berlin Fashion Week on July 6, for the first time in its history.
Drapers asks Rennie if there are any celebrities he’d like to see wearing his Basler red-carpet gowns. Perhaps the UK’s queen-in-waiting and style icon-in-the-making Kate Middleton?
“I would love to have done her wedding dress, can you organise that for me?” he laughs. “Princess Diana used to go into the Escada boutique on Bond Street, which is the same shop that Basler now has, so you never know.”
And although he says it light-heartedly there is a serious undertone. Beneath the charming, polished exterior it’s clear that Rennie means business. He obviously feels at ease in Germany, where he did his best-known work, and there is a great deal of hope at Basler that he will be able to replicate that success. He adds: “It really is nice to be back.”
2011 Creative director, Basler
2010 Freelance design consultant, MJM International Group
2007 Head of design and fashion director, Gant
1994 Head designer, Escada
1986 Designer, Escada
Who is the Basler customer?
I’m one of those people who never likes to narrow everything down to one specific customer. Why try and keep women of a certain age happy when you can keep women from 20 to 80 happy? The Basler customer is simply someone who loves quality and wants to be well-dressed without being a fashion figure. She loves colour, she loves quality, she loves details, a very polished head-to-toe look.
What is your creative vision for your first collection?
Two big areas where we can expand are casualwear and dresses. Knitwear is very weak at the moment and I think we’ve got big opportunities to expand on that - everything from knitted dresses and jersey dresses to summer dresses and even evening dresses. I’ve taken the two separate design teams and put them together so we just have the Basler design team.
What do you predict will be the key trends for spring 12?
Colour is big - very bright. I see a much more feminine trend coming through; flower prints, soft chiffons, soft tailoring. Everything is a lot softer and less structured. Lots of whites and creams, prints and embellishment.
How are you going to ensure you don’t alienate Basler’s established customers?
We have the luxury of having a very big collection, and I think we have more than enough possibility to have part of the collection geared towards the more traditional customer and also to be a lot more fashion forward.