BY: HAL RUBENSTEIN
He’s got a voice like a Bentley backing up on a gravel driveway, a presence as big as an Imax screen, and a love of big time, life’s-a-ball glamour propelled by such buoyant charm and good humor that he has now charmed women from Park Avenue to the furthest reaches of QVC for three decades. Dennis Basso makes no apologies for his effusive joy. In fact, what he has is very contagious. And you may find it worth catching.
HR: As a designer, what matters most to you season after season?
DB: It’s essential to stay focused on two key goals. The first is always stay true to yourself. Understand your look and believe in it. The second, which is equally important, is never to lose sight of who your client is and what is she looking for.
HR: What is the Dennis Basso ‘look,’ and who is your client?
DB: We’ve always been known for luxury. Because we started out designing furs, we immediately attracted those women who always wanted a reason to dress up. Whether she was going to a party, an event, or traveling, she always wanted to put on something special.
HR: So, despite all the changes in today’s fashion, you hold firm to something classic.
DB: Years ago, a customer like ours frequented one dress shop exclusively and that became “her store.” What keeps us from being old fashioned, however, is now a woman’s curiosity is international. Nothing is out of her reach. The whole world is potentially her fashion avenue.
Look at those Gabriel & Co diamond hoops you just showed me with the blue strapless gown or that bangle with the triple row of diamonds. What if I want to wear them at 10am in the morning just because I feel like it? Well, I can. And I will! - Dennis Basso
HR: But didn’t you also gain perspective due to a retail avenue that many ready-to-wear don’t explore?
DB: Right. Twenty-six years ago, I was fortunate enough to be brought into millions and millions of homes via QVC, with a goal to create clothes of value at popular price points.
HR: How did your success at QVC affect your business and outlook?
DB: I learned a lot reaching out to another customer. I realized that no matter a woman’s age, shape, size or income, she wants to look wonderful, and if you can prove to her it’s within her grasp, she will take the time to do so. And here’s the best part. A woman doesn’t have to be classically beautiful to look ravishing. However, she needs to know how she is perceived and how she wants to be perceived.
HR: Yet, we now have a society that is heavily stressing on looking oh-so casual. Doesn’t that work against your idea?
DB: Yes and no. I agree dress codes have gotten more casual. But a reversal has happened as well. Those clothes and accessories a woman used to save for weddings or some occasion, she now pulls out and puts on just because she feels like it. Look at those Gabriel diamond hoops you just showed me with the blue strapless gown or that bangle with the triple row of diamonds. What if I want to wear them at 10am in the morning just because I feel like it? Well, I can. And I will! So, style has changed in both directions.
HR: Then is it all about making the most out of the clothes and accessories you love most?
DB: Yes, but it also reflects a change of attitude women have about themselves. Women today don’t think twice about hi-lo mixing. That’s what you started so successfully at InStyle. Remember, it was very different when I started in this business thirty years ago. Women of means wanted three things from their husbands: a full-length fur, a 20-carat ring and a croc Hermès bag. I know I’m exaggerating, but these were official signs that your husband was successful. On top of that, a woman was judged by her husband’s achievements.
HR: And now?
DB: Today’s woman is perfectly happy buying things for herself. And her success is her own, not a reflection of anyone else’s, which means she doesn’t necessarily want those once coveted norms, preferring a wardrobe that reflects her own individuality. She wants variety. She wants choice. The only traditional rule that I believe still applies is that our customer wants things made well. All our clothes are made beautifully here in New York.
HR: Your clothes used to be far more embellished. You now offer a wider range of options than you used to.
DB: We still make plenty of highly beaded and ornamental clothes, but as you can see with the clothes you chose for the shoot, we also like to make what we call “jewelry clothes,” which give women the freedom to stand out by working their favorite accessories.
Take that white tank dress you shot. I love those bracelets going up the wrist. In fact - I have no idea how much they cost - but if they’re affordable, I would do even more of them going up both wrists!
HR: Does your customer shop online?
DB: You know, I actually never thought I would buy online. Now almost everything in my office comes from First Dibs. Once you buy one thing from a company and you’re pleased, it gets easier. For example, say you buy a small birthday gift like a locket for your niece from Gabriel & Co. It shows up and you go, “Wow this is great!” and the price is right. Well, that creates a comfort level that seduces you into buying more. There is still nothing that matches the excitement of going in and trying something beautiful on. It’s a very special emotional connection. But it all depends on a woman’s schedule, her travel, and her mood that day. Once you find your own balance the options today are incredible.
HR: How do you find that balance?
DB: Start by knowing who you are. Are you a sporty girl? A sexy girl? Do you like your clothes clean or exaggerated? Pick your lane. Focus on what works for you. Then make sure, whatever your budget, that your clothes fit. And finally, get great accessories
Look, I love making those red carpet, going to opening night clothes. But let’s face it. If you do your hair and makeup right, pull on a black turtleneck, slip into a slim fitted pair of black pants, zip up some high black boots and then top it all off with a pair of those big sparkling hoops, honey, you are going to look amazing.
Today’s woman is perfectly happy buying things for herself. And her success is her own, not a reflection of anyone else’s.
- Dennis Basso