Despite American women’s ongoing obsession with “French girl style,” Parisian brand Ba&sh has no plans to use its French roots to infiltrate U.S. fashion.
“We’re not the first French brand [in the U.S.],” said Sarah Benady, CEO of Ba&sh North America. “Our story was born in Paris, our inspiration is very Parisian, but unlike other [French] brands, we don’t need to make a big statement about it.”
On Friday, Ba&sh — derived from the first letters in founders Barbara Boccara’s and Sharon Krief’s first names — opened a 1,700-square-foot store in NYC’s Nolita neighborhood. It is the brand’s first stab at experiential retail, but unlike many of its neighboring shops, it’s not a case of a direct-to-consumer brand just trying out physical retail. (Fellow French brand Sezane, for one, opened its first U.S. store, its second overall, across the street last year.) It’s the 15-year-old company’s 200th store, a milestone Krief owes to L Capital, the private-equity subsidiary of LVMH, acquiring a 50 percent stake in the brand in late 2015. And in terms of its plans for the North American market, the new store is just the tip of the iceberg.
Inspired by the founders’ decades-long friendship, the space was designed to be the ultimate shopping destination for friends and is peppered with features befitting a friend’s home, according to Benady. Included is “The Ba&sh Dream Closet,” containing an array of items from Ba&sh collections, which can be borrowed by customers for the weekend during a regular Friday happy hour also featuring giveaways and champagne. A rotating shop-in-shop, labeled “Ba&sh Friends,” is meant for discovery of brands, starting with Atelier Paulin, a line of handcrafted, personalized jewelry. In addition, custom mirrors are hung to prompt group selfies, and a child’s play area is set up to make browsing easier for moms. The store will also host monthly dinners with influencers like Babba Canales.
“[Lower Manhattan] is where all the big DTC brands — from Everlane to Casper to Reformation — opened their first concept or experiential store,” said Benady. “We’ve been really inspired and impressed by them, and how they’re tapping into the digital world. In France, that trend doesn’t exist; everything is more traditional. We want to combine the best of both worlds by providing very good service and an innovative experience.”
If the store proves worthy of the investment, measured by both sales and customer engagement, Ba&sh plans to mimic the model in one location in every new market it enters.
Located on Elizabeth Street, the Nolita store is Ba&sh’s fifth U.S. location. After hitting the U.S. with an exclusive Neiman Marcus partnership, it launched brick-and-mortar in September 2017 with a store in the Miami Design District, before opening locations in NYC’s West Village and Upper East Side, followed by a store on Los Angeles’ Rodeo Drive. With its fall 2018 collection, it launched in 12 Nordstrom stores (alongside other advanced contemporary labels like Ulla Johnson) and will expand to more of the chain’s locations next season. By the end of the year, it expects to have two additional Ba&sh stores, in Malibu and a second Miami store, up and running.
At the same time, the company is building up its in-house team: Within the next year, plans include hiring an editorial team to create content for the website and beyond.
A majority of Ba&sh stores are still in France, with some in Europe. Krief said it’s early days, but in the U.S. compared to Europe, the brand is noticing a more even split between its e-commerce sales, its in-store sales and sales made through partners’ channels (30-35 percent each). In Europe, just 10-15 percent of sales are made online.
Benady said Ba&sh first tested the U.S. market by linking with Rent the Runway, making a selection of its styles available to rent. “When a woman doesn’t know a brand, it’s super safe to rent it, try it and see if she likes the product,” she said, adding that many early in-store customers reported discovering the brand on RTR. “They came in to see the rest of the collection,” she said.
In step with putting down roots in the U.S., the company is expanding its physical footprint in Asia: Since 2017, it’s opened 10 stores in China, including five in Hong Kong, and it plans to have 20 total stores in the Asian market by year’s end.
“LVMH has made us a global brand,” said Krief. “Opening in the U.S. had always been our dream, but you can’t enter a new market like that alone. You need experience, and you need money.” She echoed the sentiment in regard to launching in Asia: “It’s a different country, a different culture — we don’t know it at all, and it would have been too complicated without support.”
According to Ba&sh, the company’s 2017 revenue was $135 million, up 20 percent from 2016, plus it’s on track to see 30 percent growth this year — and Krief said the company is profitable. The company’s marketing budget across markets has been centered on digital ads, including social media, and customer-retention management. In terms of influencer marketing, it seeds styles to influencers, and celebrities, including Taylor Swift, Sarah Jessica, Olivia Palermo and Rocky Barnes, have worn pieces.
And in the U.S., specifically, she said the appeal is in the brand’s product selection, more so than its Parisian flair. As opposed to other French brands that have launched in the States with a niche focus — Miaou offers no accessories, Rouje Paris is big on basics — Ba&sh offers a “complete wardrobe,” including pieces for all occasions, as well as shoes, bags and other accessories.
“We were going to keep our official name ‘Ba&sh Paris,’ but we don’t need to do that,” said Krief. “Yes, we’re coming from Paris, but in terms of U.S. women, I’m not sold on the idea that they need to learn anything from France.”