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Michael Bastian Splits From Founding Partner

The designer has parted with longtime licensee Brunello Cucinelli and set up an independent company.

Designer Michael Bastian has parted with longtime licensee Brunello Cucinelli and set up an independent company that will manufacture and distribute his signature men’s wear collection on its own.

This story first appeared in the December 23, 2010 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Solomeo, Italy-based Brunello Cucinelli, known for its luxurious cashmere and tailoring, became Bastian’s partner five years ago to launch the men’s wear range under his name.

“I think the time had come for us to fly the nest,” Bastian said. “We reached the point where we realized from a financial standpoint that we could operate on our own. This will give us a lot more control over pricing and sales — and pricing has been the biggest issue in terms of growing the business at retail.”

The first season that Bastian will produce solo will be spring 2012. A collection will not be produced for fall 2011 and the designer will skip New York Fashion Week in February.

“It’s a little scary to take a season off, especially as we have so much momentum, but it was necessary to do this right,” he said. “I’ve been in Italy this month looking for new factories and we’ve found several incredible ones that we will be working with. We had to take one step back to move two steps forward.”

Bastian said his goal is to reduce prices by 15 to 20 percent in order to make the collection more accessible. The line is sold in 20 high-end U.S. doors, including Bergdorf Goodman, Jeffrey, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, Confederacy and Forty Five Ten, as well as 15 doors overseas. Blazers now sell for $2,000 to $3,000, pants for $450 to $650 and shirts for $295 to $495. Prices should come down with Bastian’s new sourcing arrangements.

Providing a crucial financial cushion for Bastian as he strikes out on his own is his partnership with Gant, for which he designs the Gant by Michael Bastian label. Launched as a side project for fall 2010, the collection has grown into a significant business that will be sold in Gant stores in more than 20 countries for spring — as well as wholesaled to over 75 doors in the U.S., including Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom and Scoop. Gant and Bastian have just signed a new three-year deal to continue the line, with options for renewals.

“We initially thought this would be a great brand building opportunity for Gant; but, in fact, it’s become a great business as well,” said Ari Hoffman, chief executive officer of Gant USA. A women’s Gant by Michael Bastian collection is launching in Gant stores and online this spring. An eyewear range under the label, licensed to Viva International, made its debut this past fall, and a watch line, licensed to Synoco Scandinavia, will be introduced next fall.

“The Gant collaboration is providing a steady stream of revenue that’s helped give us autonomy,” said Bastian, who paid an undisclosed fee to Cucinelli to cut short their original 10-year license.

Cucinelli characterized his parting from Bastian as amicable and in the best interests of both parties.

“In order for Michael to grow, he needs a partner that can invest all their time and energy into helping his brand really get to the next level,” Cucinelli said. “Due to the increasing growth of Brunello Cucinelli in the past couple of years, I felt it was important for us to focus all our efforts nurturing our brand. I think Michael has a lot of potential going forward.”

Bastian, who has been in talks with potential financial partners for the last two years, will continue to seek an investor to build the business, particularly with the aim of opening stores. This week, the company moved into its first official office and showroom, located at 210 Eleventh Avenue in Manhattan.