Three days after three men stole 20-plus sable and chinchilla furs from his Madison Avenue store, Dennis Basso was still coming to terms with what he thinks may be New York City’s largest fur heist in more than 50 years.
Reached in Aspen Tuesday where he is hosting a series of events that have been planned for months, Basso said of the early morning Christmas Eve burglary, “It’s still a little bit of a shock. When I watch the video, because I wasn’t there and didn’t witness it, when I watch the actual video of the break-in, it was really a little traumatic for me. It’s clearly an invasion,” Basso said. “We treat the flagship like it’s my own home. Until it happens to you or you’re a part of it, it’s really hard to imagine.”
In-store surveillance video of the break-in shows the first thief smashing a hole through the front door before lunging through the shattered glass. Then a second man, wearing an olive hoodie beneath a black jacket, gets struck with the steel girder, grabs his head and momentarily retreats to the street before entering the store. Wearing hats, hoods and masks, the trio was in and out of the store within a matter of minutes. After the break-in, which occurred before 5 a.m. on Dec. 24, Basso’s security company contacted Achilleas Georgiades, an executive at his company, who went to assess the damage. With Basso in a different time zone in Aspen and aware that there would be little the designer could do given the distance, he waited until a reasonably early hour to call him. “There were three men. They crashed through the glass plate door with a huge cinder block. One of them gets his head hit with the girder above him. And they took out well over 20 sable and chinchilla coats,” Basso said. “We’re trying to calculate the exact value but it’s well into the millions. It could be the largest fur theft in the history of New York.”
A spokesperson for the New York Police Department said the investigation is ongoing.
Basso said at least one of the thieves may have visited the Upper East Side store in advance of the robbery. The 20-plus fur coats they ran off with were displayed 10 to 15 feet from the store’s main entrance, and they retailed from $75,000 to $200,000 each. Emphasizing they “only took the best of the best,” Basso said, “they took all the sables and a few chinchillas. They knew what they were getting.” He also pointed out the three men “bypassed many other beautiful furs that were not of the same value.”
Basso’s store at East 69th Street is on a stretch of Madison Avenue near Dolce & Gabbana, Cartier and Valentino. In business for 33 years, Dennis Basso has dealt with the occasional shoplifter but, the designer said, “That’s totally different than a strategic, planned robbery. I don’t believe this was random. Some people just didn’t drive up and say, ‘OK, let’s rob this store.’ I think this was a well-planned-out situation where I’m sure they probably had visited the store and knew what they were doing. They clearly knew what they were doing.”
Uncertain if there is a resale market for stolen furs, Basso speculated, “I believe these had to leave the country because they would be too identifiable. The design and the label adds great deal of value to the garment so I’m not quite sure what their plan was, obviously.”
In years past the Madison Avenue BID has notified Basso and other Madison Avenue retailers about shoplifters to keep an eye out for, he said. “This is not someone they would know about. Now they will [have] to be more vigilant that this could possibly happen. But I believe this kind of robbery is only taking place where the products are very high [priced]. So it would be an art gallery, a fur salon, a jewelry store. No one is going in to rob dresses that are even $5,000. It’s a hard resale. It has to be with high-value items.”
On a typical work day, 10 people would be working in the four-floor Upper East Side store. “No one was hurt. The door was boarded up and we opened for business that day.” Basso said. “I’ve received calls from friends from all over the world who were very concerned. We’re very thankful that no one was there and no one got hurt. For me, that’s very important that no one was harmed. These are material things and we can move forward.”
Describing the store as “heavily alarmed with cameras everywhere you look, as well as cameras on the street,” Basso estimated the thieves were in and out in probably less than two minutes. “We will look at how we lock the store and we may go back to having a gate. We had that when we were on 65th Street [before moving north to its current location in 2013.]”
While retailers are aware of the threat of shoplifting, that isn’t something Basso had dwelt on. “I personally always like to work from the positive, not the negative. I like to think until it’s a problem, it’s not a problem.” he said. “I think this was highly professional. This wasn’t about coming in and shoplifting one coat. This is a serious situation. If you see that video, they take their lives in their hands just going in the glass door.”
With news trucks parked outside the Madison Avenue store in recent days, Basso said the media coverage has been very helpful in making people aware as investigators try to locate the suspects.
In Aspen, where he has a shop at the Little Nell Resort, Basso has spent Christmas week there for more than 20 years hosting various special events. The designer intended to go ahead with his plans to host a fashion show Tuesday at The Aspen Mountain Club and to be among the sponsors of the Aspen Art Museum’s annual gala Wednesday. As word of the break-in spread, “Everyone has been coming in.” Basso said. “It’s been quite busy, which is nice.”