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NEW YORK — The decor in Dennis Basso’s new boutique is determinedly residential, provided that Park Avenue is home.

This story first appeared in the November 11, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

With its 765 Madison Avenue address, his first New York store, the furrier is neighbor to Jean Paul Gaultier’s shop. Basso’s retail retreat features accommodating salespeople, a doorman, two maids and a seamstress. The 3,000-square-foot boutique, between East 65th and 66th streets, is adorned with Grecian-style columns, mohair sofas with silk piping, a bronze-colored chandelier, cream-colored Venetian plaster walls, ivy topiaries and silver trays with cookies, all accoutrements for the 260 fur coats, ready-to-wear pieces and assorted accessories on sale.

“I want my customer to be as comfortable here as she might be at her home, whether it be in terms of the surroundings or the service we provide,” Basso said. “I want this to be a meeting place and a refuge on Madison Avenue where the girls can come in to use the phone or the ladies room.”

Many of his 120 favorite customers toasted his latest venture with a private luncheon Thursday at the Plaza Athénée. Joan Collins, Debbie Bancroft, Star Jones, Kathy Hilton and Denise Richards were among the first to get one of Basso’s new VIP cards, which gives shoppers a 20 percent discount. Several guests trickled back to check out his new digs, where 12 coats wound up being sold.

“I love having a good time. To me, work is like going out,” he said. “Yeah, there are bad days and difficult days, but you get through them. “

To that point, the celebrating continues this week. Liza Minnelli, Whoopi Goldberg and Patti LaBelle are expected for tonight’s opening-night party at the store.

“I like a celebrity,” he laughed and then pleaded for retraction. But in all seriousness, latching onto celebrities has served him well throughout his 20-year-old business. Known for the celebrity send-offs in his fashion shows, Basso has used such divas as Diana Ross and Minnelli to leave show goers with a lasting image.

Last night, Marjorie Raein, Rena Sindi and Jeff Klein hosted a dinner in Basso’s honor at the downtown eatery, V. Basso credits 41-year-old Michael Cominotto, who joined the company earlier this year to work on product development and retail merchandising, with giving him a better understanding of younger generations.

“He’s younger and I’m open to his ideas and vision,” said Basso, who is 49.

Basso has a small office in the new store and is eager to work the sales floor. He plans to spend the earlier part of his days in his showroom and the afternoons in the store.

Architect Michael Leclere stripped the space bare, removing any trace of the Via Spiga store that was once there. Interior designer Kenneth Alpert and furniture designer Nancy Corzine also pitched in on the $1.5 million project. The floor display includes an extensive Russian sable coat collection, beaded broadtail coats, mink coats and funky fur-trimmed handbags.

First-year projected volume for the new store is $8 million, Basso said. The decor is “tailored traditional,” according to Basso, who was particular about what he wanted.

“What some people think of as traditional could end up being a little too English or a little too French,” he said. “I feel at home in this type of environment. If it were austere or very slick — even though I enjoy that in other people’s homes and in some stores — I would not be as comfortable.”

Basso said he eyed several locations before choosing one at what he describes as “the shopping crossroads of the world.” His other store is in the Little Nell Resort in Aspen, Colo., and combined, both locations should account for more than 10 percent of the company’s annual sales, Basso said. He also sells his fur coats to Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s.

This week marks the furrier’s 10th anniversary on QVC, where he said he has sold one million Dennis Basso Boutique coats. The average coat costs $100 compared with his signature line, which retails from $3,000 to $150,000. QVC sells Basso’s lower-priced line through its U.S., British and German affiliates.

Basso plans to open one or two stores next year and is considering Las Vegas, Beverly Hills, Chicago, Paris and London.

“There will be leather, ready-to-wear, accessories and fur coats,” he added. “I want to create a 12-month business.”

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