Dennis Basso is larger than life — Falstaffian of figure and wit, stentorian of voice and big and bold in his thinking about fashion and his career in design.
Recently, he regaled attendees of the Bruce Museum’s sixth annual “Art of Design” luncheon at Greenwich Country Club with observations about both as he answered questions from moderator Stellene Volandes — editor in chief of Town & Country and author of “Jeweler: Masters and Mavericks of Modern Design” — and an admiring audience before a show of his latest fashions.
Those fashions have always made unusual use of fur — as an accent, a texture, an additional color, if you will, in his palette — as he started his career in 1981 working for a fur company. To hear Basso tell it, the jack-of-all-trades job was like something out of a Mel Brooks comedy, with him transforming the company — and lobbying for more pay — while he and a partner earned thousands of dollars on the side in a wholesale operation, selling furs to women from Greenwich to Teaneck, New Jersey.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Basso was fired from his company for siphoning off potential customers, but that, too, was kismet as it pushed him in 1983 to launch Dennis Basso — now a line of ready to wear, eveningwear, fur, bridal and accessories, made in his native New York City, that has become a byword in sophistication.
“Glamour is so important,” he said, noting the well-heeled audience. “Whether you’re tailored or a girly girl, you need to create something of a look, a feeling, an image.”
As the adored and adoring only child of a glamorous mother (and successful father), who enjoyed being surrounded by aunts and female cousins, Basso said he has always been interested in helping women achieve that glamour. That he does so with fur is not lost on his critics.
“There are so many more pressing issues, like every child needs to go to bed full. We’re still trying to find that cure for cancer,” he said. “Not that (fur) isn’t an important issue.”
But it’s one, he added, that needs to be better regulated, so that no fur from the Far East — which does not adhere to strict standards and endangered species lists — is admitted to the United States.
“We’re not making grandma’s mink coat,” Basso added. “We’re using fur as fashion.”
And jewelry as fashion. “Jewelry falls into another category of collecting, but it’s also the finished product,” he said, noting that an old fur coat is an old coat whereas no one says she doesn’t want her grandmother’s diamond earrings. “I’m a little bit of the school, ‘When in doubt, squeeze one more pinky ring on.’”
And never leave the house, he advised, without earrings.
You can find some of Basso’s jewelry, ready-to-wear and faux furs on QVC, the home shopping network that satisfied his love of show business — he studied speech and drama at Catholic University before going on to the Fashion Institute of Technology — beginning 26 years ago. There he befriended the late comedian and former Larchmont resident Joan Rivers — who never met a piece of jewelry, or criticism, she didn’t like.
One day he mentioned he was thinking of getting his eyes done. “You know what?” she responded. “While you’re there about your eyes, ask them about your neck.”
What QVC has taught him is that glamour is available to anyone.
“We think of it as the red carpet and J. Lo or Elizabeth Taylor,” Basso said. “But we’ve taken glamour into 2019/20. …I think glamour means to me beautifully groomed and finished.”
He applies that philosophy to home design and entertainment as well. “I only take a good cup. …We need to be using all our things.”
Not that he’s a snob about it. “That HomeGoods is crazy. You go in there and leave with a cart with $100 worth of stuff.”
For Basso, what matters is not the price but the aestheticism of the object. “There isn’t a designer who doesn’t love beautiful things,” he said, although designers express that beauty differently. “Beauty helps with some form of happiness.”
As does preparation. Basso revealed — through information gleaned from a friend of a friend of a friend — that Queen Elizabeth II always has two outfits ready to go, including one for alternate weather.
In dressing himself, Basso always thinks, WWVD — What would Valentino (his favorite designer) do? — and that size matters.
“My dream is to wake up, put on a T-shirt, shorts and flip flops and go to the supermarket. That’s not happening. …It’s always better to wear something a little bit bigger than a little bit tighter. Everyone should be body positive. Whether you’re a 2 or a 22, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t look fabulous.”
Unless you have a tattoo. “Don’t get me started,” he said, though he once got a temporary henna tattoo at the behest of young family members on a Key West cruise and nearly went apoplectic two months later at a party in the Hamptons when he realized it hadn’t yet worn off.
Listening to Basso hold forth, moderator Volandes noted that the force and warmth of his personality was part of the key to his success.
“If you’re going to be a brain surgeon,” he responded, “you have to be the best brain surgeon you can be. But it only works if you love what you’re doing.”
For more, visit dennisbasso.com.