Fabio Panzeri is not someone you’d envision when you think of Braun Büffel. The relatively new creative director—Panzeri joined the brand in the first half of 2017—has two full sleeves of tattoos, is Italian, and is (refreshingly) candid in his conversations that are often peppered with expletives.
We’ve met three times prior to this interview. The man doesn’t seem to wear anything but black. Suits? Forget about that too.
He’s the complete opposite of what Braun Büffel has been typically likened to. The corporate, almost gentlemanly archetype is one Panzeri scoffs at, but respects. After all, Braun Büffel’s core collections have been concentrated on handsome leather briefcases, wallets and weekender bags—safe, tried-and-tested options that haven’t evolved much. At least, not until Panzeri stepped in.
“It’s always difficult, because when you arrive in a company, there are a lot of people that have been working in one direction. And then here you are, alone, trying to convince everybody that there’s a new way to move forward,” Panzeri says.
He continues to say that the Braun Büffel team is starting to increasingly believe in him. He refers to the change as a “good collaboration”. But if there was any doubt in his capabilities, his resume probably speaks for itself.
Panzeri first started out working on accessories for Jean Paul Gaultier, before moving on to design chic, feminine pieces for Italian womenswear label Mila Schön. Then at Prada, he worked on the fashion house’s Prada Sport (now rebranded as Prada Linea Rossa) where he said that he “learnt a lot because Prada was like a really big school”. Panzeri counts himself lucky to be able to work directly with Helmut Lang for the designer’s eponymous label. “Lang showed me how you can do what you want in every moment; there is no limit. The only limit is you. If you can overcome it, you can do whatever that comes to mind,” Panzeri recalls. Stints at Dolce&Gabbana and Calvin Klein rounded off his career in designing accessories.
That’s a whole lot of big names; more than current creative directors of major fashion houses have cut their teeth at. Which then begs the question: why Braun Büffel? For Panzeri, it was simple: he liked Singapore and believed in what he could do for the brand.
According to Panzeri, it took about eight months of negotiations before he even made the decision. But within that time, he found that Braun Büffel was a brand that he resonated with.
“Braun Büffel is not a brand that determines the price of its products, just for the sake of pricing them. The prices are honest for the quality of materials that we use. And there’s also great respect for the customer. If there are any small problems, there will be an almost immediate reply,” Panzeri laments.
Yet, at the same time, he acknowledges that things could be better. The spring/summer 2019 collection is a culmination of what he’s been tasked to do—a full collection that reflects the heritage and future of Braun Büffel.
“The idea came about from a combination of different things. Firstly, it was necessary to explain that the brand is shifting. ‘Retro Future Vision’—I consider ‘retro’ as Braun Büffel before, and ‘future’ because the future of Braun Büffel is now. And then, I took to some movies and music that inspired me to create an illusion,” Panzeri explains.
It’s clear from the campaign videos and images that the inspirations he referenced are seminal sci-fi classics 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner. Panzeri excitedly notes how a scene in one of the campaign videos (shot in a hotel in Milan) that depicts a model jumping down while wearing a transparent coat is “really Blade Runner”.
The spring/summer 2019 collection introduces a new technique. Coined as ‘retrofleX’, the material is a combination of perforated leather overlaid on hi-vis, reflective fabric. A simple flash of light and the bag seemingly lights up with a silver glow. The retrofleX creation is most prominent in the Z-Gen line, that’s also one of Braun Büffel’s earliest attempts at a more gender-fluid silhouette.
“The previous iteration of the Z-Gen was the autumn/winter 2018 Chester range. I discovered that 50 percent of customers who bought into that were women. I thought that because it was marketed as part of the men’s collection, it would have been 80 percent men. The message was clear,” he says.
Another key innovation is the 16-hour bag, that’s one of the more conservative shapes in the collection. Panzeri is clear for whom he’s designed this bag for: the desk-bound man. What started out as a sample that he’d give out to friends to test out, eventually evolved to become sufficiently filled with multiple inner compartments (including a back slot for laptops) and even a detachable ID holder. Additional pockets that can be hooked on the 16-hour bag are sold separately, giving customers more options to expand on their 16-hour needs.
Then, there’s Bully. The gender-neutral mascot (previous seasons saw its more feminine counterpart Buffy too) is Braun Büffel’s sustainability project. Bully’s multi-textured appliqués are made from scraps of leather.
Panzeri refers to sustainability as an important aspect of the new Braun Büffel because he refers to himself as an “animal lover and an environmentalist”. He goes on to say, “We’re more conscious than before because we’ve started to think that it shouldn’t just be in terms of leather or fabrics, but also packaging. It can’t be a case of us saying that we respect everything, but we still use a lot of paper for our packaging. In the future, we’re changing our packaging to move in a more ethical and sustainable direction—no chemical colours and using recycled paper. It’s a small step but I think if everyone does their part, it’ll be significant.”
Under Panzeri, Braun Büffel is indeed shifting. Aside from the refreshed product designs, there’s a greater emphasis on a digital approach and aligning with the right names. If the 130th anniversary of the brand last year saw Orlando Bloom as a representation of the brand values, the launch of the spring/summer 2019 collection took a 360-degree shift with the more social media-friendly Seungri of K-Pop band Big Bang; younger, louder and more in-tuned with the digital age.
Are the changes too much, too soon? Only time will tell. But right now, it seems that there’s renewed excitement coming from Braun Büffel. One that’s not restricted to a new shade for a briefcase.