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Bugatchi's new creative director, Anthony Keegan, talks brand storytelling

By Jackie Mallon


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People |Interview

Rowan Daly

After an international career spanning 20+ years designing for names such as Versace, Giorgio Armani, Kenneth Cole, and Canada Goose, among others, Canadian designer Anthony Keegan was tapped as creative director of Florida-based Bugatchi. His first presentation was unveiled in July to widespread acclaim. Keegan tells FashionUnited how Bugatchi lured him into the fold, why it felt like the right move, and the importance of storytelling.

What attracted you to Bugatchi?

I was quite happy working on sustainable startups in California but Bugatchi approached me and we had an intriguing conversation that sparked my interest. Usually when you are brought into companies that are looking to elevate and be relevant, the product is suffering and you need to breathe air into it. But that wasn’t the case here. The product was really nice. They care about product and craftsmanship. They manufacture in Italy, Turkey, Portugal, using fabrics and prints from Ratti and Tekstina, so they work with the best. For me it was confusing why I hadn’t heard as much about them as I should and so I had to uncover some truth about the opportunity and where I could come in.

Karl Simone

And what did you discover that convinced you to get on board?

Meeting Cecile (CEO) and the team, they were so full of light and energy. I think it’s fair to say the industry has a really bad reputation and you find yourself working with these tantrums-and-tiara types and I was just not going to do that. I was not going to walk into a chaos storm. I took my time, met the family, understood the operation in Florida and what they’re building in Montreal. I decided, great product, great people.

Describe your vision for Bugatchi and how you have put your stamp on it?

What was needed was a narrative, just to connect all the dots and have a story to bring the brand to that relevant space. We just needed to get all the parts of the brand to talk to each other in a singular vision and ethos, a marching order. It was exciting because I knew I could do it.

Why is Bugatchi, founded in 1981, sold in upscale retailers, not more widely known?

I wondered that too initially. When I asked about the history of the brand and they told me the story of Michael Jordan, for example, I wondered why I hadn’t heard about it. They just never really talked about it. How come? There’s a whole new generation who doesn’t know who they are, didn’t grow up with the brand and they need to hear these stories, especially in the world of social media. When you think about it, in 1991 Michael Jordan gets the store owners to call Cecile directly and he says ‘I want to work with you.’ That’s a magic moment. I wanted to be part of that.

So as it’s in the brand DNA, do you have any any collabs in mind?

There's always space for exciting and new partnerships. Collabs are definitely not over. It’s like an Abba song, you can remix it 1000 times, I’ll still love it. There’s nothing I can officially say at the moment, but given my history of collaborations at Canada Goose and with other brands I’ve worked with, the partnerships were aways interesting. But there has to be a purpose behind a collaboration. In the past we focused on innovation, or storytelling, or opening up new lanes of opportunity, let’s say, in a category that we weren’t really known for, then we’d pair up with someone who was really great at that. So, yes, we definitely have some interesting projects in the pipeline, but that’s all I can say at the moment.

After having worked with a line-up of living legends, what have you taken from those professional experiences?

When you look at creative people who are very successful like Giorgio Armani or Donatella Versace, they know their customer and they’ve very true to that customer. They know how to balance art and commerce. That's very important. I remember one time riding the subway and looking down and seeing all these square-toed shoes and realizing These are all Kenneth Cole shoes. He knew who he was dressing. What’s also interesting about these designers is their messaging. Kenneth Cole was one of the first to talk about HIV and AIDS and the first to create an ad with a condom in it. He knew the power of his brand and the power of storytelling.

Karl Simone

Where are you located?

I’m still in California but what’s interesting is that because of Covid I don’t have to live anywhere. I just have to be open to travel and be very organized. I travel between Montreal and Florida but also to Europe when needed. The beauty of this is that when I’m not in the office, I can really focus and stay very clear on what needs to be done. My ethos is to be very thorough. I used to think I had to live in London or New York or Paris because of fashion and I feel so blessed to find out that I don’t. It was an aha moment realizing I did not need to be confined to these big hubs. It’s like a breath of fresh air to be able to water your garden or walk on the beach and then go to work.

After a career filled with international experiences, how does it feel to helm a brand founded by fellow Canadians?

Montreal has an energy right now, and the Canadian fashion scene in general is going from strength to strength. Creatives are returning whereas before a lot of Canadians came up through the design channels, then had to go to other parts of the word to have a career, but that’s not the case any more. There’s a robust industry in Canada now.

Why do you think your inaugural collection has been so well-received?

I think it’s because there are not a lot of menswear brands in this space right now that have permission to elevate. A lot of contemporary men’s brands are pushing the envelop which is great, but there are men who want to look great beyond Instagram influencers. There’s a resort component which is really successful for us which distances it from the city style of Kenneth Cole, for example. An easy elegance and relaxed colorful vibe is something people want, especially in tough times, when people tend to wear color. In more settled times, the style goes dark and minimal. People’s lives are changing and they want to find joy.

Which brands do you identify as competitors in the marketplace?

We have competitors in different spaces. You could say there’s a Theory consumer who buys Bugatchi, also Lululemon as it expands its consumer base beyond athletic wear to a performance-driven wardrobe. I’m not saying we’re head-to-head but there is room for both of us in that man’s wardrobe. Then there’s Peter Millar which hangs next to us, but we also see Vince. The big difference is there isn’t a person behind these brands, they’re not privately-owned, family-run businesses. At Bugatchi there is so much more to unfold here, an authenticity. Other brands have beautiful product but there’s no namesake behind the brand, no story.

Anthony Keegan