German leather goods brand Braun Buffel debuts store concept here

Taking a fashion step forward, the German label rolls out bags in vivid colours and revamps its Singapore flagship store

Braun Buffel is reinventing itself to keep up with customers’ fashion tastes, says Mrs Christiane Brunk, the company’s managing director.
Braun Buffel is reinventing itself to keep up with customers’ fashion tastes, says Mrs Christiane Brunk, the company’s managing director. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

Braun Buffel has shed its staid, masculine image for one that is more colourful and fashion forward.

The 129-year-old German leather goods brand now carries more than just conservative, black and brown bags and wallets for men and women.

Men's bags come in orange and blue, while its women's range features bright colours and geometric patterns, as well as a range of bag styles that come with decorative tassels and horn charms.

This change in direction is thanks to Mrs Christiane Brunk, the company's managing director and a fifth-generation family member of the company that her great- great-grandfather, Mr Johann Braun, started.

Mrs Brunk, 52, says: "Braun Buffel has always produced products of good quality, but it lacked that fashion-forward approach.

"A brand cannot always stick to the same thing, it needs to reinvent itself."

She also plans to expand the brand's offerings for women. As she points out: "The men tend to stay with what they have."

The women's range makes up 60 per cent of the brand's merchandise.

Mrs Brunk reels off a list of fashion brands she sees as the company's competitors in the women's range, such as Italian brand Furla and American labels Tory Burch and Kate Spade.

Prices for Braun Buffel's women's collection range from $99 for a card- or passport-holder to $799 for a top handle bag.

For the men's range, prices go from $59 for a flat card-holder to $899 for a men's duffle bag.

The premium Made In Florence collection, which comprises handmade bags by skilled artisans in Florence, Italy, ranges from $999 to $1,999.

Mrs Brunk was in Singapore last week for the unveiling of the brand's new store concept - another push on her part to make it more contemporary.

The 1,500 sq ft flagship store at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands features brushed brass finishings, herringbone hardwood flooring and bespoke leather furnishings for a warm and inviting ambience. It is Braun Buffel's first store in the world to feature this fresh look.

While the brand does better in department stores in Europe, Mrs Brunk says the boutique concept works better in Singapore.

There are five standalone boutiques here, including the flagship.

Sales in Asia and Singapore increased by 12 to 15 per cent last year, says Mrs Brunk.

She makes four to six trips here a year. The brand has been distributed here since 1982 by retail group Lianbee-Jeco, which also distributes the brand exclusively in the AsiaPacific region.

Mrs Brunk, who is married with a 15-year-old daughter, says she initially had no intention of joining the family business.

After graduating with a master's in business administration from the University of Saarland in Saarbrucken, Germany, she went to work in the human resource industry.

In 1992, her father approached her for help with a new computer system in the company and she enjoyed her time so much there that she decided to stay.

She was made managing director in 2005 - the first woman to lead the brand in its history.

"In my father's generation, it was not so common for women to head a company. But as he has only daughters, he had no other choice," jokes Mrs Brunk.

Her only sibling, younger sister, Katharina, 34, heads the company's e-commerce division.

So far, response to the fashionforward collections has been good - certain colourful styles from the Delia range of leather goods sold out within six weeks.

But is Mrs Brunk afraid that this change in direction will alienate Braun Buffel's older clients?

She says: "Sometimes we underestimate our customers because they are also changing and even the older ones are getting more fashionorientated and have concerns about their looks."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2016, with the headline 'Braun Buffel goes bold and bright'. Print Edition | Subscribe