By Scott Wright

HE has designed dresses for supermodels Cindy Crawford, Iman, Jennifer Lopez and Naomi Campbell, and counts film stars Angela Bassett and Jane Seymour as long-standing friends.

Now Scots fashion guru Brian Rennie, who learned his trade at the Royal College of Art in London, is a star in his own right on German television.

The designer, who grew up in Dundee, has just signed a second five-year deal to present shows on HSE24, the home shopping giant which turns over around €821 million.

And despite literally broadcasting live to millions of viewers when the cameras start rolling, Mr Rennie said the pressure pales into insignificance compared with life at the top of the fashion industry.

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Speaking to The Herald in Glasgow recently, Mr Rennie admitted television presenting can be a strange experience, with the relatively small crew at odds with the huge audiences the channel reaches. But he thoroughly enjoys the creative control which HSE24 gives him.

“There’s only five camera men and the studio people, then all of a sudden you have the countdown and you’re on air,” said Mr Rennie, who has recently moved into home shopping TV in China. “ You talk for an hour on the fashion and you don’t realise how many millions of people are watching.

“But it’s a great deal because they (HSE24) produce everything. I have the creative control and feed them the ideas for what I’d like to do. They buy everything [and] I get commission on the sales. It is a fantastic deal.”

Mr Rennie, now based in Dunoon, designs all of the clothing he presents on the channel, which are marketed under his Brian by Brian Rennie label. The products are the most expensive sold by HSE24.

He praises the channel for the faith it has shown in him, admitting that it “took a lot of risks” by buying into his approach. Before signing up, he told the broadcaster that he wanted to be the “most expensive label that you have got”, explaining his preference to work with luxurious fabrics. HSE24 responded by assembling a team to buy into his vision.

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“My best sellers are leather jackets for €600 – we can’t get enough of them and have six or seven different styles a season,” he said. “The most expensive thing we have ever done is a sheepskin coat for €1,500, and we sold out of them.”

Mr Rennie arrived in the world of home shopping after a hugely successful career at the top of the fashion world, and shares many of his experiences to good effect with viewers on HSE24.

He was thrust into the big time shortly after leaving college, when he was given the chance to work for Escada, the luxury womenswear brand founded in Munch in 1978 by Margaretha and Wolfgang Ley. Ms Ley was keen that her creatives played as significant a role in designing the brand's boutiques and fashion shows as they did in creating the clothes. Within months of joining, the Scot was invited to work on shoots for the brand in New York and Los Angeles at Christmas.

“[On] my first ever trip to New York, I was picked up in a white stretched limousine with Champagne in the back and a big platter of cheese and cookies,” he said. “I stayed in a big suite at the Plaza Hotel, which at that time was owned by Trump, and at the photo shoot the next day I walked in with the famous Scottish photographer Albert Watson. I worked with all the top models from the ‘80s – Iman, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell.”

Within five years he found himself at the top of the Escada organisation, following the death of  Margaretha Ley in 1992.

Mr Rennie said: “All of a sudden it was my job to take care of all the fashion shows and photoshoots worldwide, and to design the collection. After she sadly died after five years, they made me the head, and I was responsible for a collection that did about £800 million turnover.”

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But shortly before then he had made a seminal breakthrough. Around one year before Ms Ley’s death, he used some rare downtime to sketch out some ideas for evening dresses.

Ten dresses were made from those initial drawings and added to the new Escada collection within a week of their conception. “That was the start of Escada Couture, and then it just went out of control,” Mr Rennie said.

Soon after he crossed paths with the public relations executive at a US company called Film Fashion.

That quickly led to introductions with celebrities such as Joan Plouwright, the wife of Laurence Olivier, Jane Seymour (whom he met on the set of Dr Quinn Medicine Woman) and Angela Bassett, who chose a dress to wear at the Oscars.

“All of a sudden I was dressing these celebrities,” he said. “Angela started to wear me quite a lot. Then she asked if I would design her wedding dress, so I started doing wedding dresses.”

Thereafter, he started working for the up and coming Jennifer Lopez. “We ended up with big spreads in all these magazines," he said.

"I got a Tiffany clock from her to say thank you, which I have to this day. That was it. It just exploded. I was doing dresses for Kim Basinger for the Oscars, Geena Davis, J-Lo. You name it, they were all dressed in Escada.

"Then after 20 years I left, I came back to Scotland and thought I had done everything I wanted to do in the fashion industry.”

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He bought a property in Dunoon with his partner and enjoyed some some much-needed time out. “It was the nicest time ever,” he said. “The glitz and glamour world sounds exciting, but it can be a bit fake. I made some good friendships – I kept in touch with Angela and Jane Seymour – but it is a tough cut-throat business. It is very stressful. I had no private life.”

Offers to return to the business were rebuffed. But eventually he relented. An approach from Gant, the Stockholm-based menswear brand, to become its creative head saw him back in the game.

After two fulfilling years there, he had the idea of helping clothing firms to do something in his homeland. “You’ve got knitwear companies that produce for Chanel, raincoat companies that produce for Prada, Louis Vuitton, all these big brands, but they are not good at promoting their own, in-house stuff,” Mr Rennie explained.

He reached out to firms in Scotland and one of the few to respond was Michelle Mone, then of the Ultimo lingerie brand. He then spent eight months doing consulting work for the brand, before moving on to work Basler.

He stayed with German brand for three and a half years, and decided to move on when the role became too finance-oriented. But it did have its successes.

Without much of a marketing budget to lean on, he called up Jane Seymour and Jennifer Lopez, who picked dresses from Basler to wear on at red carpet events.

“That’s the good thing about the industry. Some friendships and contacts do last a long time,” Mr Rennie said. “But I am glad I did what I did at Escada, because now it is impossible. All the stars want to be paid. I am probably most proud of the fact that all these celebrities wore the dresses because they liked them and they liked me. I didn’t pay a penny to anybody to ever wear a dress.”

Six Questions

What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?

America. I’ve been to every major city there for business doing trunk shows and fashion shows. I’ve made many friends there over the years and some of my best holidays have been staying with friends in Palm Beach in Florida. I love the fact that there are so many differences in climate, scenery, and food, within one country.

When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?

I always wanted to be a fashion designer. As a child it seemed to be creative, exciting, glamorous, challenging, and a dream job – it still is today!

What was your biggest break in business?

When Kim Basigner won an Oscar wearing a dress I designed for her. The worldwide press I received was crazy and so many celebrities came calling after this.

What was your worst moment in business?

Watching the events of 9/11 live on TV in Munich. One of my designers was in New York on that day and we spent hours with his wife waiting to hear that he was ok.  Sadly our New York Escada CEO lost his brother-in-law in one of the towers.

Who do you most admire and why?

Princess Diana. She was one of the first to take up support of certain charities that no one else would touch such as supporting HIV and her stance against land mines.   She was a customer of mine at Escada but sadly I never met her.

What book are you reading and what music are you listening to?

Lady in Waiting by Anne Glenconnor. I’m a huge fan of the Crown and this book gives a fascinating insight into Royal life.

As my husband, Ferdinand Rennie, is working on his new album, I am listening to him every day, and, of course, Kylie Minogue – she always manages to keep me in a great mood.