It can be a fatal mistake to ignore your customers’ opinion. But it might also be the best thing you can do for your business. Kaspar Frauenschuh, owner, designer and creator of the internationally renowned Frauenschuh fashion label, has successfully followed this approach. Since 1974.
There is this subtle scent of leather in the air. We hear the rattling noise of a sewing machine in the background, attaching the lining of a new pair of winter boots. The boots will soon be presented in the windows of the beautiful Frauenschuh store located in the heart of Kitzbühel – along with leather coats made with Dachstein loden, four-button vests made from boiled merino wool, and tight-fitting softshellcatsuits, whose primary goal is not to look sexy but to be functional – to be warm, comfortable and durable. And they are. Luckily, they cannot help but look extremely sexy at the same time.
„I want our garments to work,“ says Kaspar Frauenschuh, spreading out and smoothing down the prototype of his famous leather coat on his suede-covered work desk. The way he examines his coat, it almost seems he is trying to discover something he hasn’t noticed before. “The garment needs to fit, needs to be easy to care for and it needs to protect you. A stag is protected by its skin – and the same way, this skin can protect you.” This leather coat prototype is more than 40 years old. When it was first created in the 1960s, it already looked elegant and not too heavy worn over a jacket. Today’s version weighs only about a third of the original, it is much smoother and almost seamless at some parts. However, it stays true to its original design, its original fingerprint – the Frauenschuh fingerprint. So who is this man whose creations are loved and worn by models like Lauren Hutton, who works with internationally renowned photographers like Gilles Bensimon und who has been leading a successful fashion business for more than 40 years?
“God, that’s ugly!“
Let us take you back to the year 1974: Kaspar, still a very young man and a trained tanner and leathertailor, finds himself as the only successor to the Frauenschuh family business, when his sister is getting married and his mother is overwhelmed with the family’s business affairs. Someone has to take over the family’s tannery founded in the 1950s – so he does. “I felt really honoured to be leading my own business at not even 20 years old. But I found the products from our tannery too traditional and too old-fashioned. I wanted to do something different,” he recalls. So Kaspar bought new products in London and travelled to the fashion capitals like of Paris and New York. When he finally opened his new fashion store in Kitzbühel, his audience was shocked by the modern interior and fashion-forward designers like Helmut Lang, Armani, Prada and Gucci: “There were a lot of people who didn’t get my taste and style, who said things like ‘God, that’s ugly!’ But I didn’t let that intimidate me.”
However, there were also people who liked what Kaspar Frauenschuh introduced to his native Kitzbühel in the 1970s. People who were ready, although a bit hesitant, to wear their new Moncler jackets, and who didn’t really care who would secretly mock them for looking like the “Michelin Man”. Kaspar Frauenschuh didn’t care either. He kept going. And the circumstances seemed to be perfect: His father gave him free rein to do whatever he thought right and his sister supported him from the very beginning – she still does, by the way. Plus: Kitzbühel started to attract an increasingly international audience. Kaspar’s store became a big success. And that gave him the chance to travel the whole world – from New York, Paris and London to Tokyo, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Finally, in 1996, he founded his own fashion label: “Frauenschuh – Luxury Sportswear from Austria”. His women’s fleece jacket became his first signature piece. Those who weren’t familiar with the unusual fabric and tapered fit just called it an “ugly diving jacket”. A few years later, they probably wore it themselves: “If the majority doesn’t like it at first, it’s probably going to become a new trend,” Kaspar Frauenschuh says – with a bit of an impish smile on his face.
If the majority doesn’t like it at first, it’s probably going to become a new trend!
“You only have time if you take it,” a German proverb says. For creating his signature fleece jacket, Kaspar Frauenschuh took a lot of time. And that inner peace you need to take the time and create something great has become one of the key values in Kaspar’s professional career. “One step at a time,” is his motto. That’s how he created his fleece jacket, then his skiing trousers that have been successfully sold for 15 years, and finally, his boiled wool jacket. Kaspar gradually added more values to his mindset: nature, family, home, tradition, the mountains, top materials, handmade quality. The fact that he decided to stay in Kitzbühel, even though he would have definitely also made it in citieslike Tokyo, New York or London, is not surprising: Aall Frauenschuh products are handmade in Austria. Here, nature inspires him and calms him down. What’s more: Kitzbühel is his home and “has so much to offer: In summer, I love mountain biking, and I spend a lot of time at the lake and meet a lot of interesting people there.” Kaspar Frauenschuh could have easily expanded his business, could have opened stores worldwide, could have sold his designs at Harrod’s or Macy’s. But he didn’t. Because he stayed true to his values. He would never sell his designs in big department stores. One might call it “denial” of the modern (fashion) world, but looking at the brand’s designs and marketingstrategies, it becomes very clear that it’s not: All designs are made from traditional, regional fabrics, using the latest manufacturing technologies. And if you google “Frauenschuh”, you will instantly find a website including a company blog, a facebook page as well as an Instragram channel. The mastermind behind Frauenschuh doesn’t only take his time, he also moves with the times. And he knows that his clientele is much more demanding than it used to be in the 1970s, when it was normal for his customers to wait for their new pair of hot pants from Paris for three weeks. That’s why he decided to set up an online store in 2011.
His exquisite designs, fine materials and the handmade quality of his products are definitely all part of Kaspar Frauenschuh’s success. So is the fact that he never let anyone stop him from following his visions. As well as the fact that, deep inside, he always knew his customers needed more time to adapt to new trends and he would need to find a way to deal with it. But what he considers his absolute key to success is: “To know what really defines the soul of your business.” A piece of advice he gives to all young entrepreneurs, Kaspar Frauenschuh tells us, still stroking his soft deerskin coat in the room with that subtle scent of leather in the air.
April 22, 2016