As one of the world’s leading luxury womenswear brands, Escada stands for modern elegance, cool glamour, and sensual femininity. The fashion brand, founded in 1978 by Margaretha and Wolfgang Ley, provides a distinct sense of refined quality, workmanship, and excellent fit and is characterised by color, pattern, and intricate detailing.
Back in the Eighties, Escada carved a niche on the fashion landscape for its bold, feminine designs and was worn by none other than late Princess Diana and actor Kim Basinger. Founders Margarethe and Wolfgang Ley had transformed their modest Munich-based business into a global fashion brand. Revenues reportedly topped $800 million in 1991, the year before Margarethe died of cancer. Following her death, business collapsed and slid downhill.
To recap, Escada was founded in 1978 by Margaretha and Wolfgang Ley in Munich, Germany. Being a former fashion model and having a solid foundation in tailoring from the Royal Court in Stockholm, Margaretha Ley became popular for her bold, feminine designs. 1978 saw the first presentation of Escada womenswear, which featured the most beautiful inlays and appliqués, unusual combinations of colors and patterns, and elaborate knits. Escada was on a roll. In the course of its international expansion, Escada SE went public in 1986, with the founders retaining 51 per cent of the stock. In addition to the Escada label, the company also manufactured women’s wear under Crisca, Laurèl, Apriori and Natalie Acatrini, produced Cerruti 1881 women’s through a licensing deal and owned a majority stake in St. John Knits and Badgley Mischka. What’s more, Escada introduced its first fragrance in 1990.
After Margaretha Ley passed away after a long battle with cancer in 1992, Michael Stolzenburg and Todd Oldham respectively served as the fashion brand’s design directors. In 1993, the company sold its share to St. John Knits. Two years later, it launched Escada Sport and an accessories collection. In 2001, Escada’s first lingerie collection was made and distributed by Hanro, Switzerland. With the exception of Escada Sport, the company discontinued all of its lines in 2001, such as Escada Weekend or Escada Couture, focusing only on the main brand. After twelve years in the category, Escada exited the beauty business in 2002 by signing a long-term, worldwide licensing agreement with Wella for the manufacturing and marketing of fragrances and cosmetics.
In 2006, Damiano Biella joined Escada as creative director. A year later, artist Stefan Szczesny created a new collection in Saint-Tropez, France. From 2008, Bruno Sälzer served as Escada’s CEO. Under his leadership, the company sold its Münster-based subsidiary Primera AG, which comprised the brand’s Apriori, Cavita, and Laurèl lines as well as BiBA to financial investor Mutares. Shortly after, there was a plan to raise reported 29 million euros in a rights issue as part of a bigger plan to restructure its debts. It was not successful.
On 11 August 2009, Escada filed for insolvency at Munich Local Court, as an exchange offer for the outstanding bonds of 200 million euros was not accepted by the necessary 80 per cent of all bond holders. Sven Ley, the son of founder Wolfgang Ley, allied with former head of Gucci, Giacomo Santucci, and Italian investment group Borletti to offer almost 80 million euros for Escada. In November 2009, the company was eventually acquired by Indian steel dynast Lakshmi Mittal, whose daughter-in-law, Megha Mittal, emerged as the new the owner and became chair of the company’s board. Following the sale, Bettina Hammerl and Daniel Wingate took charge of Escada’s fashion design department. There were several structural changes. Sälzer stepped down as CEO by December 2014 and was succeeded by Glenn McMahon. From 2016 until 2019, Iris Epple-Righi served as Escada’s CEO.
Regardless, supermodels Claudia Schiffer, Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Karen Mulder, Paulina Porizkova, Nadja Auermann and Rachel Zimmermann, film stars and other celebrities were frequently seen wearing looks from the label. Escada then named British singer Rita Ora as the face of the fashion brand’s spring summer 2019 campaign and she released a version of the Escada Heart Bag which she helped design; a portion of proceeds from its sale was given to ‘Women for Women International’. “I‘m so excited and honoured to be the new face of Escada for their #EscadaSS19 campaign,” Ora told her followers on Instagram. “It’s all about strong colours, strong messages and strong women.” “Rita exemplifies the ESCADA spirit: powerful and playful, whilst totally in charge of her own destiny,” the brand wrote on its Instagram page.
Sadly, there was further turbulence down the road. Mittal sold Escada in October 2019 to Regent, L.P. a global private equity firm in Beverly Hills, California. By September 2020, the company again filed for insolvency, with plans to limit corporate operations in the country and further limit its retail presence. Per the official website, “Today Escada has interpreted its brand values in a new, updated way: cool glamour, sensual femininity and modern elegance are the hallmarks of the Escada brand line. The brand offers a lifestyle concept filled with everything from must-have everyday items for business and leisure to red carpet occasions. The ‘Escada Sport’ line today represents creative casual wear for sexy, dynamic women with a youthful spirit who love an easy, uncomplicated and relaxed chic… Innovative fabrics, high quality detailing and embroideries as well as excellent fit and exclusive workmanship reinforce the high-end level of all Escada collections.’
Women’s ready to wear, accessories, eye wear and fragrance
Escada Chairman Michael Reinstein is the founder and chairman of multi-sector private equity firm, Regent. He began his career as an intern under former President Ronald Reagan and later worked at ICM Partners. He is currently the chairman of several Regent businesses, including Escada, La Senza, Sassoon, Regis Salons, Supercuts UK, Lillian Vernon and Sightline Media Group. He also serves as the publisher of Regent’s newspapers, magazine and media properties. Interestingly, Reinstein is also founder of Military Charity Organization, a Washington D.C. based non-profit that operates the Service Members of the Year Honours Program.