DUBAI — As the president and chief executive officer of Dubai-based Etoile Group, Ingie Chalhoub knows a lot about opening stores. She has brought more than 200 luxury brands to the region since she opened the first Chanel boutique in Kuwait in 1983. When it came to opening a flagship for her own creative brand, Ingie Paris, here she took her time.
“I was waiting for a prime location,” she said during an exclusive preview of the boutique. “It’s very important to get the right place and the right message.”
The 2,000-square-foot boutique in Dubai Mall’s fashion avenue extension offers a new vision for the nine-year-old brand, she said. “We started with Ingie Paris stores in Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh,” explained the businesswoman-turned-designer, who launched her own label in 2009. “This boutique takes our vision a step further with a new feel. It’s a real turning point for the brand because Dubai Mall has so much visibility and I have more international reach from here.”
The store’s facade is inspired by the pearl, an ode to the designer’s first name, Ingie, which means pearl. The white marble exterior wall is shrouded in circular patterned ironwork, inspired by the perfect round, a rare perfectly circular pearl. “I really believe the facades should be strong and set the identity from the beginning of the journey, before you enter the store,” said Chalhoub, who worked closely with French architects Pierre Beucler and Jean-Christophe Poggioli to create an atmosphere of understated elegance.
The boutique is marked by curves, echoing the pearl theme, with different areas sectioned into circular salons dedicated to a different collection, from ready-to-wear to accessories, and a “grand soir” salon for evening gowns. A neutral Champagne-hued environment was created so the collections take center stage.
Interior details include modern latticework mashrabiya style walls, with a Porta Romana Orbit chandelier. “Inside you will see a mix of East and West,” said the French-Lebanese designer. Her flagship in her home city “brings together two cultures that are very important with me.”
The designer launched the store featuring her spring line, a colorful collection of prints inspired by ocean-side living. “You see a lot of pastel colors and the feeling of summer,” she said, gesturing to rtw. “These are all prints I created, a story around summer waves and sea shores.” The store also features a first for the brand: Ingie Paris handbags. “We collaborated with artists for these bags to have unique hand-painted elements.”
Chalhoub describes her clothes as “easy, stuff you can pack in your suitcase and travel with.”
“The Ingie Paris woman is international, she travels the world, packs in her suitcase a few knitwear outfits, separates for New York and London, a cocktail dress for Paris and a long evening dress for Dubai. She’s working but also managing her social life. She has to be practical, catering to different cultures and embracing youth,” she said.
It’s a profile Chalhoub knows well, balancing life as a businesswoman and creative who splits time between her atelier and showroom in Paris’s 8th arrondissement and business headquarters in Dubai. “I’m still a multibrand retailer,” she said, referring to her boutique, Etoile, as well as other franchise partner brands in her portfolio. “I love to be protective of and attend to the brands I have. But at the same time I need to have my own creative identity, that comes through with Ingie Paris.”
Although well-known for her business savvy as a retailer, she said she has always loved the creative aspect of the business. “I was designing dresses for my Barbie dolls when I was 8.” In her early days working with couture houses, she got to know the creative side of the business well. “I won’t name names, but I spent a lot of years very close to the designers, telling them about the potential of our region. It was a time when couture houses were very small so I spent a lot of time in showrooms. I would be with the VIP clients working on haute couture. As the ambassador of the brands, I got very personally involved. The couture manager would come, but I was always there and that taught me a lot.”
She said when the couture houses because a bigger industry, she was less involved in creative and more in management. “Our role evolved as partners and there was something missing in me, creatively.” When she started Ingie, “I thought it would just be a small capsule collection within my boutique Etoile.”
The brand is now present in 55 countries. Throughout she said her focus is on creating a collection for the “Parisian chic woman who cares about the quality and execution in every detail.” That detail starts with the in-store experience. The luxurious leather treated private dressing rooms offer on-site tailoring and fitting services. The details are lessons she has learned as a retailer. “For sure I have a wider 360 perspective on things. This is what I love about my job.”
Up next for Ingie Paris is likely a store in Paris. But she said she is still looking for the right location. London is also in the plans. “But I’m very happy Dubai came first. After all, it’s where I live,” she said. She also is focused on the visibility to markets in the Far East, including China. “This is a real hub. I can test so many markets from here. Overall, I’m making a bigger statement with this boutique.”