Marie France Van Damme’s round-the-world tour came in the nick of time. Before coronavirus travel restrictions, the Hong Kong-based designer’s stops included Dubai, Paris and Bal Harbour Shops, where she opened a permanent store earlier this month following several pop-ups at the center.
“We have stores where we love to go,” said Van Damme of her exotic taste, which extends to the Bal Harbour boutique’s décor. “It’s inspired by my home and flagship in Hong Kong, which have an Asian feel.”
Residential materials have been adapted for commercial wear and tear in the 800-square-foot store on the second level. Glass composite floor tiles stand in for her home’s far too porous marble floors, and a large-scale armoire’s studded metal panels mimic her finer version in bronze. Columns with a dark oak veneer also borrow from her personal space, while their multi-colored metallic rings and a grand ottoman upholstered in gold embossed crocodile work back to her fondness for minimal colors. Aside from a few tweaks, the design is uniform to her global fleet.
“Everything was made in Hong Kong and shipped over. I was amazed how the columns fit perfectly when we installed them,” she said.
The store carries special, more expensive pieces in French fabrics, such as a capsule collection called “Laid-back Chic.” Among its day-to-night travel looks that fit right in with the Miami lifestyle are silk chiffon boubous printed with metallic flowers or stars; a hand-embroidered maxi skirt in sequin and pearl paisleys, and a kicky duster in oversize, black and white tweed.
“We have that client — serious ladies who travel a lot and follow us from city to city,” said Van Damme, who estimates company-owned stores have attracted 25,000 new shoppers. “When you Google them, you see their incredible lives and wealth, and we’re very lucky to have them.”
Though coronavirus has disrupted traditional travel patterns, Van Damme said her Bal Harbour pop-ups have seen strong year-round traffic, and her permanent space is expected to do the same. July is particularly strong due to Brazilian tourists, but she doesn’t feel the need to expand brick-and-mortar there for reasons beyond high import fees.
“Miami is like the capital of South America, and they prefer to come here to spend their money. It’s part of their lifestyle,” she said.
While so much is up in the air, Van Damme spoke about summer activations in destinations where her clients pass through, from the Hamptons to St. Tropez. She’s also toying with creating an exclusive fragrance for each store, after building a following for her complimentary gift with purchase.
“Customers receive a set with an orange blossom-scented cream, essential oil and argan oil made in Marrakesh. They just love it.”