PARIS — Maria Luisa Poumaillou, a prominent French fashion buyer and retailer, died Monday at the American Hospital in Paris after a long illness, members of her staff and family confirmed. She was 61.
According to sources, Poumaillou had been battling cancer for years, and had recently been hospitalized after a relapse.
Perhaps best known for her defunct Maria Luisa boutiques in Paris, where she championed designers including John Galliano, Pierre Hardy and Alexander McQueen, Poumaillou has been associated with the department store Printemps since 2009, where she was fashion editor and oversaw a department bearing her own name on the second floor of its Boulevard Haussmann flagship.
Her role at Printemps was described as a consultant to the store’s buying teams.
At her shop there, she focused on international designers, recently stocking such labels as Anthony Vaccarello, Bouchra Jarrar, Haider Ackermann, Junya Watanabe, J.W. Anderson, Simone Rocha and Yang Li.
“It’s often said that designers don’t exist without an executive. It holds true for buyers,” said Stéphane Wargnier, executive president of the Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode, praising Poumaillou’s “exceptional” eye. “She knew how to spot talents very early on. She knew how to buy and sell their collections.”
Wargnier was a regular of her store on Rue Cambon in the Nineties. “It was like a salon. People would hang out there for hours, to speak about fashion and creation,” he recalled.
On Tuesday, Printemps president and chief executive officer Paolo de Cesare called Poumaillou a “symbol of avant-garde chic” and a champion of excellence and creativity.
“She had chosen to put her talent to the Printemps department to support its renewal. Maria Luisa was one of the first to invent the multibrand store, supporting young talents,” he said. “‘Break the rules, emphasize boldness and creativity but never forget the clothes have to be worn’ — this has always been her motto. The fashion world has lost an icon, known for her fine choices.”
“She was ‘an eye’, a heart and a spirit,” said Hardy. “She was a stunning woman, smart and generous. She was the first to believe in what I was doing. She was a friend.”
Poumaillou opened her first Paris store in 1988 at 2 Rue Cambon, and later expanded to locations for men’s wear and casual fashions on nearby Rue Mont-Thabor, stocking brands such as Helmut Lang, Martin Margiela and Rick Owens.
She shuttered the last of her Paris locations, on Rue Rouget de L’Isle, in 2010 to focus on Printemps, a new e-boutique on Thecorner.com, operated by Yoox, and locations in Shanghai, Beijing and Qatar operated by partners.
In an interview with WWD that year, she lauded the power of the two channels, characterizing them as “one hundred times” more powerful in terms of visibility and sales for designers than a destination boutique like the ones she ran.
“I was not 100 percent convinced myself, but when I see the efforts Printemps has made…I have total liberty and we’re giving them much more exposure,” she said at the time.
“The evolution of the retail sector over the past 20 years has been colossal,” added Poumaillou, recalling how indispensable independent stores were to small brands when she first started out. She marveled at the advent of the Internet and the opening up of department stores, such as Printemps, to more directional fashions.
Poumaillou is survived by her husband Daniel, chief executive officer of Maria Luisa, and two daughters, Alexandra and Eugenie.
In a statement, Daniel Poumaillou called his wife “an exceptional woman who made no concessions. She was ‘true to herself,’ as she always insisted — one who dared, who opposed, who defended her convictions tooth and nail — with a perfect balance of elegance and humor.”