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Fashionista with Flair

gulfconnoisseur April 26, 2012 0

Ingie Chalhoub, the Founder, President and Managing Director of the Etoile Group, has been a pioneering influence on the UAE fashion scene over the last two decades. Gulf Connoisseur talks to her on the fashion industry in the region and the impact of the Etoile Group and the INGIE Paris brand

Through the unique, trend-setting and innovative luxury-fusion concepts of the Etoile La boutiques, the Founder, President and Managing Director of the Etoile Group, Ingie Chalhoub, has played a pioneering role in the UAE fashion scene, promoting haute couture and continuously establishing new benchmarks.
When discussing her style as a fashion icon of this region, she responds, “I remember you once used the term ‘dynamic fashionista’ to describe me. That, probably, aptly captures the essence of my style and my approach to fashion in general,” adding, “However, I always look for something new, something unusual, with an emphasis on fine detailing and superior craftsmanship. I like to experiment with different colours and silhouettes, juxtapose unexpected pieces and really push the boundaries when it comes to cuts and accessories.”
She sees fashion as one of the instruments that a woman can use to express both her strength and her femininity simultaneously. “The woman of today is strong and confident. She should create her mark and show her individuality, confidently expressing herself, whether through fashion or in the workplace. Being feminine, strong and confident are never mutually exclusive.”
She emphasises that one should not get bound by rules when it comes to fashion: “The most classic piece can be accented with an edgy one or given a cutting-edge twist by the use of innovative fabrics, prints or colours or the addition of an eye-catching accessory. Similarly, a more adventurous look can be balanced by a sophisticated, elegant bag. It is all about having fun and feeling comfortable and confident in what you wear.”
Inevitably, the question comes up on how she got into the fashion business: “Fashion is in my blood; I was born with this passion so I can’t ascribe a start date to it. My grandfather was in the textile business and my mother possessed an innate sense of style so, I suppose, you could say that I was brought up in a familial environment that nurtured a sense of style and I embraced it.”
But she agrees that it was her exposure to the fashion world of Paris that proved to be the turning point. “Of course, life in Paris enhanced my love for the style scene. You are surrounded by beauty and constantly impressed with the creativity and skills of designers and artisans and the effortless elegance of people. For instance, Yves Saint Laurent and Madame Grès have always inspired me.”
During her years in Paris she refined and developed her knowledge of the fashion industry and initiated the process that would eventually fulfill her dreams of bringing luxury brands to the Middle East. She recalls, “On my visits to this region I noticed there was a niche that needed to be filled – there were no high end, luxury brands here. I thought it would be a great idea to bring some of the established fashion brands to the Middle East. That’s how Etoile Group came into being. It was a huge challenge but ultimately it has been a journey I wouldn’t want to change at all. My hard work has been rewarded and my dreams have become realities.”
A major professional milestone for Etoile was the successful launch of Chanel in Kuwait in 1983: “That propelled our group to the next level. The success gave us credibility and enormous exposure. It became the catalyst for growth. Our portfolio expanded rapidly as we then brought Ralph Lauren, Valentino, Tod’s and many other established cutting-edge brands to the Middle East.”
Of her plans for the other brand that she has created – INGIE Paris – she says, “We are going to launch a complete line for the first time in 2012, thanks to the fabulous response to our capsule collections. Our loyal customers are clamouring for more pieces. We will be opening the first INGIE Paris stand-alone store in Kuwait, introducing new techniques and fabrics and adding bespoke options.” She says her team has already spent a lot of time researching the marketing, testing the collections and appear ready to launch the brand in a big way, “It is a really exciting time for INGIE Paris.”
A fashion designer who has earned several accolades, Ingie won the Gulf Connoisseur’s coveted Connoisseur’s Award last year. We seek her reaction to the recognition she has received: “It is incredibly humbling and uplifting to be acknowledged by your peers. Being chosen to receive this award from such a prestigious publication was hugely flattering. The award was a result of determination, hard work, having faith in myself and following my passion, even through challenging times.”
Ingie Chalhoub is all set to achieve even greater heights, declaring, “It motivates me to strive harder. I am now more driven and determined to reach more milestones as I push myself further. My dedication to this region’s luxury industry has only been further strengthened.”

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