Maria Luisa with models wearing her eponymous collection (left); her favourite Christopher Kane dress from the autumn/winter collection (right).
Last week, French fashion icon Maria Luisa Poumaillou visited Hong Kong to host a fashion event to celebrate the upcoming season. Poumaillou is to French fashion what Joyce Ma is to Asia, and defined the Parisian retail scene in the 1980s and 1990s by promoting and discovering talents such as Dries Van Noten, Rick Owens, Comme des Garcons, Pierre Hardy and Maison Martin Margiela. While her eponymous boutiques in Paris no longer exist, she has an online boutique and operates several franchises including her Hong Kong store and an upcoming boutique in Qatar. She is also fashion director of renowned French department store Printemps. Next year she will relaunch her eponymous line of clothing which she describes as “Parisian but unpretentious offering timeless style at affordable prices.”
She made some time for us during her busy schedule to talk about the must-have pieces for next season, why fashion needs to slow down and how Rick Owens is defining modern fashion.
You’ve had a store in Hong Kong for seven years. How has the local fashion scene changed since then?
Hong Kong has even more brands than before. It’s the biggest market I have ever seen, but it’s missing a more edited view of fashion. It’s too overcrowded with brands. I haven’t found any newcomers, but the evolution of I.T is very impressive. It’s dynamic, and they are brilliant.
You’ve said that multi-brand stores are a dead concept – do you think this applies to Asia?
I think the concept is outdated in cities like Paris, but not here. Asians love department stores – in fact, you should build a statue for Joyce Ma because she transformed the city in terms of fashion. In Europe multi-brand stores are competing with the monogram stores in a market that is very small, unlike here. The destination store of the 90s is a dead concept. Today if you want to be in fashion you need to use the tools of the 21st century by going online or franchising in countries where there’s still a demand. The internet for the time being is perfect for young designers to get awareness and promote their brands. It’s going to be even more essential for China – it has the biggest amount of internet users in the world and you don’t have to fight with big advertisers, as you do in magazines.
What do you look for in a new brand?
A strong identity and some kind of master quality. The clothes also need to last. Clothing is like a piece of furniture – you should be able to mix it with everything you already own. For example, I have a Comme des Garcons blazer from 10 years ago that I still wear today. Even Margiela is timeless. It always works.
Is it possible for designers today to establish a global brand along the likes of Louis Vuitton or Chanel?
Many years ago most designers worked towards getting a position within established houses like Dior or Gucci, but now that is changing – it’s no longer interesting, and its too much pressure. Look at McQueen, Galliano or Marc Jacobs – Galliano and McQueen couldn’t take the pressure and how many times has Marc Jacobs been in rehab? It’s now the time for slow fashion – a bit like how slow food is the answer to junk food. Look at [Azzedine] Alaia, he is the perfect example. Young designers need to believe in themselves, remain true to their identity, quality and more importantly, find the right financial partner to do it on their own at an organic pace. In the 1990s designers like Ann Demulemeester and Dries Van Noten never dreamed they would become huge luxury brands among the likes of Vuitton – but they are still up there with the big players while having stayed true to their identity and not selling out. The more globalised fashion becomes, I hope young designers will still try to create their own niche.
What are the must-have pieces for autumn/winter 2011?
Anything from Christopher Kane – his water shape dresses are amazing. A Carven coat is also essential to create the popular bourgeois chic look. You also need a long skirt, a good pair of masculine pants and a black shoe or loafer. The Carven x Robert Clergerie collaboration is a great collection.
What designer should we watch out for right now?
J.W Anderson from London. He’s a Saint Martin’s graduate who is doing some really interesting things – its an androgynous style with a touch of Watanabe mixed in with Miu Miu.
Who in your opinion is the most overrated designer or trend?
There are so many. I never look at these because they don’t catch my eye or appeal to me.
What items should every woman own in her wardrobe?
A black dress; one or two black pants; black turtleneck or crew neck; little sweater to throw over everything; a well tailored jacket; and a good white blouse which is not easy to find. You can’t scrimp on the jacket because you should always spend money on the tailored pieces. For everything else you can go high-end or low-end, but just remember the jacket is the foundation of a woman’s wardrobe. Shoes are the basis of everything I wear that day. If I could live without a handbag I would!
You championed names like Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin from the beginning. What other shoe designers are worth investing in?
Nicholas Kirkwood hasn’t made it yet but I think he will. Alain Quilici also shows promise but I think we need to let Nicholas get there first. Pierre Hardy is still cool but is more intellectual and conceptual than the others.
What designer do you feel is currently defining 21st century fashion?
Rick Owens. If you look at the contemporary market today, how many of them are copying Rick’s t-shirts or leather jackets? In New York about two years ago, you would visit the contemporary floor of a department store and it was like a contest of who could copy Rick in the cheapest way. If you look at the street, you see his influence everywhere. And if you look at designers such as Haider Ackermann or Ricardo Tisci you can see Rick in their many of their designs.
What designer are you most interested in seeing during the upcoming spring/summer 2012 fashion weeks?
Indian designer Manish Arora. I spotted him eight years ago at India Fashion Week and have supported him ever since. He will have his first show in September with Paco Rabanne and it will be interesting. It is the first time an Indian designer is representing an international brand.
Maria Luisa is at Shop 211-213, The Lee Gardens, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, tel: +852 2907 2028.