How Ingie Chalhoub is making her retail empire Gen-Z friendly

A force in luxury retail for almost 40 years, she is once again making a pivot

By Sujata Assomull

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Etoile store at Mall of the Emirates
Etoile store at Mall of the Emirates

Published: Thu 15 Dec 2022, 9:45 PM

In fashion, change is the only constant, and Ingie Chalhoub knows this well. In a career that spans four decades, she is still innovating the fashion landscape in this region. The wife of Patrick Chalhoub, president of The Chalhoub Group, a leading luxury retail distribution company, Ingie Chalhoub is very much her own woman, a disruptor in fashion in the Gulf region in her own right. Born in Egypt she moved to Kuwait, and it was there that she opened the country’s first Chanel Boutique with her mom back in 1983. However, when the Gulf War started in 1990, she had to shut shop, and ended up relocating to Dubai and opening this city’s first Chanel store. That was just the start of her journey in retail. Always one step ahead of the game, Chalhoub launched this region’s first multi-brand concept store Etoile (which means “star” in French), and it brought the star labels of French fashion to the region, retailing labels such as Dior and Alaia. Etoile first opened its doors in 2005. This was before many of these labels had their own flagships in the region.

Today, she is the president of The Etoile Group which besides running Etoile stores in the region represents luxury brands such as Etro, Chanel and Tod’s. This experience has taught her one thing. “Life is all about cycles, you have the ups and downs in both your personal and professional life and we have to be resilient somehow. You must think forward, and never stop thinking forward.” Having had to shut down her own 2009-born label, Ingie Paris, due to pressures caused by the pandemic, Chalhoub is presently concentrating her efforts on Etoile. “This new chapter for Etoile was long overdue.”


The revamp starts at her Mall of the Emirates store, which has moved to a new location in what is known as the “luxury lane” of Mall; close to labels such as Yves Saint Laurent and Isabel Marant, it has an impressive store front. “Location is the first rule of retailing, and you have to be in the right place with the right company,” she says. She notes every brand needs a refresh after a few years. The new space is fitted with luxurious travertine marbles along the walls and has Etoile’s signature brass stars made into lights dangling from the ceiling. The store’s mission has always been about bringing the right mix of fashion forward labels to the region.

Etoile no longer only stocks European labels but also those from all over the world, such as India’s Hemant and Nandita. “Arab women have matured, they are looking beyond just buying brands. They want style and like to discover new labels too,” she says. Sitting next to Valentino and Aquazurra are handbags by Serena, a Norwegian handbag brand known for its artisanal making, but whose aesthetics are minimalistic and sleek. You can look forward to finding many exclusives in Etoile too. More than half the labels in the store are only available at Etoile stores, including the current cult collaborations such as Roksanda x FILA, Herve Leger x Law Roach, Hudson Jeans x Zoe Costello. “We love exclusivity and limited editions, especially in this part of the world,” she notes.


She emphasises that brands operating in the Gulf must not take a cookie cutter approach to their operations in the region. Aware that every international brand has their eye on the high spend Arab consumer, she cautions that this is a tough market to navigate. “Firstly, while we are one region, each country is quite different and has its own take on fashion. Actually forget each country, each city is different — even Dubai and Abu Dhabi. However, she notes that it also makes the Middle East a vibrant and dynamic market. Currently, there are two Etoile stores in Dubai, one in Abu Dhabi, one in Doha and in Riyadh, and each one will now undergo a makeover with the Mall of the Emirates store being the blue-print though retail edits will take into account local tastes and calendars.

A region with one of the youngest populations in the world, Chalhoub is aware of the need to be Gen Z-friendly, but does not want to alienate Etoile’s long-time patrons. “I am proud that Etoile is a place where our original customers now come with their daughters to shop.” The mature client is as important as the Gen Z client, and she ensures there is something from everyone. From resort wear to lounge wear to evening wear, she caters to every occasion too. Pricing too is wide — you can find an evening wear dress for Dh2,000 and one for Dh 20,000 too. One label that younger buyers may enjoy is Ilta, a London-based label who craft their embroidered evening pieces in India, the designers behind it once worked with Topshop. Fun yet made with care, they are investment buys without a heavy price tag. “We want to have affordable pieces as well as very exclusive pieces. We don’t want to categorise people, that is something particularly important to us.”

She adds that the need of the hour is to be in tune with the clientele. Etoile has a strong e-commerce presence since the last two years and has been focusing on it more. However, she notes that brick and mortar stores will always matter, which is why she is now looking to give all her Etoiles a new look. “In the store we want to pamper our customers, this must feel like a second home.” No wonder then, included in the new 2,345 square feet Mall of the Emirates space is a large VIP dressing room.

Chalhoub has attended to important clients from the royal family herself, so she has first-hand experience in knowing how to tend to clients. ‘Post-Covid customers have become more demanding, so you need to really pay attention to details when it comes to customer service,” she notes. Just as Etoile filled a gap in the luxury market in 2005, it caters to a niche that still needs to be addressed today. “We don’t want the customers here to feel the need to shop abroad. We want them to shop in the city where they’re living,” says Chalhoub. The store right now is embracing the holiday season, choosing from chic kaftans to wear on the beach to glittering evening dresses for a night of festive fun. And what are Chalhoub’s tips for dressing for this festive season? “Metallics and feathers. It is the season, after all.”

wknd@khaleejtimes.com


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