In 1983, when few luxury brands had any presence in the Middle East Ingie Chalhoub was a trailblazer in the industry, seeing the potential of the market and the hunger for luxury brands in the region she founded Etoile Group with the mission of bringing the world’s most prestigious luxury brands to the Middle East.
Forty years later the Group has achieved this mission numerous times over, with brands such as Chanel, Tod’s, Ralph Lauren, Valentino and more amongst their portfolio. Led by Ingie and fuelled by her passion for fashion, as well as her determination to make sure the Middle Eastern woman is well-represented by international luxury Maisons, the company has gone from strength to strength and prides itself in being a pioneer and one of the leaders of the luxury fashion in the retail industry in the Middle East. Under Ingie’s leadership, the Group has developed an inspiring reputation as an ambassador of fashion-forward know-how and excellence as well as creating a positive and motivational atmosphere for its employees and clients.
As well as running the Etoile Group, Ingie also established her own fashion brand Ingie Paris which has received international recognition and has been presented at Paris Fashion Week for several years. She also founded Etoile La Boutique which is a one-of-a-kind multi-brand boutique offering a curated selection of items from global brands to meet the needs of the Middle Eastern shopper. Despite achieving so much already Ingie is not done yet as she continues to thrive on shaping up the luxury industry in the region. With expansion into Saudi Arabia, digitally transforming the business and new stores on the horizon, we find out what’s next for her and the company.
This issue is about success – what does success mean to you?
Success can be defined in a variety of ways. For me, success is the ability to turn your dreams and passion into a reality while making a positive impact. Etoile Group is a product of my love for fashion and art, and since establishing it in 1983, I’ve embarked on a journey to push the frontiers of high-end luxury fashion and bridge the gap between the Middle East and the West. Today, I’m proud to say that Etoile Group is a true pioneer and leader in luxury fashion in the region, and even more proud that our clients know us, trust us, and have become our biggest advocates.
Coming from the Middle East, what does it mean to you for your work and brand to be recognised on a global scale?
Global recognition is an honour, but it’s also a testament to our team’s commitment to building the Etoile Group over the last 40 years, as well as the unwavering loyalty of our clientele, for which I am always grateful.
Looking back at Etoile Group’s journey, there are some standout moments for me – from the opening of the first ever Chanel boutique in the region back in 1983 to relocating and rebuilding the business in Dubai after the Kuwait Crisis in 1992, to bringing brands like Ralph Lauren and Tod’s to the region, and, of course, to creating my own brand, Ingie Paris. Venturing into the Saudi market was also a major turning point, given the size and potential of the market for luxury brands, which presented an ideal opportunity to tap into new markets and consumer segments in KSA.
But perhaps my biggest personal achievement is making the Middle East woman matter to renowned Maisons and helping to ensure that the needs of our clients were understood and appreciated by some of the world’s greatest designers – like Karl Lagerfeld, Thierry Mugler, Jean Paul Gaultier and Christian Lacroix. It took determination, resilience and passion.
The last time we spoke it was just after the pandemic – tell us what you have been working on since then and how things have changed.
Undoubtedly, the pandemic was a transformative experience for our business, and it gave us a valuable opportunity to re-evaluate our operations and explore innovative ways to connect with our clients. One of the initiatives we introduced during this time was a bespoke home service, which involved us conducting personalised visits to our client’s homes, presenting them with carefully curated items that we knew would resonate with their unique tastes and preferences. This approach allowed us to deepen our engagement with our customers and strengthen our reputation for delivering unforgettable, personalised experiences. As a result, we were able to not only adapt to the challenges of the pandemic but also thrive by seizing new opportunities for growth and innovation.
We also launched etoilelaboutique.com in 2020 as part of our efforts to enhance the customer experience and develop our omnichannel strategy. The online platform helps us better connect with our customers by offering them a seamless shopping experience. We are now able to offer our consumers a wider selection of products, easier accessibility, and more convenience, all while keeping the same high-quality service and personal attention that we are known for.
I firmly believe that our focus on building long-term partnerships has played a key role in transforming our loyal clientele into enthusiastic brand ambassadors, who are eager to spread the word about their positive experiences with us.
What do you think luxury brands need to do today to keep up with ever-changing technology and increasing customer demands?
Luxury brands must constantly adapt to stay ahead of the competition and meet the ever-changing demands and desires of clients. To get significant insights into consumer behaviour and preferences, it is critical to embrace digital technology and invest in data analytics. But just as importantly, they must listen to their clients – have conversations with them about what they are looking for and their sense of style and fashion.
As more clients today want to pick and choose between selecting items in person or online, luxury brands would need to focus on enhancing that experience on whichever platform their clients prefer. By offering bespoke, personalised experiences that cater to their unique preferences and tastes, luxury brands can create meaningful connections and build long-term loyalty.
Creating experiences – in physical environments, as well as in the digital realm – is another critical element that can help luxury brands differentiate themselves and create lasting impressions or attract the next generation of clients. By designing immersive, interactive experiences that allow customers to fully engage with the brand or items from its latest or vintage collections, they can create memorable experiences that leave a lasting impact, and drive loyalty.
How do you ensure that your brands and companies appeal to a younger audience but don’t alienate existing customers?
At Etoile Group, we recognise the younger generation’s affinity for the environment and social consciousness, which means prioritising collaborations with brands and partners who share the same values as this generation, with a focus on sustainable fashion. We don’t feel that this approach in any way conflicts with the needs of our existing clientele, in fact, quite the opposite. I believe there is an intrinsic commitment to sustainability in luxury fashion – from the preservation of craftsmanship and artisanal skills to the production of quality fabrics and materials. Luxury fashion and design are about creating collections and pieces that can be passed down through generations. It is the antithesis of fast fashion.
Tell us about Etoile La Boutique today – we know you recently opened a new space.
Since its establishment in 1993 in Dubai as a first-of-its-kind luxury multi-brand store for the region, Etoile La Boutique has been on a mission to bring exclusive global brands to our clients and support the very best home-grown designers and brands. We have worked to create an environment where you can interact and get to know these designers at a single destination – whether that is in-store or online.
Earlier this year, we celebrated the re-birth of Etoile La Boutique with the opening of our new boutique at Mall of the Emirates. Here, we have curated a luxury offering that can’t be found anywhere else, with exclusive ranges and pieces – including some of the most sought-after collaborations from the likes of Roksanda x FILA, Herve Leger x Law Roach and Hudson Jeans x Zoe Costello. In total, we have created a destination for 45+ brands, 40 of which are exclusive to the region.
What can you tell us about the curated selection of brands at Etoile La Boutique?
At Etoile La Boutique, our goal was to create an exceptional shopping experience that celebrates the latest trends and emerging labels while offering an unparalleled selection of seasonal pieces from the world’s leading designers. As the founder, I’m deeply involved in curating those collections, drawing on my passion for fashion and art to select pieces that I know will truly resonate with our clients.
We take a highly personalised approach to selecting each piece, carefully considering the needs and preferences of our clientele. This means offering more modest options for those who seek them and selecting individual items that are perfect for the events, galas, and dinner parties that our clients attend. Each piece is handpicked with an in-depth understanding of the Etoile La Boutique woman, her life, and her needs.
As a successful career woman, what advice would you give to others aspiring to take a business leap?
That’s simple. Always believe in yourself, trust your intuition and follow your passion. If you have confidence in your skills and trust in your ability to achieve your goals, others will too. It’s also important to keep a positive mindset and be bold enough to take measured risks to succeed.
What is your biggest achievement so far?
We have many accomplishments to be proud of at Etoile Group but considering the magnitude of the pandemic and its implications for the retail industry and our business, I am most proud of our ability to turn things around post-pandemic and maintain a strong business performance.
What is something that you still want to achieve that you haven’t done yet?
I’d like to further expand our operations in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is an important market for Etoile Group. Many international brands have already recognised the significance of Saudi Arabia and established a strong presence there. With the country’s continued investment in various sectors and increasing demand for luxury goods among Saudi consumers, opportunities for luxury brands in KSA are likely to grow in the coming years.
What else is in the pipeline for you this year?
We are planning to open 20 new boutiques in Saudi Arabia between 2023 and 2026 for our different brands and we are in the process of renovating two of our existing major stores to offer our clients an enhanced shopping experience.
Who is someone that inspires you?
My mother has always been my main source of inspiration. Right from the beginning, she gave me the space and freedom to unleash my creativity and encouraged me to pursue my dreams. When I graduated, all I wanted was to work in fashion and we opened our first store together. That was a very proud moment for me.
What is the professional motto that you live by?
I’m driven by a passion for fashion and art and have always worked hard to put my creative and business skills to good use and achieve my goals. I truly believe in listening to my intuition when deciding on which direction to take and that ethos has stayed with me throughout my career.
What is a message you would tell your younger self?
Trust your intuition and go with your gut instinct. The sooner you learn to believe in yourself, the more confidence you’ll have and the more success you’ll achieve – both personally and professionally.