When you wear so many hats, there’s no such thing as an average day,” Ingie Chalhoub laughs. For us, though, that’s all the more reason to ask the question, as we’re understandably keen to uncover a rare insight into the impossibly glamorous world of the Middle East’s ‘first lady of luxury’ as she’s affectionately been named. Ingie is the definition of a powerhouse; and as much as we in the region love a bit of hyperbole, in this instance – with 36 years of experience under her (no doubt Chanel) belt – it’s a moniker that is both accurate and well-deserved. In fact, it’s fair to say the local fashion landscape would be considerably less exciting – and commercially successful – without her. It is impossible to overstate both her contribution and accomplishments. Simply put, she’s kind of a big deal.
Famed for bringing the who’s-who of upscale fashion labels to the Middle East back in the ’80s, Ingie has since, as she helpfully pointed out, commandeered multiple chapeaus, including designer, entrepreneur, MD and philanthropist. She brought the first Chanel boutique to Kuwait in 1983, following that up with Dior, Christian Lacroix, Valentino, Alaïa, Kenzo, Ralph Lauren and Tod’s.“I spend most of my time between Dubai and Paris. Life is so different in both cities,” she tells us. “My atelier is in Paris, where I go at least once a month. But if I don’t make it over there, my team come to Dubai with the designs and we try everything here.
I have to make sure every single detail is right and it can become a little overwhelming at times, especially when it’s close to fashion week.” We can’t really picture her being overwhelmed. After all, this is a woman at the very top of her game, who has earned the love and respect of fans across continents, runs a retail business of 80 stores as President of the Etoile group, has recently celebrated a decade at the helm of her eponymous brand, and also – somehow – finds the time to regularly work with UNICEF. Both Ingie and her equally prolific businessman husband, Patrick Chalhoub, are so revered both in and out of the region that they received the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur award for their dedication to promoting French luxury around the world.
Just to put that into context, it is the highest civilian merit awarded in France, and was first created by Napoleon Bonaparte as a reward for those who have contributed to society through their work and achievements. We’re utterly charmed by the detail Ingie reveals: “Every recipient is awarded it in two sizes; the larger one can be worn at official engagements, and the smaller one on a daily basis.” Given that she was raised and educated in France, this must have been as sentimental as it was gratifying, especially since she sees fashion as “intrinsically and historically deep-rooted in the culture [of the country].” She even credits it as “enabling my love of fashion to blossom and inspiring me to dedicate my life to this wonderful and creative industry.”
Indeed, France is woven into the fabric of everything she does, not least providing both a home and name for her fashion house, Ingie Paris. But what of her other influences? Born to Lebanese parents in Cairo, Ingie’s global sensibility has no doubt been instrumental in her success. “I would say Ingie Paris is an international brand. It offers a bridge between east and west and I believe that the dialogue and conversation – even when it comes to creativity – are the best ways to succeed.” So is that the key? “There’s no specific strategy to success,” she reveals. “Having a clear vision of what your goals are and what you want to achieve, and where you would like to see yourself in the future is what success is to me. In life we will always have obstacles, but with hard work, perseverance and a strong will, you will always succeed.
I believe that women in any given industry have a power to pave their way to success, rather than following a path already.” She adds, “When I started in this industry, particularly with Etoile ‘La Boutique’, it was seen as very much a man’s world. Making myself known in a society where people didn’t understand why I worked so hard was no easy task. These preconceptions of who people expected me to be rather than who I desired to be propelled me to want to achieve success on my own merit.” It’s a silver-lining attitude that we could all take a cue from, and something we’re sure her roller-coaster ride of a career has cemented as a philosophy to hold dear.
“I call my career highlights the schools of my life,” Ingie explains. “I learned something valuable at each point which shaped my career. The first was Chanel. Not only did it open doors for me to work with other luxury brands, but most importantly, it’s where I learned everything about fashion; from the cuts, fits, couture and intricacies of the industry. The second was around 1988 during the Kuwait crisis when I had to restructure and rebuild everything in Dubai. Then the third – and the real learning curve – was bringing brands such as Ralph Lauren and Tod’s to a new territory. All these teachings and experiences shaped my greatest career highlight; an opportunity to give the fashion industry a bit of my own creativity through my own brand.” and what a brand that is. Exquisitely crafted, sumptuously detailed, Ingie Paris is elevated, glamorous and utterly, utterly covetable.
“I have created my brand around elegance that women across the world can wear anytime, anywhere.” Autumn’s offering is no exception. Inspired by Cleopatra, it is rife with baroque’n’roll takes on gold tailoring, heavy with opulent embellishment and has provided all the winter outerwear inspiration we need this season. “I had seen a documentary in Paris on Cleopatra and was then invited by the first lady of Egypt to visit and that’s when the whole concept of the new collection came to me. The trip was incredibly inspirational and to this day I’m still mesmerised by the historic and cultural treasures that this ancient civilisation left for us to protect. Cleopatra was not only the Queen of Egypt, but was also the Queen of Rome so she was instrumental in bringing two distinct cultures together.” Sounds very familiar.