Retail in Asia had the opportunity to interview Marie France Van Damme, a Canadian-born, Hong Kong-based fashion designer, celebrated author, whose luxury lifestyle resort wear brand is inspired by her travels and personal style.
Marie France Van Damme pioneered the Orient in the early 1980’s when she relocated to Hong Kong to start her manufacturing company specializing in women’s wear.
Born in Montreal, Canada, Marie France attended university studying business administration until a strike at the school led Marie France to occupy her free time with an internship at a leading women’s apparel brand.
The brief interaction with the fashion industry quickly changed her path. She moved to New York to head up one of the first private label businesses dealing with the top department stores including Macy’s and Lord and Taylor.
While traveling back and forth from New York to the Orient, Marie France fell in love with her husband and relocated to Hong Kong to start her manufacturing company specializing in women’s wear. There, she developed and manufactured ready-to-wear products for European retailers such as La Redoute-Redcats, Monoprix, Marks & Spencer and Saks Fifth Ave.
Throughout her years of travel, Marie France identified a niche in the market for a chic, stylish and complete resort wear collection, and in 2011 she decided to launch Marie France Van Damme resort wear line geared towards savvy and sophisticated women.
The brand is loved by celebrities such as Beyoncé, Heidi Klum, Cameron Diaz, Olivia Palermo, Christina Hendricks, and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Marie France Van Damme resort line is currently available at www.mariefrancevandamme.com and her other retail locations in Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Singapore, Bangkok, Phuket, Marrakech, Vegas, Dubai, Miami, and London, Bergdorf Goodman, Harrods, Neiman Marcus, Le Bon Marche, Moda Operandi, and NET-A-PORTER and exclusive resorts such as Amanresorts and the One & Only.
“It is about featherweight pieces that can be worn from morning to evening, that are easy to pack and to care for. Our Marie France Van Damme woman travels light and travels smart,” says Marie France Van Damme.
RiA: How did it all begin?
Marie France: I designed and manufactured for departments stores for over 30 years and enjoyed all those years. But then it became a war of prices and no longer a business of fashion.
I wanted to do what I love best and that is to design beautiful pieces. I found a gap in the luxury resort wear market. I was traveling and could not find the pieces I wanted to wear on holiday.
I identified a niche in the market for a chic, stylish and complete resort wear collection. I created a small curated 10 piece collection and presented it to Harrod’s Chief Merchant, who bought it on the spot.
That is when I knew it was time for me to move on and launch my own line.
RiA: What is the source of inspiration?
Marie France: I take great inspiration from all my travels. I have been greatly influenced over the years by some of my favorite spots like the Amanpuri in Phuket, a long-time oasis of understated chic and Zen resort hotel and the city of Marrakesh where I could easily spend a few months every year.
I am lucky my stores are in great destinations that inspire me such as Los Angeles, Miami and Bangkok to name a few.
RiA: Marie France Van Damme garments are resort wear garments characterized by neutral colours that make them timeless. At the same time, you release different collections. How do you combine timelessness and seasonality?
Marie France: The collections are created to offer women an alternative to current market trends. Timeless pieces that can be worn for all occasions and not only at chic holiday destinations. Pieces that can be worn from resort to city, from morning to evening.
For example, a metallic silver summer skirt can become the perfect winter skirt worn with a chunky cashmere sweater in London. A silky pajama beach set worn with a pair of high heels and chunky jewelry and a long silk cardigan becomes the perfect ensemble for a chilly evening in Beverly Hills
People are not just only buying for one occasion anymore. People want to buy pieces that they can wear for years to come. I wear all shades of black and white with accents of gold, silver and bronze as those are timeless and suit my lifestyle.
A little black dress can be worn over and over again with different accessories. You never get tired of it, but you will of a colorful purple-rose-red dress that everyone remembers you wearing in 2015.
It is also about traveling light – to be able to mix and match and being able to effortlessly dress these pieces up and down weather you wear them at the beach, to a cocktail or dinner in Phuket or in Miami .
RiA: Who is the Marie France Van Damme woman?
Marie France: The Marie France Van Damme woman is a woman who travels the world ’in style’– elegant, confident, powerful. She will go from the airport after a 12 hour flight to her favorite breakfast spot, still looking impeccably flawless in her Marie France Van Damme wide leg jersey pants and comfy long silk knit cardigan, and spend the day attending gallery openings or meetings. She has a full agenda.
By evening, she will throw over her travel outfit a few exquisite big jewels, killer heels, and be perfect for a dinner out. She knows how to travel light, and how to travel smart.
RiA: How do you target them?
Marie France: In the beginning, I consigned my collection to many luxury resorts around the world. I looked at it like a marketing strategy, since I could not afford to take several pages in monthly glossy magazines. The best way for women to get to know my brand was to have my pieces displayed in the most beautiful and relevant places in the world.
Soon after launching the brand, I realized I had to open a store where I could present my full collection and brand’s DNA or else I would always be known for selling only swimsuits and caftans.
My very first store in Hong Kong, which opened in 2013 was an immediate success. It convinced me to open more stores. It is not easy to manage 13 stores globally. I am still learning every day about retail.
However, having these stores in strategic and iconic places such as Bal Harbour Shops in Miami, The Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok, La Mamounia in Marrakesh, The Dubai Mall in Dubai and Wynn in Las Vegas, I know we are reaching thousands of the “Marie France Van Damme woman.”
RiA: What is the current status of your global presence?
Marie France: We have opened thirteen stores worldwide since 2013. We opened our very first store in Hong Kong’s International Finance Centre (IFC) mall in September 2013. In December 2016, we opened a second location in Hong Kong in The Elements shopping mall.
We have our stores in Bangkok, Singapore and Phuket, a total of 7 stores in Asia. We have stores as well in London, Beverly Hills, Miami, Las Vegas, Marrakech and Dubai.
We have a wholesale business which currently stocks Marie France Van Damme, in 100 retail locations in some of the world’s most desirable luxury shopping and travel locations such as Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Harrods, Le Bon Marche, Saks Fifth Avenue, NET-A-PORTER, Moda Operandi in addition to luxury resorts including Aman Resorts and the One&Only Resorts.
RiA: What is the upcoming expansion plan?
Marie France: In the short term, we have introduced pop-ups between Paris and New York. In May, we introduced a pop-up in Paris at Le Bon Marche. In June, introduced another pop-up in New York at Bergdorf Goodman open through June 30, 2019.
RiA: Marie France Van Damme is a hong kong-based brand, with an international soul, how is that?
Marie France: I was born in Montreal and spent my childhood in Raleigh, North Carolina. I studied in Cannes and Strasbourg in France as a young girl. I lived in New York a few years prior to moving here. I have lived in Hong Kong for almost 40 years. I spend all my holidays in Thailand. Work takes me around the world a few times a year.
I live in Hong Kong by the sea in an Asian and minimalist ‘zen/relaxed chic’ environment. My office and my atelier are minutes away from home in the busiest industrial neighborhood.
My life is a perfect mix of “East and West” and it reflects in my collections, the ‘Dolce Vita’ lifestyle that one can wear almost anywhere.