French fashionista ARIANE ZAGURY has become an influential player on the Hong Kong fashion retail scene. She takes ELLE KWAN on a whirlwind tour of her domain
DESPITE HAVING NEVER worked in retail, quick-witted Parisian and former investment banker Ariane Zagury saw a gap in the market in 2010 and opened Rue Madame, a whimsical little shop selling distinctly Parisian fashion. Zagury forged her fashion education from the ground up, working the shop floor and getting to know what has become a loyal clientele. In the four years since the opening, she’s secured exclusive rights to distribute some leading Parisian brands in stand-alone stores, and is expanding constantly. Walk a certain section of ifc or Hysan Place today, and it’s impossible to ignore names she oversees, including Maje, Sandro and American Vintage. Just add some rain-spattered cobblestone paving and the Eiffel Tower, and you could well be in Paris. Here, the entrepreneur shares her fashion sense, her business sense and an indescribable sense of ooh-la-la.
What gap did you spot that made you think the Rue Madame concept could work?
We’re always a bit messy because we’re a real shop for real people – that’s our edge. There are a lot of beautiful stores in Hong Kong, very edgy, very funky, but there are a lot of “normal” people in Hong Kong who don’t recognise themselves as in the market for cool, edgy, pretentious fashion. We’re the opposite of all that. You like it or not, but that’s who we are.
Was it hard getting started?
Some people were definitely not interested in my idea – I had one landlord fall asleep in a meeting with me.
Was your family supportive?
[Laughs] When I told my husband my idea he said, “Huh? You don’t want to raise my kids? You don’t want to make money in banking? You want to spend my money?” To be honest he wasn’t that into it, but he said, “Is it going to make you happy? If it is, then go ahead.” I remember the day before I opened the first store he asked me, “But do you have any idea how to sell clothes?” Actually I didn’t – but after my first day in business, he became my biggest supporter, and now he’s a big part of the business. Everybody calls him “the big boss”.
Did you enjoy your stint as a shop girl?
I like selling as much as I like buying actually! A lot of people think buying is the cool part, but it can be stressful.
Have you bought things that don’t sell well?
Of course! It happens with some brands that I buy for Rue Madame that I personally love and they just don’t sell. But whatever, even if it isn’t the most commercial I believe it brings personality to the store.
You have 10 stores open now, with five more planned. Did you expect the success?
I got lucky, frankly speaking. I mean, I work hard, but a lot of people work hard.
That’s too modest. You won a deal to distribute some major brands at the same time you gave birth.
On May 22, 2012, I gave birth to my second daughter; on May 23, 2012, I had the birth of SMCP Group, which is Sandro, Maje and Claudie Pierlot. These two happiest moments in my life were a turning point and it forced me to get into an organised company. From a cute little organisation we moved into a full company.
How did you find out you’d sealed the deal?
I was at the hospital, I’d had a C-Section the day before, and I said, “Wah! Great! Thank you – I gave birth yesterday,” and they said, “Oh, OK, have a rest, we won’t disturb you any more.” Exactly one week later, they had someone in town. I could barely walk!
What’s exciting about fashion now?
New materials, technical materials, and that’s really cool. Fabrics usually used for diving or in other sports, that have come into fashion, and I love it, I totally embrace it.
How do you define Parisian style?
Parisians like fashion. There’s a history of it there you can’t go against, that’s for sure. Now, though, I sometimes think the idea of what’s Parisian is a bit wrong – they’re more casual there now than people think. I like the way that people in Hong Kong dress more sophisticated, more dressed up.
What does great style mean to you personally?
I don’t like conservative fashion. I like to think that everything is possible and you can play around with things. I don’t like “total looks”; I like to mix things up.
Do you still love to shop?
I don’t shop a lot any more, except some brands I personally love. Now I want to open a chocolate shop so I stop buying chocolate – it would be good for my diet! I do love Carven. I have a lot of respect for what they did. I also shop Victoria Beckham. It’s very different, very special. I think she’s amazing in what she does.
Who’s your style icon?
It’s a hard question. I would say Vanessa Paradis. I like her style very much. I like what she is. She takes risks, she can be very bohemian and then very chic and then very cool. She’s been around a very long time but she is still young, still sexy. She doesn’t have a perfect figure, but at the end of the day she’s very beautiful.