Ariane Zagury worked in investment banking in Paris and London until she moved to Hong Kong where, upon seeing a lack of variety in designer brands for women’s fashion, she founded rue Madame, utilising her family’s roots as textile retailers back in France to create a unique concept store.
Founded in 2010, rue Madame focused on providing stylish and wearable pieces at reasonable prices for its clientele. Combined with Zagury’s unrelenting attention to detail and her charisma, she quickly became the trusted fashion advisor for many in Hong Kong. She’s credited for building and developing the stand-alone shops for American Vintage, Phase Eight, as well as bringing in now well-beloved brands to Hong Kong like Sweaty Betty and Whistles.
Zagury’s influence has no doubt helped shaped the city’s fashion scene, and last year, she spoke at the Fashion Asia Hong Kong conference on the challenges of pivoting fashion retail. We recently caught up with Zagury to see what grand plans she has for 2021, changing consumer habits amid the pandemic and her style tips for the coming summer.
What led you to start rue Madame and what did you think was lacking in the fast fashion scene when you arrive in HK?
When I first arrived in Hong Kong in 2010, I absolutely loved the sense of fashion from the people but I felt that they were lacking affordable fashion choices that fall between luxury and high street. There are a lot of great brands in Europe doing this so I decided to make it my mission to bring this idea to Hong Kong. Step by step I built the group to what is today-Rue Madame Fashion Group (RMFG). We are dedicated to bringing contemporary and premium fashion labels including American Vintage, Hobbs, Phase Eight and Whistles as well as women’s active wear brand Sweaty Betty from Europe to Asia. As of 2021, the group operates 40 physical stores across Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore and online platform with our own website and TMALL available worldwide.
Fashion retail has in the last few years very rapidly embraced e-commerce, what is rue Madame’s approach to this as a concept store?
Rue Madame has expanded into the online market since 2015, it has become a big part of our strategy ever since. We don’t see the business as an online business opposite to an offline business, we really see it as an Omnichannel experience and we definitely see that a lot of our clients are being channel-agnostic, which means that they will shop both online and offline. In Hong Kong we still see a shopping trend where people will browse what is available and new on our website and then come to try on in-store, it is very important from that perspective. We keep on improving our e-commerce resources and we keep on evolving, e-platform is such a great way to showcase our product variety in a visually pleasing and curated way. Apart from Hong Kong, our Singapore based e-commerce market is growing rapidly and plays a huge part in our e-commerce development.
What are the criteria or commonalities that the brand you bring into the region have?
Our group can be split into two branches, one is a multi-label concept store called rue Madame where we work with brands that we really feel bring something different and fresh to the Hong Kong market, that makes our customers feel and look their best and have values and practices that we can be proud of. The other one is a distribution business, where we really look for brands that again, bring something unique and special to Hong Kong, we also look for strong management teams that we can work alongside to help us to grow the brand to its full potential.
What do you personally look for in a brand as a customers?
My style is very bohemian and casual, I love combining unique statement items with classic staple pieces. I always try to buy consciously and I have so many pieces in my wardrobe that I would keep forever. I have countless white shirts and khaki jackets and pants, I like to mix and match with beautiful leather or signature items to create a look that is casual, comfortable but also stands out.
Has the pandemic shifted your priorities in business and your personal life?
I am very grateful because during the pandemic I think the biggest issue has been not being able to meet the people that you love and luckily my mom has been here in Hong Kong. For me, what matters to me most is being unified and together. I must say I miss my siblings a lot, I haven’t seen them for 18 months, family always comes first and they are my priority. I am also really grateful that I have four kids. The situation is what it is, but whenever I get back home it’s always fun and my four kids give me joy. As a businesswoman, my priority has and continues to be to protect my team and my business. It has always been the case, we need business to be profitable, I’m glad that it is always something we look at and fight for. In order to go through the crisis, it is important to deal with financial issues.
Do you think the way people shop has changed for good?
Consumer spending and shopping habits are constantly evolving and unpredictable but I am well prepared for every situation.
What is the most exciting thing about rue Madame this year?
In regard to the whole rue Madame Fashion Group, introducing Sweaty Betty to the group has been a very exciting project for us. The community that we have built is very broad, we have been working on a lot of features such as doing three online Zoom classes per week, this is an effective way for us to gather the community around and to increase the awareness among the lecturers/public about the brand. I am also excited for the growth of our whole Rue Madame Fashion Group. For the past 10 years, I have been strategically focusing on the local market and to expand our loyal clientele.
What trend are you looking forward to for summer 2021?
In 2021, after a long period of lockdown, I believe people are eager to go out. They would want to look good when out but at the same time, they have been used to the comfy kind of style. Therefore, I think summer collection 2021 will be a good mix between the two, extremely fashionable and comfortable. Nowadays people are gradually leaning towards natural fabrics such as linen, nice cotton and also supporting brands that are sustainable and eco-friendly. “Go green” will be an upcoming trend that is incredibly important for the whole fashion industry.
What are the three key fashion accessories you can’t live without?
In terms of shoes, Veja sneakers and Arizona Love sandals are something that I can’t live without. Veja sneakers, I can basically wear with everything. I truly respect the standards of their work, I am amazed by how a French company can build an eco-friendly brand that is now worn and loved all over the world. Arizona Love sandals have been really hot since last summer, their designs are very trendy.
When it comes to bag selection, The Jacksons will be my go-to brand throughout summer, their bags are sustainable, fun and fashionable which to me are extremely important.
Last but not least, for accessories, I am in love with Alix D Reynis- a new brand from rue Madame. Their bracelets and rings are all very delicate, their designs nearly look like golden lace and is an affordable custom jewellery brand. Pair them with a double-layered necklace by Gas Bijoux for an elegant yet edgy look.