Ingie Chalhoub cemented her status as the Middle East’s first lady of luxury in the 1980s, when she helped open the first Chanel boutique in the region. But while those years may have shaped the entrepreneur’s business acumen and irrefutable flair for fashion, her achievements certainly didn’t peak there. Earlier this year, in Paris, Chalhoub and her husband, Patrick, were presented with the prestigious Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur award (the highest civilian merit in France) to commemorate their commitment to promoting French luxury in France and the Middle East.
“I owe all of my luck, my career and this moment in particular to my parents and the wonderful city of Paris, where I spent my youth admiring the style of the French people, the culture and the wonderful work of the fashion houses,” Chalhoub says of the award. “To have been raised with a world-class French education and surrounded by such a rich tapestry of French couture has played a pivotal role in both my personal and professional life, and has deeply influenced who I am today.”
Chalhoub is currently president and managing director of the Etoile Group, which also introduced brands such as Valentino, Tod’s and Ralph Lauren to the Middle East. But her journey to success was by no means seamless.
The French-Lebanese Chalhoub was born in Egypt and then relocated to Lebanon, but when civil war hit the nation, she moved to Kuwait. She and her mother opened the country’s first Chanel boutique in 1983, which, incidentally, is the same year that Karl Lagerfeld was appointed as the label’s creative director. “I have always had a deep admiration for French couture houses and really wanted to bridge the gap between the Middle East and French fashion,” explains Chalhoub. “It was not an easy process, but Karl Lagerfeld was a visionary, and so the first Chanel boutique arrived.”
However, when the Gulf War began in 1990, Chalhoub’s business took a hit. She and her family relaunched their company in Dubai, and with the support of Françoise Montenay, the then-president of Chanel, a licensing partnership was formed.
She could have stopped there. But in 2005, Chalhoub’s passion for high fashion and dedication to introducing international brands to the region led her to launch Etoile La Boutique – a luxury multibrand shopping destination housing labels such as Tibi, Zac Posen, Temperley London and Alaïa. And in 2009, she launched her own brand. She began by dispersing her creations within Etoile La Boutique, before debuting her label, Ingie Paris. The brand is now recognised for its cocktail dresses, evening gowns, elegant daywear and knitwear, which are all embellished with French-influenced finesse, and resonate with the Middle East’s glamour enthusiasts.
Chalhoub also caters to custom orders. “Luxury is all about uniqueness, and therefore my aim has always been, since I started, to offer unique products and unique experiences to my customers,” says Chalhoub. “That’s what women in this region are seeking, and so I’ve always wanted to propose exclusive items to my clients. We live and interact in such closed social circles, particularly with the power of social media, and we cannot risk having more than one lady wearing the same dress at the same event.”
In September, Chalhoub showcased her spring/summer 2018 collection during Paris Fashion Week. For the coming season, she proposes romantic tailoring, oversized holographic sequins, and dramatically draped gowns in metallic textiles and prints inspired by the Mediterranean. Her style aesthetic is consistently shaped by Parisian and Middle Eastern elements, which is reflective of the dichotomy of her own background.
“The tantalising charm of Parisian ladies combined with their style is something I’ve always loved,” she explains. “Opening my showroom-atelier in Paris was very natural because of my dual French and Lebanese culture – it made sense for me to work with artisans from the Paris haute couture world who represent a ‘made in France’ movement that remains very important in the luxury world.”