Maria Luisa Poumaillou has gone from owning one of the most influential fashion boutiques in Paris to transforming venerable department store Printemps into a serious fashion destination, along the way enabling the careers of some of the greatest names in fashion. Now she is on her way to conquer the Chinese market with a slew of new stores and her own fashion brand.
Born in Venezuela, Maria Luisa grew up attending Saint Laurent couture shows — her mother was a client — and she got married to her first husband in a dress custom-made by Pierre Balmain, a friend of the family. Maria Luisa, as she is universally known, first made her name 25 years ago, when she launched one the most important fashion boutiques in the world (eponymously named Maria Luisa) on the Rue Cambon in Paris. This was later followed by several offshoots around Paris.
The owner pioneered the high-low mix that is the norm today and was often at hand, helping her customers select among the pieces she had curated from both established designers and young unknown talents. And for a time in the 1990s, Maria Luisa was one of the few places where one could find the designs of Jean Paul Gaultier and Helmut Lang. Unsurprisingly, the original Rue Cambon boutique became a destination for fashion pilgrims from around the world.
The store thrived from the mid- to late 1990s. But Maria Luisa always ran it instinctively, without much of a business plan, and as the rise of the large luxury groups began to reshape the dynamics of the retail landscape, Maria Luisa realised it would soon become very difficult to survive as an independent retailer. Luckily, a new employer soon came calling: historic department store Printemps.
Her role at the department store entails a number of functions. She continues to run and stock a boutique, the Maria Luisa shop-in-shop on the second floor of Printemps Haussmann. But, additionally, in her role as fashion editor for the store at large, Maria Luisa works closely in a consulting capacity with Printemps’ marketing and press department and advises the store’s fashion department on buying and merchandising decisions.
Today, Maria Luisa’s sphere of influence extends even further: from the Internet, where she has a shop-in-shop on the website The Corner, to China, where, in partnership with the Hong Kong-based Mazly Fashion Group, she is set to open up to 40 stores with the Maria Luisa name over the next few years.
Alongside high-end stores in major cities like Shanghai, Maria Luisa boutiques with a more accessibly-priced mix of brands are planned for China’s second- and third-tier cities. What’s more, also in partnership with Mazly, Marisa Luisa is developing her own clothing brand.