In a world where fast fashion often takes the spotlight, Marie France Van Damme stands as a beacon of slow, deliberate artistry. Recently worn by none other than Beyoncé for her iconic Renaissance World Tour, the Hong Kong-based designer fashion brand is entering a new phase of growth. With a newly-opened salon in Paris – strategically nestled among fashion titans like Dior and YSL – and a diverse clientele that includes A-list celebrities, the luxury label, which is best known for its si
its silk caftans and timeless resortwear, is making its presence felt far beyond the Asian market. We spoke with the brand’s namesake designer about her journey from Montreal to the glittering skyline of Hong Kong. The story so far According to Van Damme, the inspiration for opening up the new salon on Rue de Rivoli was the location. “It’s located right in front of les Jardins des Tuileries and just across from the metro. It takes me a few minutes to cross over to the other side – ‘Rive Gauche’ – to le Musée d’Orsay, Café de Flore, Les Deux Magots and more in Saint Germain or walk to Le Bon Marché and La Grande Épicerie in 15 minutes,” she told Inside Retail, referring to some of the city’s iconic hospitality and retail locations. The salon is on the same side of the Seine as her apartment – ‘Rive Droite’ – where she can walk to the Louvre in five minutes, or to Place Vendôme in three minutes. “Not only is it practical for me to walk everywhere, but I am at the epicentre of fashion weeks and couture weeks – that all happens in my neighbourhood. It’s also a great apartment in a fabulous historic building,” she added, referring to the salon. The salon’s lobby and staircase have been redesigned by Jacques Garcia, the designer behind Hotel Costes in Paris and the hotel La Mamounia in Marrakesh, where she also has a store. The Hong Kong connection Born in Montreal, Van Damme moved to Hong Kong in the 1980s to establish her womenswear manufacturing business, and she has worked in the luxury sector for 30 years. “Hong Kong is where we produce our merchandise. It is where I create my collections, where my office and studio are located and most importantly it is my home. Paris is the fashion capital. It is where the entire industry meets a few times a year,” she noted. But when it comes to the ‘fashion scene’, she feels Hong Kong women have always had a great fashion sense and desire to dress well. It is different from Paris, where women embrace more minimalist cues and simple combinations. “Both Hong Kong and Paris are unique cities: women are creative in both cities,” she said. A fusion of elegance and drama Van Damme’s brand has been described as a fusion of understated European elegance and dramatic Asian aesthetics, and she feels this tone and manner is prevalent in all of her collections, as it is part of the brand’s DNA. “It’s the ‘relaxed sophisticated’ lifestyle of the East blended or fused with the everyday life of the West. I did this intricate silk velour coat with embroideries for Fall. The style and its embroideries are very ‘Asian’ in feel. Wear it with your jeans, on the streets of Europe,” she added. Van Damme recently presented her new Spring/Summer 2024 collection by private appointment during Paris Fashion Week, where she met with stylists, editors and buyers. These relationships can lead to make-or-break moments, such as when Beyoncé selected a silver metallic Marie France Van Damme bodysuit to wear for her iconic Renaissance World Tour. “We worked with stylist Shiona Turini whom we’ve known over the years. She reached out to us to discuss dressing opportunities for the tour. The swimsuit or ‘bodysuit’ is exactly what Beyoncé was looking for on the tour. Beyonce is a fan of our brand. She owns several pieces of mine. I am very flattered,” Van Damme revealed. The sophisticated woman The brand’s latest Fall collection is designed for “the sophisticated woman about town”, and Van Damme explained that the line is designed for the busy woman who doesn’t have the luxury of time. “I think of myself and my lifestyle. Always running, if not from the house to the office, or on flights visiting my stores and my teams around the world. Unfortunately, I never seem to have time to go back home or to the hotel to change for an evening out, so I’m always carrying high heel shoes, a big piece of jewellery to transit from day to cocktail,” she noted. The Fall collection has been described as perfect for both city life and resort destinations, as it strikes a balance between versatility and high fashion.“Our proposition is uncomplicated. We are not driven by trends but set our own. The brand is feminine and aspires to women who seek elegance with ease,” she stressed. As an independent, slow-fashion atelier, the brand takes a considered approach to its collections and expansions. “Our fabrics are mostly made of natural fibres. My production is made in-house. We apply just-in-time manufacturing and avoid producing overstock. I encourage our audience to value what they possess. Buy less, wear more,” Van Damme stated. The future In addition to the Paris salon, Marie France Van Damme also has stores in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Thailand, Dubai and Singapore. The brand is also available through global stockists. “We would, however, like to establish a stronger presence in holiday destinations such as St Barth’s in the Caribbean in the winter, Capri, Mykonos and St Tropez in the Mediterranean for the summers. We are also in talks about opening a store in Doha, Qatar,” she revealed. Van Damme said that the brand has a high customer retention rate, and she plans to engage with retail partners to create more personalised brand experiences “I never thought that I would be doing trunk shows in San Diego and Nashville, but that seems to be an effective way of engaging with a new audience. I call it a ‘road show’. I will be on the road for the next few months meeting customers,” she concluded.