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Marie France Van Damme

Simple Sophistication

Marie France Van Damme 1

Not constrained by the fast pace of fashion seasons, Marie France Van Damme fuses understated European elegance with dramatic Asian aesthetics to create a distinctly unique collection. In this interview, we spend some time with company Founder Marie France to discuss the growth of the business since its inception in 2011 and what its next moves are.

Having been in fashion since the early 80s, Marie France established her manufacturing company in Hong Kong back in 1984, designing, developing and manufacturing collections for French, British and American retailers.

This was the foundation of the Marie France Van Damme brand, which began as a resort collection that Marie France started ‘for fun’, where she designed a chic wardrobe for her vacation needs. In time this collection began to draw attention from the likes of Harrods and Bergdorf Goodman.

Marie France Van Damme 2
Beverly Hills, US

“Being backed by major luxury department stores, I had the confidence a year later to approach ifc mall in Hong Kong for my first standalone store which they gave me and is still in full operation. Just last month we celebrated 10 years since our opening in ifc,” explains company Founder Marie France.

“I design uncomplicated pieces that are easy to ‘throw on’. What you wear should give you glamour without the fuss and bother. It is a collection that takes you from day to night, city to resort and cocktails to dinner with ease and elegance.”

Marie France Van Damme 3
Bangkok, Thailand

Operating out of nine global stores in iconic locations such as Bangkok, California, Dubai, Florida, Hong Kong, Marrakech, Phuket and Singapore, the business has very high customer retention. People who discover and buy the brand instantly become fans of the brand. The company strategy is to engage with their retail partners around the world to create personalised brand experiences that they can share with their audience.

The founder certainly never thought she would be doing trunk shows in San Diego and Nashville, but it has become apparent it is an effective way of engaging with a new audience and this is what the next few months has in store for the founder as she goes on the road to meet customers.

“We are currently exposed to a wide market with our existing retail and wholesale outreach and while we may not have a presence in Mainland China, our Chinese customers buy us in Hong Kong while Dubai highlights us to the rest of the Middle East, as Singapore does to Malaysia and Indonesia. Meanwhile our presence at Le Bon Marche in Paris means we have a global beacon,” Marie France comments.

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Moving forward, the company is looking to establish a stronger presence in holiday destinations such as St Barth’s in the Caribbean in the winter and the Mediterranean for the summers. They are also in talks about a possible new store in Doha, Qatar.

Having her atelier in-house, Marie France is in the fortunate position of being able to make new garments and experiment with ideas day in and day out to assist in maintaining her market position. This also allows her to be very reactive, in just a few hours an idea can be become a wonderful garment and then that garment can even be in-store the very next day. She explains to us that if she feels something is missing from her wardrobe, then it may also be missing from her customers wardrobes as well.

As the discussion turns to ‘brand experience’, we ask Marie France how the business engages with its customer base?

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“We have many different ways of engaging with our customers. I for one invite Hong Kong VIPs to my atelier in Kwun Tong as not many people have the opportunity to see how my collections and designs are put together. We have tea; talk about life, talk about fashion and my customers enjoy trying on all the clothes.”

While the brand cannot complete with super brands and they do not have the budgets of the LVMH and Kering’s of this world to curate experiences that everyone raves about, it is instead small touches like this that keep the brand in the thoughts of its customers.

While social media is a major outlet for many companies around the world, it is quite refreshing when Marie France explains that she feels this medium does not play a pivotal role in her business. While Marie France Van Damme may not be a trendy brand, many people instead refer to it as quiet luxury or a ‘niche brand’, which itself happens to be a trend of its own right now.

“Our social media strategy is to have a platform where we can communicate effectively with our audience on the aesthetics and brand values. We are currently producing more content catered for social media to immerse the audience into what happens behind the scenes,” she highlights.

Marie France Van Damme 6
Beverly Hills, US

With sustainability playing a more important role in retail than ever before, the company plays its part in this environment by making sure their fabrics are made mostly of natural fibres and that production is in-house, applying a just in time manufacturing strategy to avoid producing additional and unnecessary stock. The founder also encourages her audience to value what they possess and to buy less and wear more.

As the interview draws to a close, we discuss the key drivers behind the success of the company; Marie France explains that they are a small family business with a distinctive aesthetic. They are not a corporation driven by shareholder value, their proposition is uncomplicated and it is fashion made with integrity. It is not driven by trend, instead it sets its own trends and the brand is feminine and aspires to women who seek elegance with ease.

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