International Francophonie (French language) Day is the perfect opportunity to trace the history of the entry of major French brands into the Gulf market and the Middle East in general, and their continued success ever since. This thread invariably leads us to Ingie Chalhoub, founder of the Étoile group, a visionary and hard worker, who notably introduced Made in France luxury into the Arab landscape and accompanied the revival of Chanel, under the artistic direction of Karl Lagerfeld and his first muse, Inès de la Fressange.


“My mother was into fashion long before me. She has always been my role model, my inspiration,” says Ingie Chalhoub. A savvy businesswoman, solidly organized, who’s an artist at heart, Chalhoub forged a career by being fighter. When she was studying in France, her family was based in Kuwait where her mother opened a luxury children’s clothing store. Her father, an engineer, traveled around the world following his projects. She would have liked to have been an artist, to continue painting, drawing, creating tapestries and dresses for her dolls, as she did under the watchful eye of her mother, winning first place in a drawing competition at school. But paternal rigor decided otherwise.

Ingie Chalhoub obtained her degree in marketing and management at the Sorbonne, without ever abandoning her passion for beauty, which would later make her a pillar of support for museums and exhibitions. At the end of this exclusively Parisian period, she finally wanted to immerse herself in the family cocoon, and above all, to join her mother and assist with a multitude of ideas to develop her business, in particular her dream of embarking on the representation of major French brands in Kuwait, it was her way of satisfying herself as an aesthete.

Shops like at home”

“I already had excellent relations with the house of Chanel, in full revival under the artistic direction of Karl Lagerfeld, with Inès de La Fressange, who embodied its image so perfectly. Chanel was known, in the Arab market, only for its perfumes. I thus launched with my mother the first Chanel couture boutique in Kuwait, with a fashion show in the presence of Inès”. Mother and daughter worked alone. At that time, they did not even have any employees. Chalhoub knew her customers’ expectations. She was the first to design her shop to feel like a home, where friends would join for coffee. She had a comfortable living room set up, and customers just had to push the door open to treat themselves to a moment of relaxation and discovery.

Chalhoub has plenty of stories to tell about her precious items, whose price was prohibitive, and justified by countless hours of research and manufacturing, not to mention a rare know-how. Her success was such that she developed in parallel, while still in Kuwait, a first multi-brand store under the Étoile brand, where the collections of Dior, Alaïa, Lacroix or Kenzo rubbed shoulders. Straddling Kuwait and Paris, multiplying the round trips, she became interested in new talents, in particular Jean-Claude Montana, whom she helped to launch in a market that she now dominated. She was also the first to introduce Valentino to the Middle East and maintained a privileged relationship with the house. Her offerings were meticulously curated for her customers and she convinced designers to create specific pieces for her clientele to add to their collections.

A new culture of excellence

The first Gulf War broke out and everything was put on hold. The war ended in 1991, and life was slow to resume. In 1993, Chalhoub’s mother bravely returned to Kuwait City, still suffocated by the smoke of the burning oil wells. She re-launched her shop. Meanwhile, Chalhoub was in Dubai exploring the market. “The only prestigious French brand you could find in Dubai at that time was Cartier,” she points out, adding that the luxury market was mainly represented by Italian brands, “big brands, but classified as “affordable luxury”.” She saw the possibility of bringing to these booming countries a new culture of excellence and exclusivity.

Made in France was then perceived as out of reach, symbolized by haute couture”, explains Chalhoub, who was by this time married to Patrick Chalhoub, co-president of the family group who dominates the Gulf luxury market. With her dual Arab-Levantine and French culture, Ingie Chalhoub will play a quasi-diplomatic role in the introduction of Made in France into a market that was not yet ready. Later, in 2009, this tireless entrepreneur, who still wanted to give her talent a chance to flourish, launched her eponymous brand in 2009, which quickly won its place on the red carpets and runways of Paris fashion weeks.

The Légion d’Honneur for a power couple

Ingie Chalhoub opened the first Chanel boutique in Dubai, as well as the first Chanel high jewelry boutique. “Bernadette Chirac and Nazek Hariri were present on the day of the inauguration,” she says. The sequel is a series of successes, from the Emirates to Saudi Arabia, which earned her, in March 2018, along with her husband, the Légion d’Honneur with the rank of Knight.

During the ceremony, held at the Quai d’Orsay, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, underlined in his speech that the last time this distinction was awarded to a couple took place more than 150 years ago, and the recipients were… Pierre and Marie Curie! Together, Ingie and Patrick Chalhoub will contribute to the rise, through luxury, of the interest in French culture throughout the Gulf region.