By Lubna Hamdan
The name behind one of the first affordable luxury womenswear brands talks longevity, signature designs, challenges, competitors and what it takes to run a global luxury fashion brand
About 30 years ago, Serge Cajfinger was so inspired by former US First Lady Jacki Kennedy’s elegant style and French designer Yves Saint Laurent’s creative works, he decided to start his own luxury women’s fashion brand in Paris. But Cajfinger’s idea was a tad different than the rest – it was affordable. Cajfinger’s ide – today known as Paule Ka – is now among the world’s most internationally successful fashion houses, operating 60 stores and 300 points of sale around the globe.
We sit with Paule Ka’s current CEO Catherine Vautrin, former CEO of high-end Italian fashion brand Emilio Pucci, to talk ever-lasting trends, present-day challenges, and recipes for success.
The Paule Ka brand has been around for decades. How does it stay relevant?
Paule Ka has remained synonymous with Parisian elegance for almost 30 years. It is a symbol of the allure of Parisians who effortlessly combine elegance and femininity while adding their personal touch. They know what suits them rather than depending on fashion dos and don’ts. Paule Ka's creative teams are constantly offering fresh interpretations of that elegance.
What are some of Paule Ka’s signature design elements which have remained with the brand since its inception?
Over the years, Paule Ka has developed iconic styles such as the draped fitted dress, the trapeze dress, the cardigan with feminine details and its famous bow.
Other design elements such as graphic lines, block colours and black and white designs have also become core design features of Paule Ka and part of its brand identity.
What are some of the toughest challenges that Paule Ka has come across in the past year?
Paule Ka, like many of its competitors, has faced the challenges of a difficult European market, a slowing Chinese world, and more recently the negative impact on international visitors of the dramatic events in Paris. This environment has of course affected revenues in Europe. However, it has been compensated by significant growth in the Middle East, USA, and mainland China.
Which markets by country do you consider as the most significant to the brand?
Paule Ka has been historically rooted in Europe and Japan and these markets remain central to the brand today. [However], in the past three years, the Middle Eastern market has developed rapidly, together with USA and China.
Which brands are Paule Ka’s biggest competitors?
[Our brand] is synonymous with accessible luxury, more sophisticated and qualitative than "contemporary" brands and less expensive and extreme in its design than luxury brands.
Its competitive environment is varied with names such as Red Valentino, Max Mara Studio and Armani Collezioni.
Can you describe the average Paule Ka customer?
The Paule Ka woman is a woman for whom femininity means elegance and a rewarding pleasurable feeling that is also a form of empowerment in her professional life. She is an active women who enjoys beautiful outfits and loves fashion when expressed in beautiful and well-cut clothes.
What does it take to run a global luxury fashion brand?
[It] takes passion, a genuine interest for fashion and the international fashion scene, respect for creative talents, understanding and liaising with your customers in this digital age.
What advice do you have for young women who aspire to become successful businesswomen like yourself?
Should I be giving advice in a world where professional skills are evolving so quickly? [There are] no sure recipes, but [I say] choose the right projects and leaders to start with, be dedicated, focused and result-driven. And go for it.