Other than my beloved family and fantastic friends, there are three things I’m totally obsess with; Paris, a good cup of Earl grey tea and the fashion label Rick Owens.
On my very first trip to Paris 5 years ago, I made sure that one of my first stops in the City of Lights would be designer Rick Owens retail shop at the Palais Royal. I was immediately enchanted with the location (the Palais Royal is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen) and the aesthetics of the store, but even more so with Barbara Mariani, Managing partner of designer Rick Owens’s retail shop in Paris.
Barbara is everything I admire about women; beautiful, smart, confident and FUNNY. We immediately connected not only because of her great personality but also because I’m always intrigued when I meet North Americans who have managed to make Paris their permanent home.
An interview with Barbara Mariani, Managing partner Rick Owens store in Paris (France) and part owner the Rick Owens store in London (UK)
Barbara, where did you grow up?
I grew up in Birmingham Michigan. In the heart of the prosperous but suburban bubble that was created when Detroit began its tragic decline.
Where do you currently live?
I have lived Paris for the past 22 years. I moved here definitively with the father of my children upon the birth of our second child in 1990. Until that moment, we had spent three years between apartments in Paris and New York. The monthly commute was glamorous and exciting for the first few years but with the birth of our second, I knew that the gig was up, and that the time had come to settle down and make a choice of lifestyle.
As a young mother, I was tempted to put my career on hold for a while, and with that in mind, Paris was by far more alluring than New York. I thought that by the time my children were old enough to attend school, I would have had the time to perfect my French (which I did).
What was your course academically?
I attended Michigan State University from 1979 – 1983. I was a communications major, and, ( wink ), a sorority girl, ( if you do not know what a sorority is you do NOT want to even Go there) seriously tragic ..
My grades were excellent and I made the dean’s list numerous times, but I wasn’t serious and not at all passionate about communications…
Tell us about your career prior to your current position?
From Michigan State, I jumped head first into the wine business, working first for Four Seasons hotel group, and later for a private company as a consultant. Wine will always be a hobby and a passion for me, but in the 80’s it was still a man’s world and I bowed out when I moved to New York.
My first job in fashion was a fluke. I was offered the job as manager of the first flagship store for Christian de Castelneau on Madison Avenue, and quite quickly, I realized that I had found my element. When I left that store to move to Paris, I still remember the anguish of leaving that thriving business that I had nurtured so painstakingly. When my youngest was 3 , and I could not stand the doldrums of being a housewife and lady who lunched any longer (even as a Parisian ) I accepted a job with a tiny French ready to wear house Chacok, known for fine knitwear and color combinations . I started by managing their most important property on the rue de Grenelle. I was still teething on my French at that point , but I made up for it with my enthusiasm ,and to my great delight , the store just took off. Within the first six months I completely changed the way the buying was handled, hired a new sales staff, and doubled the sales. The company gave me the direction of additional stores and using the same formula I spent 4 years building up their business thought France. I was eventually named Director of International Development and opened a Chacok store in Chicago on Oak street where was a partner, and started projects in San Francisco and St Barts. When my enthusiasm faith retail finally wore thin I accepted a job as commercial director with Pierre Balmain.
How did you meet Rick Owens and how did you establish your business partnership?
I was introduced to Rick and Michele by Armand Hadida; the owner of the legendary chain of multi-brand retail stores in Paris and Asia. Armand was actually on the verge of signing a deal with Rick in Palais Royal and had misgivings at the last moment. I was in his office and he told me that Rick Owens was looking for a retail partner and manager for his first store in Paris, and said that he thought I might be ideal. I met with Michele soon afterwards their home on place Palais Bourbon in Paris, and I will never forget the shivers running down my spine as we started our first conversation. I totally understood this fiery incredible woman, and knew what they were looking for, and I also knew that I could deliver. I didn’t even try to sell myself. Michele saw in me whatever it was that she needed to make up her mind, and she set up a meeting with Rick in Italy for the following week. Rick and I met in Concordia, as he was hovering over a barrel of black dye with what looked like a skull that he was planning to emerge. (True story) I think I was so intimidated and enchanted at the same time that I must have blabbered like an idiot; I honestly think that Rick trusted Michele’s judgment on me because he could not have been too impressed by our first encounter. We signed our agreement a few weeks later and I invested a percentage of the initial capital to become partner.
What does your current position entail?
I am the managing partner of Rick’s Paris Store and also own a percentage of our London store ….which basically entitles me to roll up my sleeves and dive into everything that touches our retail operation.
What were some of the challenges you faced when you decided to open your business?
The ultimate challenge was to INVENT the retail vehicle for Rick’s collection and to get the collection on REAL people…. I knew we would have the fashionistas coming by but they are not always the big spenders, and there were obviously more than a few celebrities who knew and loved Rick’s stuff and I knew they would be like kids in a candy store…. But I needed to establish an elegant, affluent clientele and knew that if I wanted to secure the business I would have to put Rick’s clothing on the social elite of Europe…
When we opened the first store we did not go for a grand opening or press announcements. In fact, in the beginning we had no press of any kind. We finished our very limited build out in 6 weeks, which involved very little paint, acres of cashmere for curtains, and this insanely expensive carpeting (same as The White House) which Rick promptly sprayed with bleach in selected spots to make it more interesting. The collection arrived three days later along with girl genius Elsa Lanso, Rick’s Italian partner and key element in the company’s success. We all merchandised together for the first time. When we finished, Rick turned to me and said, ” soooooooooo what do you think? Should we just open the door?” and I nodded at him with complete confidence we did just that. It was a sweltering day in late July, we did not have air conditioning, and on an impulse I took a door from its hinges and placed it on two artist easels as a makeshift desk upstairs, which actually did the job for almost two years
What is it about your current occupation that you love?
I love it all: Paris, my clientele, and the unimaginable pleasure of working for a true genius who is able to connect with his team and who respects all those who are working with him to get it right.
What inspires you?
My guy, brains, integrity, courage, and talent
What advice would you give someone wanting to change their path?
Make a list of contacts; put it out there by email or Facebook or whatever, and JUST DO IT.