It's never too late to reinvent yourself, branch out, explore new paths and make your own way... if you have the audacity. Isabelle Lovisi-Bruere left her comfortable job at an international communications agency in Shanghai to set up her own bags and accessories brand. Women in Shanghai are already crazy about her bags, clutches and bangles that dress up an outfit in no time. Today, Maison Germaine is coming to France, honoring the know-how of Chinese craftsmanship. Meet a passionate designer and adventurer, for whom design is not accessory.
Isabelle grew up in Menton, situated on the Mediterranean coast between Monaco and Italy. Her father's Italian family settled there when he was a teenager. I'm a child of two cultures, which I believe shapes a broader state of mind. Menton’s history is closely linked to that of Italy. Isabelle spent a lot of her time with her beloved grandmother, Germaine, sharing her love of reading and traveling, discovering other horizons. It was a serene childhood by the sea. She went to Saint-Maure Boarding School on the Rock of Monaco. In this international environment she made friends with students whose families came from all over the world. I have a soul of a traveller and have always been attracted to elsewhere, especially exotic places. This is perhaps the common thread throughout her career; that and her determined character. Isabelle was the eldest of four children and the only girl. I grew up amongst boys, I don’t frighten easily. Soon she decides that her driving force will be her independence..
A job to travel
Isabelle studied finance in Nice, a bit by default. This choice of studies turned out well as it opened the door to her first job and first big step abroad with the financial auditing firm Ernst & Young in Gabon. This was culturally-speaking love at first sight. As soon as I set foot in Gabon, I felt at home. This first encounter with Africa leaves a lasting impression; deeply rooted within me is a taste for diversity and eclectics; meeting new people from different cultures. Africa will be a source of inspiration in her future creations. Isabelle enjoys life as a young expatriate in a country that never ceases to amaze her. Some time later, her path crosses that of a family-run business in the gaming industry and with it a new opportunity. Not one to rest on her laurels, she readily joins them as administrative and financial director, dividing her time between Gabon and Cameroon for the next five years. At this point in her career Isabelle decides to return to Paris, a choice that proves disap-pointing. Finding a job was not the problem; simply the spark was gone. Having relished working with charismatic and atypical people, she found her subsequent posts in auditing, then advertising & communications somewhat lacklustre. She only had one thing in mind, to move on. So, when in 2011 her husband announced that he had been offered a job in Shanghai, she was the first to get excited.
Isabelle was immediately smitten with Shanghai. Already the mother of a 2-year-old girl, she gave birth to her second daughter. She quickly felt the need to study Chinese intensively in order to understand her surroundings and interact with people. There is a euphoric side to learning; it is fascinating. Writing reveals a lot about Chinese culture. Within a few months Isabelle was reading Chinese and making herself understood. It was time to find a job. Isabelle's life is punctuated by decisive encounters; this time it was Fred Raillard, co-founder of the Fred & Farid agency, an independent communications group. The agency had just arrived in Shanghai to develop the Chinese market. This was, professionally-speaking, love at first sight. Fred's charisma, open-mindedness and ebul-lient energy corresponded to her adventurous spirit and she comes on board. The team was small; everything had to be created. As financial director, she was also in charge of structuring the agency, human relations, legal affairs, and the recruitment of new staff. We were in start-up mode. I had a ball! The agency grew rapidly. In 2017 Fred Raillard leaves for Los Angeles to open a new agency. This was a blow for Isabelle. I loved working with him.
Passion for textiles
For some time, Isabelle had started a new extra activity, thanks to an encounter with Muriel, a household linen designer in Shanghai. Muriel was leaving China and was looking for someone to take over her sewing workshop and business. Isabelle joined forces along with four friends to take over the running of Muriel’s business, in addition to their own respective activities. Little by little, Isabelle develops a passion for fabrics. I go to markets and that's where it all started; the profusion of silks, leathers, materials, I imagine the associations. Let's not forget that China is where silk originated and that Shanghai has long been one of the main centres of world textile production. The Shanghai fabric market is huge; spread over three floors. I can spend hours in this market. I like going alone, I feel content there, it's a moment of plenitude. I have a fusional relationship with the fabrics, I need to touch them and talk to the sellers. This time it’s a creative love at first sight. Isabelle starts to design a range of bags and clutches, which become a rapid success. What started as a hobby becomes more and more time-consuming, particularly as her partners decide to move on. Isabelle finds herself with stacks of fabrics and ideas in her spare room at home. Meanwhile, a trusting relationship develops with the studio’s tailor, Quifeng Shuai. Seeing his talent, she sweeps him along in her wake as he accepts the transition from household linen to accessories. It’s a complementary relationship, a story of creativity and mutual understanding. Soon Quifeng Shuai is working exclusively for Isabelle and it's time to really get down to business...
The adventure begins
Giving up her comfortable position at Fred & Farid to devote herself entirely to her new passion is not an easy task for a fiercely independent woman. Admittedly, her job at the agency is well oiled at this stage, which means it has also become less exciting. I like to be part of an adventure, to build, like in my early days in Africa. She takes the time to reflect, makes her decision with the support of her husband; finds a premises in just one day and has it renovated. In September 2019 Maison Mumu opens and success is quick to follow. I produce a lot, around 30 models in the showroom, each one is limited to 10-20 copies. Everything happens organically, as we grow and evolve and as I discover other workshops. I’ve started to design and create leather bangles thanks to a saddler whose leather miniatures I discovered by chance in the window of another market.
A signature style
Isabelle's style is hard to fit into one category, and there lies her secret. She never consults trend files or magazines and only produces what she likes. I need this freedom; the en-counter with a fabric, the mood of the moment, the inspiration of a walk or a colour. She mixes colours and fabrics with brio, constantly inventing new shapes and making new associations, a little je-ne-sais-quoi that belongs only to her. Ever present in her work are the ethnic patterns that continue to inspire her, a continued tribute to her numerous travels. Each piece exudes chic creativity, ready for the wearer to embrace in their personal style.
I have eclectic tastes, a broad palette that appeals to a wide range of people. My clients all share the desire for a touch of originality, to break away from conformism. Favouring quality over quantity; each series is limited and handmade. That is what makes the difference.
I have found craftsmen who have genuine know-how, plus a concern for detail and beauty, it is not an assembly line production.
Beyond the Boarders
The expansion of the brand takes on a new dimension with the arrival of Aude Beckers who becomes a partner of Maison Mumu. She brings her business experience in commercial and digital strategy, after a career in high-end jewellery. Aude, who grew up in Asia, understands the world of retail. With her help, Maison Mumu is now expanding with multi-brand boutiques in the megacity, on Chinese platforms seeking out foreign designers and influencers throughout China. At this point the team is expanding to include a full-time showroom staff member and is looking to partner with new workshops. Isabelle feels the need to open up to the outside world and to get closer to France. The launch of the website brings the creations within reach of customers from all over the world, including the original customers who no longer live in Shanghai. Soon the brand will be available in Paris, in pop-up stores or via partnerships with boutiques in the capital. Our plan then is to develop in other European and international cities such as Zurich, New York...
This strategic moment is also the opportunity for Isabelle to rethink the name of her brand and pay tribute to her grandmother Germaine. Germaine was romanesque, open to the world and always chic. She loved beautiful things and her vision is very important to me. In my collections, we find the combination of elegance, frivolity, strength and humour that characterised her. It is now time for Isabelle to build a bridge between the two countries that mean so much to her. She recognises the incredible energy of the Chinese people, entrepreneurs at heart. Also, the dynamics of the megacity of Shangai, where nothing ever stops. Both have contributed to her success. Shanghai helped me to create, I couldn't ha-ve done it anywhere else. This is where everything is possible. Maison Germaine is the story of a little girl from Menton, the pearl of France, who found her vocation in Shanghai, pearl of the Orient. Without a doubt, the adventure is not over. It's not only about strategy, you have to follow your heart, this pearl of a girl concludes.
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traduction Nessa McDermott