General Director, Catherine Denoual Maison, Catherine Denoual: Modesty within elegance

The recent phenomenon “floating cocoon” by Catherine Denoual, founder of the interior design brand Catherine Denoual Maison, is located on the 27th floor of a high-rise building and covered by serene and secluded greenery.

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As the door swung open, and a pleasant breeze rushed out, soothing the scorching April sun and guiding me to the personal realm of a French woman who possess an elegant aesthetic taste and a subtle lifestyle, the peaceful atmosphere could almost be grasped by the hand. Rising from the overall harmony, each ornamental item began to lighten up as soon as I found my seat on the soft leather sofa in the living room that looked out to the Saigon River, arousing the fascination of observation and contemplation.

On the table lay the sculpture of a flock of seagulls that Catherine bought from an antique shop in Paris during a trip, which was made in the 1960s by American artist Curtis Jere; towards the other end of the room was a mallard blue drawer with a silver knob, topped by a sun-shaped 18th-19th century European gold-plated lamp. At the corner of the room, a mint green sofa invited guests to immerse themselves in the endless adventures of reading. The house managed to display the characteristics and beauty that its owner strives for. Indeed, this cocoon of the founder of interior design brand Catherine Denoual Maison attracts visitors not only with an outstanding luxury but rather with an elegant and harmonic beauty.

And so, it was in such a pleasing atmosphere that the conversation between the BusinessWoman Magazine crew and Catherine Denoual took place.NDN_Catherine Denoual_3_resize

Back to the year of 1995, why did you choose Vietnam to settle down for an important stage of your life? And for what reason did you opt for a business in interior design rather than fashion design, which I presume was your expertise?

At the time, I was an editor in the fashion department at Depeche Mode magazine in Paris, and also worked as a freelancer for a number of other publications such as Femme and Air France Madame. My reason to come to Vietnam, in fact, was quite simple. Back then, my husband, a Vietnamese-French, was working as a consultant in business development for French-based companies that wished to expand their market in Vietnam, meaning that he had to travel back and forth constantly, until finally we decided to move here and settle down.

When I first arrived in your country in 1995, I figured that I couldn’t continue my career as a fashion editor simply because there was no fashion magazine here at the time. However, I soon developed an interest in Vietnamese craftsmanship, especially hand-made embroidery. Ideas came to me and gradually piled up until I began to see clearly what I needed to do. With the previous experience in the fashion field, I was quite fascinated when working with cloths, feeling the material with my own hand, picking the color and pattern, all of which further inspired me. Therefore, I decided to nurture my passion and created my own interior decoration brand.

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I soon developed an interest in Vietnamese craftsmanship, especially hand-made embroidery. Ideas came to me and gradually piled up until I began to see clearly what I needed to do…”

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Establishing a business in a foreign country must be quite challenging. How then did your brand Catherine Denoual Maison set out to become a high-end home décor brand with an impressive number of clients from all over the world?

On my arrival in this country, I could feel its vigorous life and surplus potential. There were a lot of young people searching for something to do, and somewhere inside me, I heard an urging voice: “I can trust them. Let us do something together!” At first, I only took small, discrete steps, working with only two tailors and two embroiders to produce a most basic collection in my personal style and introducing it to my friends by inviting them to my home. Eventually, more and more returned, bringing their other friends, and placed my first orders.

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Soon after that, a friend of mine opened a private sales headquarters in Paris and invited a large number of guests, from the press to those working in the fashion field, and even experts. I also participated as a brand representative and fortunately received plenty of positive feedback, which, surprisingly, further increased the number of orders I received. Thereafter, I maintained appearances at important exhibitions and trade shows in interior decoration such as Maison & Objet, through which we found ourselves several new clients from every continent. And after a long period of solely exporting, we finally opened our first shop on Thi Sach Street, District 1, HCMC in 2006. I am pleased by the fact that while our manufacturing facility has been expanded several times its original size, those employees who joined me from the first days still remain here today, after 18 years of commitment.

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“I don’t follow any specific fashion style. I just wear whatever I’m comfortable with and that spells out my personality.”

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Could you share with us a bit about Catherine Denoual Maison, your brainchild? What wonder do your interior fashion products bring about and which aspect of your personality do they reflect?

Everything I create comes from who I am; my personality, something harmonic & balanced. For me, everything that can be seen by the eye matters, and so are the details. They have to display true beauty while not over-expressing or standing out, for I adore elegance, subtlety and modesty. These little details may not be eye-catching, but when they are where they are, they add to the perfection of the overview. The element of touch is also highly regarded, as I want to create a feeling of comfort right from the sense of touch. Therefore, I’ve done a lot of research into cloth materials before discovering the most wonderful one that I still use today, Egyptian cotton, an ideal material that brings about a comfortable feeling, not only to the touch but its look.

Starting off as a fashion editor for a magazine in Paris, which fashion style do you prefer these days?

To be honest, unlike most people, I don’t follow any specific fashion style. I just wear whatever I’m comfortable with and that spells out my personality. I most enjoy the casual chic style, you know, combining a pair of jeans with a chemise or T-shirt, along with a jacket and a pair of high heels, walking down the street with confidence. That’s actually one of the sets of clothing I often wear when going out. (Grinning)

In order to define a personal dressing style, in your opinion, what are the three golden rules that women, especially businesswomen ought to keep in mind?

I don’t believe there are any fixed rules for dressing. And why should there be any rules for ladies, right? Each girl possesses a different figure, hair color and facial structure, not to mention their various personalities and preferences. Therefore, if rules had to be followed in order to define a style, I don’t think you would be happy when choosing your clothes.

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“Each girl possesses a different figure, hair color and facial structure, not to mention their various personalities and preferences. Therefore, if rules had to be followed in order to define a style, I don’t think you would be happy when choosing your clothes.”

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In my opinion, we can just go with whatever fits our body and creates a sense of comfort because only with comfort can you be confident. We have to admit that the wardrobe is also a means of communication. Everything from clothes, hairstyle and make-up reflects a lady’s personality and distinction from others. Above all, once you’re aware of who you are, you will know how to dress yourself up, and stop wondering about what style others say you should follow. It may be in the trend, but if it’s not suitable for you, you might look quite ridiculous in it.

There’s a saying by Meryl Streep that I particularly enjoy when talking about inspiration for women: “I think the best role models for women are people who are fruitfully and confidently themselves, who bring light into the world.” This, I believe, can give you some positive thoughts in both your life and dressing style.

As far as I know, there is always a “treasure” in each Frenchwoman’s wardrobe, be it a leather handbag inherited from their mother or an all-purpose jacket. So how about your “treasure”?

A cashmere scarf that I always keep by my side when traveling. It’s light, compact and soft but very warm to wear. And more importantly, it goes with almost all kinds of clothes.          

Creative Director: HIEPLEDUC – Text: DiDi – Translated by Hòa Tôn – Photo: Hoàng Vũ

Exclusive interview & photos by Businesswoman Magazine

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Quote:

“For me, everything that can be seen by the eye matters, and so are the details. They have to display true beauty while not over-expressing or standing out, for I adore elegance, subtlety and modesty.”