An interview with high fashion shop Smets’ buying director Pascaline Smets

Perched in her impossibly high, studded Louboutin platforms and draped in a black Valentino lace top with a short leather skirt, Pascaline Smets is the incarnation of modern day glamour. The chatty, confident and stylish fashion and buying director is the face of SMETS, the company her parents created in Luxembourg and that now boasts a portfolio of more than 20 shops. We caught up with the style heiress to discuss the direction of their Brussels store, living in four different countries at once and the designers who impress her the most.

Do you spend a lot of time in Brussels?

I’m never in the same place for too long. I will spend a few days in London, then head to Paris for work or have meetings in Brussels. When I’m in Luxembourg, I get to stay at home, which is always nice. I get restless if I spend too much time in one city and like being on the move.

How did you end up buying for all SMETS stores?

I’ve followed my mum on buying trips since I was 6 years old. It started with kidswear and I gradually learnt more and more about the business side. Throughout my school years, I used my free days or afternoons to go to buying appointments with her. When my mum celebrated her 50th birthday 4 years ago, circumstances were such that she became highly stressed and I had to step in and take on more responsibilities.

What happened?

We were preparing a surprise party for her and she had been on holiday for a week. She had decided to take more time off that year -which she normally never does – when the buying period was actually starting. It was July and there was a lot of work to be completed. She basically had some sort of stress attack and couldn’t handle it. She cried for an entire afternoon, I had never seen her like that before. It was too much for her. My dad and I talked about it afterwards. He told me that I had to join the company full-time or leave it entirely, as he reckoned it was time for me to decide if I wanted to focus on SMETS or not.

How old were you when this happened?

I was 25. I guess my mother needed a person she could trust and rely on completely, not just someone who would be there when it was convenient for them. I was studying Architectural Engineering at the time, but found it hard to relate to the other students.

What I love about this business is that you get to reconcile creativity with numbers. That’s extraordinary.

Was it obvious for you that you would join the family business at some point?

I guess it was, even though there were aspects of the profession I wasn’t particularly interested in, such as handling staff, for instance. I took a break from fashion to study Marketing and Economics, but I soon realised I couldn’t really live without fashion. What I love about this business is that you get to reconcile creativity with numbers. That’s extraordinary.

Would you say that things evolved in an organic way then?

Yes. Doing the buying felt natural for me. We’re a small company and there’s no emphasis on hierarchy here. When someone new comes in, they have to make their mark and define their role. I guess people create their own function, which is what I did, too. My goal was to bring luxury brands to our stores, not just Tod’s and Prada -which we had already – but other brands I really believed in.

Tell me more about the Brussels store. Is this your first venture outside Luxembourg?

Yes, it is. I wanted to bring a cosmopolitan edge to Brussels. For instance, I love London designers and wanted to bring some of them here. We have Erdem, Manolo Blahnik, Richard Nicoll and Markus Lupfer. These designers were hardly represented in Brussels at all. I wanted to combine fashion, design, furniture and food. I like the idea of these different creative fields interacting together. It’s the synergy of all these talents and disciplines that I’m interested in.

Did you do any market research before coming here?

We commissioned a study from a specialised company, but we didn’t really look at it, to be honest. I think we had made our minds up already. We listen to what our gut feeling tells us, that’s the way it’s always been. I guess the important aspect for me is to be able to share experiences with the public. What I really enjoy about fashion is getting to meet inspiring and creative individuals. It drives me, in a way.

Which designers are you most impressed by? 

Alber Elbaz at Lanvin. He’s incredible. Azzedine Alaïa is fantastic, too, and I love his clothes. They’re sculptural, elegant and sexy. Meeting British artist Julian Opie was a great experience and collaborating with Xavier Lust and Pierre Marcolini was a major highlight. I feel grateful that I get to meet so many talented people.

What is it that motivates you?

The unknown and the unexpected. Every day is completely different and I love not knowing what’s going to happen. Of course, I have a daily schedule and know what meetings I have, but there are surprises each day and I cherish them.