Venezuelan-born and internationally-educated, Carmen Busquets is the online luxury fashion supremo who was one of the major founding investors in Net-a-Porter. She was instrumental in its multimillion pound sale. Now the founder of CoutureLab and its more recent offshoot, GiftLab.com, she lives a truly international lifestyle while running and investing in online luxury portals around the globe.
Where do you spend most of your time?
Carmen Busquets: I live in Switzerland and have family homes in Spain, Miami and Paris, but I actually live 8 months of the year in hotels between New York , London and the Caribbean for work.
What's your personal style?
It changes. For work I tend to dress a lot in black. In Miami and the Caribbean, I wear a lot of colours – a more bohemian style. In Spain and Paris I tend to be more eclectic in style; in Switzerland and on the farm it’s more casual.
You started your career with a fashion boutique in Caracas selling couture and luxury brands; and after that success you began your dot com empire investing in companies and becoming a co-founding investor in Net-A-Porter. How did you have such faith in dot com back then, in 1997?
My friends all lived in different cities – in New York, in Paris, Monaco, Bogota and Miami. They all wanted to buy from my boutique where I sourced the most fantastic and hard to find pieces from international designers; from Chanel and Montana to Mugler and Alaïa, Dolce & Gabbana and John Galliano. I had the idea to start allowing them to pre-order from the forthcoming season at the same time as buying from the current season. I would send my clients photos, drawings and explanations via DHL and I would give them the opportunity to pre-order it; even to make changes to colours if they wanted to. “No one else was doing this at the time. I was therefore convinced very early on that consumers would purchase luxury goods by viewing information and images alone from a trustworthy source, this proved an invaluable insight”
How did CoutureLab come about?
I came up with the CoutureLab idea in 2001 when I sold Cabus, my boutique. It wasn’t until 2006 that I launched it as a small showroom and website; I waited until Net-A-Porter grew into a profitable business. As Net-A-Porter grew I had to be more focused on the board, strategies, budgets and operational and legal challenges ... I missed the creative side of the business after all this, and it was time to do something creative again and so I launched CoutureLab. To me it was a small business that could serve as a “laboratory of ideas”. In 2005 I had my business plan and I had investors approaching me to come on board as my partners but I said no, as I did not want to restrict the creativity behind my ideas if they were not profitable. I wanted to create my own journey, a journey to define timeless luxury, where there is always a story to tell that goes beyond fashion and trends, a place I could help artisans, new designers, creative charities and people. Looking back as an “investor” maybe it was a mistake, but as a creative, who has a personal pursuit and passion, it was the best thing I ever did
What’s the difference between GiftLab.com and CoutureLab?
GiftLab.com is more fun, accessible and modern; it’s more of a cross-cultural destination where we have something for everyone, from experiences to charities to gifts. It’s a place where I will define 21st Century luxury through gifting. CoutureLab is a timeless luxury destination and is more about exclusivity, the rare, the unique, the hard to find – there is more craftsmanship involved which makes its selection more expensive.
What have been the success stories behind the designers you have discovered and supported?
Oh, there were many stories! From my store days in the early 90’s in Venezuela where John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Dolce & Gabbana and Alaia started expanding their brands internationally; to new names such as Rick Owens, Jimmy Choo, Tomas Maier and Tomas Maier at Bottega Veneta when we were at Net-A-Porter, to the designers at CoutureLab like Duro Olowu, L’Wren Scott, Christopher Kane, Mary Katrantzou and Marios Schwab. We have launched some amazing jewellery brands at the CoutureLab boutique and then others have followed that I have personally backed myself, including Astley Clarke – an English online jewellery brand. Then there is the sustainability side of CoutureLab and GiftLab.com, like the teddy bears that are created by an association of African women in support of those with AIDS in the region and Mua Mua dolls that are hand-knitted by a group of girls in Bali who are raising money to go to university – there’s such a nice story behind so many of the products and that’s something I’m really passionate about. Bea Valdes is another success story, a young creator who teaches ladies in the Philippines ancient beading techniques. Again, I have personally invested early on in Maiyet, one of the first luxury sustainable clothing brands. I tend to put my money in things I believe in; integrity is important for me – to walk your talk!
What’s a typical day to you and how much time do you devote to business?
Oh my god! I don’t know how many hours! I really love what I do so I don’t see the time I spend in business as a chore- it’s just part of my lifestyle. I do make sure to make time every day to meditate and work out, and be with my friends and family. It’s hard to get ‘me time’, so I have to be stricter with myself when I get tired to ensure that I take myself off to the Caribbean or to my farm in Spain.
Where do you stay when you’re in London?
Lanesborough on Hyde Park Corner, as CoutureLab is just behind it. As I said, I stay in hotels for a large portion of the year. I like to stay at the ones close to my companies, as I hate being stuck in traffic! I used to stay at Claridges; I stayed there for years because at the time CoutureLab was on Davies Street.
Where do you go when you're in London?
I love Scott’s, The Wolseley, 34 and 5 Hertford Street!