By: Verne Maree (photography by Ken Tan)
Fancy stepping out onto your 36th-floor terrace and sinking into your private lap pool? Sun-loving French celebrity stylist Ines Ligron shows Verne Maree her fabulous penthouse in Sinaran Drive.
As the elevator opens directly into a private lobby guarded by two life-size terracotta warrior-style sculptures, I’m struck by two things. First, an enviable collection of designer footwear displayed on silver shelves. It includes at least 16 pairs of women’s boots, and an assembly of staggeringly high platform heels arranged like objets d’art. Their loftiness is explained when petite Ines comes out barefoot to welcome me, takes one look at my height and darts off to find sandals to match her lace dress.
Second is a cowhide-covered desk that features prominently, rather than being hidden away in a corner or a back room. It’s Ines’s own desk, and its placement reflects the centrality of work to this dynamic woman. “All my houses are like this,” she explains. “I work all the time, but having a desk in the middle of things means I can be with and remain accessible to my family.”
In fact, she says, when they arrived here at the beginning of 2010, she and her husband Kenneth had no intention of working.
“As we’d both been working extremely hard for years before we sold our businesses in Tokyo, this seemed a good time to take it easy for a while, to do some leisure travelling, especially around Southeast Asia, and to spend more time with the kids.” Luca (13) is at the Singapore American School, and Noa (14) is at SAIS.
“But that’s not how it worked out – we’re both working again!”
How did you come to own this dream penthouse?
Our first Singapore home was a big rental penthouse near the Polo Club – which I liked because I’m a horse freak! – but it was an expensive disaster. The landlord would not pay for anything, even for necessary lighting, and I was not prepared to spend my own money on fittings and décor that I’d eventually have to remove at my own expense.
That’s why we decided to buy our own place. We looked only at penthouses, and we signed the offer on this one in Soleil the same day we saw it. One of the best things is the private pool: I love being able to drop my clothes and swim naked, it’s like paradise.
Throughout our marriage, we’ve always believed in stretching ourselves, and that has paid off well over the years; but I suppose that this major investment also encouraged me to embark on a new business here.
Tell us how you went about furnishing and decorating it.
I chose everything myself. My husband does sometimes wonder out loud why we can’t have two walls of the same colour in one room!
We have three homes, now – one that we built in Tokyo in 2006, and another in the south of France, plus this one – and I tend to swap the furniture around between them. These modular sofas were bought for our Tokyo house, for example; but we shipped them here along with the desk and a number of other items.
The four colourful boxes and the dark red Chinese wedding cabinet come from a shop in Holland Village that has since closed down, and we bought the deep teal wedding cabinet while we were living in Hong Kong. Actually, we have a third wedding cabinet that I sent to France – three was just too much!
What is your background?
Though I was born in Paris, my parents moved to Montpelier in the south of France when I was eight years old. So there are two sides to me: one is the country girl playing on the beach and riding horses, and the other is the city girl who always felt strongly that she should have grown up in Paris.
My parents bought the franchise for an Yves Rocher shop in Montpelier for me, and by the age of 25 I had my own successful business with five employees. But I hankered after a more glamorous life, so I closed that chapter and took an opportunity to head up a big spa in Spain. After that came a role that required me to travel to South America and then also to Asia and Australia; speaking both English and Spanish gave me an edge. I found that I loved travelling, and wanted to be on the plane all the time.
I met Ken in Hong Kong in 1994, 20 years ago, where he worked for IMG in licensing. It was love at first sight for both of us. He is half-Japanese, half Jewish-American on his dad’s side, and was born and raised in Hawaii. I joined him in Hong Kong when I was offered a role at IMG Models, representing icons such as Tyra Banks and Heidi Klum. Ken and I got married in Hawaii, and it was a blast for five years. Then, when the Hong Kong handover came in 1997, Donald Trump – who had bought the Miss Universe Japan franchise – asked me to go to Tokyo to manage the business there. So we both moved to Tokyo; Kenneth got a transfer with IMG.
The Miss Universe franchise became so successful that after just ten years, Miss Japan won the Miss Universe title in 2007. I became an instant sensation: everyone wanted to know about this French woman who had helped make it happen. Books, DVDs, TV contracts and fame followed, and my life became super-hectic for a number of years.
How did you make it happen?
Though I was supposed to be doing just licensing, sponsorships, TV rights and so on, I became involved in personally mentoring and training these young women. Through my backstage work with supermodels, I knew what a girl had to do to stand out from a group where everyone has long legs, pretty faces and that model look.
The main difference between a Miss Universe and a supermodel is that a supermodel doesn’t have to be curvy. But what makes a girl unique, what makes her a supermodel or a Miss Universe? Both a Miss Universe and a supermodel have to be able to endorse a humanitarian cause, like the World Food Program, or a brand like Estée Lauder, and be able to talk about it. It’s about making a great first impression; it’s about charisma, a sense of humour, a sparkling personality – on top of basically being beautiful. When a girl has that intelligence and sparkle, it’s so easy: all you have to do is to light the fire.
What made you so big in Japan? And why did you sell your business at the end of 2008 and move to Singapore?
I believe it’s important to leave a particular endeavour while you’re at the top of your game. That’s not easy to do: you can become addicted to the fame and attention. It’s like dating a guy who’s 20 years younger than you – better that you end the relationship before he does!
However, I needed to stay in Asia for a few years in order to complete various endorsement and TV contracts. Singapore was the obvious choice because living here is so convenient, plus it’s an easy seven-hour flight to Tokyo. For TV shows, you have to arrive looking good.
Tell us about your new business in Singapore.
Dream Factory by Ines Ligron is a studio in the Tanjong Pagar area where women come to have their look transformed. It’s a unique playground for women, set up with an 18-metre catwalk, clothes, shoes, accessories, a makeup bar and so on. My Dream Team here are Hiroko Mima, who was Miss Universe Japan 2008, and Valerie Lim, who was Miss Universe Singapore 2011. They’re both amazing women.
We sell packages of six classes that cover wardrobe and accessories, posture, walking, standing, speaking, makeup and hair – that cost from $1,500 for a series of group sessions, or $3,900 for private classes. What I used to teach the Miss Universe contenders is what I teach here. I’ve had a number of success stories since I opened in February this year, so the business is growing by word of mouth.
Though retail has never been the focus of my business, we started selling a lot of clothes, too – labels that you couldn’t find here before, from the south of France, London and Madrid. During July and August, Isetan offered us retail space on Level 2 of their Shaw House store, complete with a bright pink catwalk! Though it’s more sales-oriented, we also do events there, such as fashion shows, and Fashion Police scouting where we pick up a girl and transform her.
I plan to sell the business in five years’ time. But until then, I intend to enjoy it!
INES’S RECOMMENDATIONS FOR LIFE IN SG
Cedele at Velocity
238 Thomson Road | 6258 5991
#09-31 Novena Medical Center Square 2, 10 Sinaran Drive | 6336 0504
Dream Factory by Ines Ligron
The Pink Door, 76A Peck Seah Street | 6221 0774
Singapore Polo Club
80 Mount Pleasant Road | 6854 3999
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