Influential French fashion buyer Maria Luisa Poumaillou, known for her early backing of then future stars like John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, died this week at age 61.
Passionate about young designers, the Venezuelan-born tastemaker who relocated to France at age 7, made her eponymous shop Maria Luisa in Paris a must-visit address. The shop enjoyed a two-decade run from when it opened in 1988, before more famous ‘concept stores’ like Corlette, Fivestory or Merci became exclusive boutique retail destinations.
Ms. Poumaillou died of cancer on Tuesday, and the depth of her importance to the fashion world was revealed as the many characters — designers, retailers, editors — whose lives she changed began to pay homage on social media.
Ghesquiere, artistic director of Vuitton's women’s collections, wrote on Instagram: "I will always remember your keen eye, your joy and your generosity. You opened doors for a lot of us."
She retained a retail presence in Asia, as well as a relationship with edgy e-commerce sites. Now closed, her shop gave way for her online retailing and sales at the massive Parisian department store Printemps, where she had been a fashion consultant since 2010. Her company, run by her husband Daniel Poumaillou, is now also present in China and Qatar.
As a result, while her name may not have been known to many outside the industry, her influence and taste shaped countless wardrobes.
“She knew how to discern what was really new, she knew how to buy it and she knew how to sell it to a clientele that became captive to her taste and enthusiasm," said Stephane Wargnier, executive chairman of a French fashion union, "She started the career of a number of the major talents from these past 30 years," he added.
For just over 20 years she did exactly that, introducing the world to designers like Martin Margiela, Helmut Lang, Jean Paul Gaultier and Nicolas Ghesquière.
The fashion stylist Lori Goldstein also wrote a tribute to Poumaillou on Instagram: “Maria Luisa. For me, the best shopping in Paris ever, I was young, going to shows; would get off that red eye, go to the hotel and shower then straight Maria Luisa.” She added: “The best of the best of the best in this tiny little store.”
Designer Zac Posen wrote: “Maria was the first store to buy my first collection and stock in her store in Paris. She ordered my clothing only in black so that the customers could appreciate the cut, drape, construction and give it sophistication.”
Yasmin Sewell, a retail consultant said: “This industry won’t be the same now that we’ve lost Maria Luisa. She was one of the few who lived by instinct.”
In an email elegy, Mr. Poumaillou spoke of his wife’s uniqueness, “A real personality, and a great one. She was an exceptional woman, and made no concessions. She was true to herself as she always insisted, one who dared, who opposed, who defended her convictions tooth and nail. With a perfect balance of elegance and humor.”