This Woman Offers the Ultimate French Shopping Experience

This Woman Offers the Ultimate French Shopping Experience

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French shopping
© Carra Sutherland

Have you discovered the French designer outlet mall, La Vallée Village, in the east end of Paris? Some might find Marne La Vallée too far to shop — but what if you were whisked off in a chauffeur-driven car and served champagne on arrival? That’s possible through a personalized concierge service called CIP, which is meticulously prepared for shoppers to feel like Chic Important Persons.

Irish businesswoman Carra Sutherland is the organizer behind CIP.  As a connoisseur of French luxury goods, her specialty is to organize an unforgettable, stress-free shopping expedition at La Vallée Village, where you’ll find 110 French and European brand discount stores.

vallée village
© La Vallée Village

Some of participants of a recent INSPIRELLE workshop were invited by Carra to test CIP, and we wholeheartedly say to shopaholics and bargain shoppers: this French outlet mall is TOP!

We caught up with Carra Sutherland between her shopping and sport frenzies to learn how she came to know so much about where to go for great French shopping!

French shopping
Carra Sutherland as a model. ©Irina Verdier

Carra, you came to Paris to study and began your work life as a model? What was that time like?

It was an amazing time for me! I arrived footloose and fancy-free in the world’s most beautiful city from my native Ireland where I had grown up on a stud farm surrounded by horses and dogs. It was a major change! I studied business in Ireland and had the possibility within the framework of my studies to spend a year in either France or Germany to improve my language skills. I chose Paris and I am still here.

I started modeling part-time when I was a student and then continued full-time for a couple of years afterwards. I had always been interested in fashion, so it was a really fun time and also gave me the opportunity to travel across Europe and experience a memorable 2-month stint in Seoul.

French shopping
Tourists line up outside the Louis Vuitton flagship store on the Champs Elysées in Paris. © Lembi Buchanan/123RF

You then made the quantum leap into luxury goods working for Louis Vuitton and designer Marc Jacobs. Is that not the crème de la crème?

I loved Marc Jacob’s work and when I heard he was coming to Paris for Louis Vuitton I was determined to join the team there! I started off as Marc’s personal assistant before joining the PR team six months later.

It was the crème de la crème for me. I was so proud to be part of the ready-to-wear team! It was a really exciting time in fashion— 1997 marked the beginning of a period of rapid growth in the luxury sector. Vuitton’s ready-to-wear became a substantial business, not to mention the accessories line, including collaborations with Steven Sprouse and the artists Takashi Murakami and Richard Prince.

We were a small close-knit team, working in a hotel particulier on rue du Bac. The day we had to move to the head office on rue du Pont Neuf – hugely corporate with a badging system and electric doors – was quite daunting! Working so closely with Marc was a huge privilege and the best learning experience. We worked on adrenalin and with great passion – every fashion show involved countless sleepless nights of preparation.

Marc is one of the rare designers who succeeded not only as creative director for a major fashion house, but also in building his own brand with fashion lines at multiple price points and marketing that has been embraced by Hollywood and pop culture.

After almost six years at Louis Vuitton, I then became the International PR Director for Emanuel Ungaro, another designer whom I had always dreamed of working for. Emanuel Ungaro is the most “aspirational” person I have ever met; and during my time there I discovered the beautiful world of haute couture, which is the backbone of the ready-to-wear industry. An intellectual and a poet, known for his flamboyant use of pattern and elegant draping, Emanuel Ungaro truly embellished women.  My role with this prestigious fashion house consisted of leading the PR initiatives worldwide, dealing with celebrities and special events, as well as being Mr. Ungaro’s personal PR representative; it was a thrilling time.

French shopping
Photo courtesy of Carra Sutherland

How did you keep reinventing yourself and why?

I have never really abandoned what I love and what interests me. I have been so lucky in that I have always had roles which I am passionate about. Communication, PR and networking are my assets and I always strive to give my utmost to any project I undertake. I am not afraid to take risks and continue to rise to new challenges. Amongst the bigger risks was a stint on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean where I presented weekly TV shows and set up my own PR company. It was a fun period, but I missed Paris and the fashion industry while I was there… and now that I’m back I often miss the sun and the surf!

A quote from Roald Dahl’s My Uncle Oswald epitomizes my philosophy on life:

“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. He taught me that if you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good either. White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.”

Vallee village
Chic Lounge © La Vallée Village

What is your role with Vallée Village’s designer outlets as its CIP Ambassador?

We launched the CIP (Chic Important Person) program for La Vallée Village four years ago. My role consists of creating tools in phase with our clientele and creating new ways of bringing affluent customers to La Vallée Village.

Today, we welcome an average of four CIP groups a week in the dedicated Chic Lounge with a total of approximately 800 CIP customers a year. With the CIP program we offer a “money can’t buy” experience to in-the-know shoppers. It is an extremely fulfilling role, and a privilege to be an ambassador for such a dynamic and international company. The Village team is just brilliant and I love working with them – ultra professional and human at the same time.

French shopping
© La Vallée Village

How does this French designer outlet compare with other bargain outlet malls?

La Vallée Village is in a league of its own! It is the most successful outlet shopping destination in France and the third most visited attraction in Ile de France, after Versailles and Disneyland Paris!

La Vallée Village offers a truly unique shopping experience in an open-air Village with more than 110 boutiques, each offering their previous seasons’ collections at reduced prices, seven days a week. It is totally stress-free shopping just 35 minutes from the heart of Paris.

The holding company, Value Retail, is the only company to specialize exclusively in the creation and operation of luxury outlet shopping destinations, known as the Village Collection in Europe and China. It is pioneering a new retail experience, redefining outlet shopping both for the world’s leading brands and for the discerning global shopper.

vallee village
© La Vallée Village

The CIP service offers special treatment to shoppers, which is not associated with a discount outlet. What’s the perk?

La Vallée Village is committed to the quality of the retail experience enjoyed by its guests and the brands. To achieve success in a multi-channel retail environment, the Village exceeds expectations of hospitality and provides an unsurpassed shopping experience.

CIP services can include:

  • Private chauffeur-driven transport from Paris to La Vallée Village
  • Additional discount cards
  • Access to a dedicated Chic Lounge
  • Refreshments, light lunch, afternoon tea…
  • Hands-Free Shopping and Bag Drop
  • Concierge Services
  • Tourist Information Centers with Multilingual Staff
  • Restaurants and Cafés in the Village

Each CIP group is unique so we provide bespoke programs for all our guests.

Carra Sutherland
Carra Sutherland with son and dog.

We hear you’re sports mad! Married to a Frenchman and mother of a 5-year old son while running a business, where do you find the time and energy to carry out your other passions?

Yes, I come from a sports mad family in Ireland so sport is something that is natural and vital for me since my early childhood. My husband Laurent is also a keen sportsman and a brilliant tennis player. We are lucky enough to live right next to the Parc de St Cloud and I train at Le Stade Français, which is a really beautiful tennis and sports club in the park.

French shopping
Photo courtesy of Carra Sutherland

 

I find time for sport at the weekends. Saturdays are dedicated to “CrossFit” (a sort of GI training and my latest addiction!) and boxing, while Sundays are for swimming, running and perhaps some yoga!

Max, my 5-year-old son comes with me and either watches me while eating his lunch or joins in the activity! I try and fit in a run or other training session during the week early in the morning. I also do about 15 minutes of yoga most mornings and try to meditate once a day for 10 minutes, which does wonders for stress levels.

French shopping
Photo courtesy of Carra Sutherland

 

When on holiday I try and find the time for waterskiing, mountain hiking, horse riding and swimming, depending on what’s on offer. I recently did a detox week with mountain walking and yoga in Vauvenargues (Picasso’s village) near Aix en Provence, which was rejuvenating in every possible way.

Sports gives me energy, it’s when I don’t do sports that I’m tired!

Is Paris still the most fabulous place to shop in the world?

Absolutely, Paris is wonderful! There’s so much choice here. However well you think you know the city, there’s always something new to discover. Districts change, old ones get restored, whole new areas like Seine Rive Gauche around the new Bibliothèque Nationale go up, or the long shabby Faubourg-St-Denis suddenly becomes the latest hipster hangout. There’s always a new boutique, concept store or gallery to check out.

The secret to shopping in Paris is to know which area matches your aesthetic: Are you an artist/hipster? An incognito movie star who likes truffling in the Avenue Montaigne boutiques? In Paris, there’s something for everyone: from high-end boutiques to fantastic flea markets such as Les Puces de St Ouen.

La Vallée Village is my all time favorite place to shop though – there’s something there for the whole family. My husband Laurent loves the outdoor relaxed atmosphere and the fabulous variety of brands and services. He always leaves laden down with shopping bags. Even my son Max enjoys shopping in the Village thanks to the two kid’s playgrounds and the delicious Armorino ice creams! And as for me… well, it is virtually impossible to leave the Village without a few shopping bags!

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