Proenza Schouler, Jil Sander, Chloé, Maison Margiela and J.W. Anderson, Acne and Petit Bateau are among the 20 labels lovers of luxury fashion and designer wear can enjoy at Cape Town’s first concept store, Maison Mara.
Set in a heritage building dating back to the 1800’s in De Waterkant, the three-storey boutique is a work of design in itself with décor by Robert Sherwood and owner Kelly Mara Withey who opened Maison Mara’s doors on 12 January 2015 after falling in love with Cape Town during several visits to the city with her family. After seeing that there was a gap in the market for high-end international luxury brands with an edge, the idea for Maison Mara took root.
The name Maison Mara itself, says Withey, “is an expression of both my French and African heritage as my second name, Mara, is a reference to the Masai Mara in Kenya, where my parents fell in love. ‘Maison’ is my way of paying homage to the Parisian couturiers and their fashion houses that inspired me to start my own establishment.” Withey had honed her fashion skills in Paris, first as a fashion student and then as a buyer’s assistant where she advised on season best-sellers during fashion weeks.
“It is very important to me not to stock each brand individually but to select brands that fit with a certain sense of style and that will give our clients an idea of how the different garments can be combined. We also stock candles, international magazines and skincare products, all of which are accessories for our daily life and that help us to create a little cocoon, a sort of home away from home for our clients.”
The store offers a sumptuous experience on each floor with lovingly restored wooden floors, a Gaudi-like staircase and bespoke finishes in the marbled bathroom that has been transformed into Maison Mara’s skincare room. A key piece is the Eileen Gray-inspired wall screen used to display items and which opens up onto a secret storeroom.
“Fashion is quality, fabric, something you feel and look good in. It can be as crazy or as simple as you want. It can be art or commerce. I don’t have a definition of what fashion is, as I believe there are no rules and my personal vision of fashion changes all the time. On a more practical level, I’m the kind of person who wears black and navy together.” (Of the current range in store, she says, “There is a definite tendency towards navy blue.”)
“My dream for Maison Mara is to be recognised as Africa’s leading concept store, to be what Colette is to Paris, Corso Como to Milan, The Webster to Miami. Each is unique in its own way and I aspire to that,” says Withey. Taking another step in this direction, she mentions Balenciaga and Kenzo as two of the new names that are now in store.