BY ERIN LENTZ | December 11, 2013 | Style & Beauty
Four years ago, Baroness Myriam Ullens de Schooten had a fashion epiphany at 30,000 feet. An avid traveler, she and her husband, Baron Guy Ullens de Schooten Whettnall of Belgium, were crossing the globe, traveling from their home base in Europe to Asia. She was dressed in cozy yet not-so-chic travel attire. “My husband told me what I was wearing wasn’t very sexy,” she laughs. “So I replied, ‘Why don’t I start my own label?’” And anyone who knows Ullens de Schooten knows that when she sets her mind to something, she usually means business.
Fast-forward to late August in Aspen, and we’re sitting in Ullens de Schooten’s global flagship Maison Ullens boutique on Hopkins Avenue. Dressed in a crisp white button-down, bright red leather pants from her new line, and Italian leather flats, she exhibits an innate fashion sense. A genuine smile and enviable tan reflect a recent sojourn to Nepal, where, along with her husband, she has built an orphanage, two centers for malnourished children, a kindergarten, and a school. This baroness from Belgium also happens to own the world’s largest collection of Chinese contemporary art; those frequent trips to China are to visit the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing.
A patent leather and cashmere reversible coat ($5,875)
For a woman with roots in Europe and Asia, why did she choose Aspen for the debut of her line? “Aspen embodies the Maison Ullens spirit,” explains Ullens de Schooten. “It’s beautiful.” Nestled in the large private dressing lounge of her new boutique, designed by Lionel Jadot, Ullens de Schooten’s penchant for elevated style and art is reflected in every well-appointed nook and cranny. Similar to an exhibition space, the boutique, with muted beiges and clean lines, serves as a sleek backdrop to the star of her latest show: the 2013–2014 Maison Ullens collection.
She notes that an eye for art has informed her style. “Certainly art influences fashion. When you’re focused on art, your eyes are open all the time,” she says. “It’s very important in fashion, too, to have your eyes open. We love the American artists from LA. We will have a piece from sculptor Thomas Houseago that will be shown at the Aspen boutique.”
Crafted in France and Italy in collaboration with artistic designer Véronique Leroy, the new line is cozy-chic, with an emphasis on Italian leathers and knitwear. Many of the pieces are reversible, the result of her desire to create travel-friendly, convertible pieces for stylish women on the move. “When I travel, I like to carry the smallest luggage possible, so the reversible pieces are wonderful,” Ullens de Schooten offers.
A cashmere knit jacket ($3,800)
After conferring with several designers to no avail, she finally found her match in Leroy, who has a direct sense of style with a dash of whimsy. “She’s very focused, and because we are both Belgian we had that immediate connection,” says Ullens de Schooten. She met Leroy while creating her second collection, and, now on her fourth, the fledgling company has found its stylish stride. A Paris boutique is slated to open by the end of the year, with a London outpost to open shortly thereafter.
The latest collection appeals to a wide age range and flatters various body types—not an easy feat. Fittingly, it has an Aspen sensibility, with looks that incorporate leather or knit leggings, chunky cashmere sweaters, and sophisticated layering pieces. At the same time, shoppers can find a sleek black leather sheath with perforated leather or an elegant floor-length gown for an evening out. Ullens de Schooten models one of her favorite pieces—a reversible, gray and white chinchilla and knit coat that’s easy to wear yet makes a statement. And as a departure from many high-end cashmere and knitwear lines that stay in the safe zone of grays, beiges, and blacks, Maison Ullens celebrates brilliant color, with several pieces finished in emerald green, bright red, and sapphire blue. “If I had to choose my favorite, it’s red,” she adds, touching her red leather pants.
Many of the pieces sold at Maison Ullens are convertible and travel-friendly, the result of the owner’s desire to cater to stylish women on the go
But perhaps most notable on Ullens de Schooten’s checklist is the Mimi Foundation. A breast cancer survivor, she launched her nonprofit 10 years ago. “When I had chemo, I was surrounded by my family and friends,” she says. “Yet I would walk the corridors of the chemo center and was surprised to see how many people were going through treatment alone. I made a promise to myself that when I was healthy I was going to launch a foundation.”
What started as one wing of a Belgian hospital has evolved into a presence in four hospitals in Belgium, in addition to centers in both France and Switzerland, all of which give free support to cancer patients. Nearly 15,000 patients benefited from the Mimi Foundation last year; its six centers assist with psychological counseling, beauty treatments, and hairdressing services. Ullens de Schooten’s passion for giving back is integrated into Maison Ullens, with a portion of all proceeds from the line benefitting the Mimi Foundation, giving retail therapy a whole new meaning. 445 E. Hopkins Ave., 970-429-4170
photography by brooke casillas (boutique); courtesy of maison ullens (sweater and model in coat)