At a time when many Canadian designers are grappling with walking the line between art and commerce, Quebec's Caroline Néron insists it's all about attitude. The 44-year-old Boucherville native, who started her successful acting and singing career at the age of 17, switched gears 14 years ago to pursue a path in jewellery design and retail. Today, she boasts 19 stores in Quebec, one in the West Edmonton Mall, and plans to open soon in Toronto at Square One Shopping Centre. Her online business, which includes handbags and fragrances, is on fire, and she's already started to build a following in the U.S. and Europe. Néron is charismatic, driven, and focused — three choice traits for any entrepreneur — and her fashion-forward aesthetic has helped establish her one Canadian fashion brand that has serious legs. I spoke with Caroline Néron from Montreal recently about her vision and why, even though she's an artist, commerciality is not a dirty word.
It's impressive to see the way your brand's taken off, especially in a country where it's often tough to get a brand going. Did you envision all this when you started your business 14 years ago?
Actually I've always had huge goals in my life, and my first one, when I was five, was to be an actress and a singer. That's when the whole dream started. I started my career at 17 and did lots of series and movies, in Quebec mostly. But even though I had a successful career, when I turned 30, I started getting scared seeing all these actors around who stopped getting work, struggling to get gigs. I thought, one day, it's going to be my turn, because these careers are so up and down I said, okay, you need to be a business woman. You need to be in charge of your career, and make sure that you can provide and also produce your own stuff. Because I was a huge fan of fashion, and shopping was something that I really loved, I decided to go into retailing jewellery. I feel that those are the accessories that really complete a look. So, even though I didn't know anything about it, that's how I launched into it. I called a jewellery designer and she helped me get started. Soon, I had my own kiosk. There was no real plan, just the fact that because I'd been an artist all my life, it was my goal to make sure I was creating every day. Then I had a motorcycle accident, and was in a wheelchair for a while. I couldn't act or sing, so I really focused on my company and grew very fast. Now after 14 years, this is my main focus. It changed my life in such a beautiful way and I've learned so much through it, I'm hardly acting at all anymore. I love my company, and I feel fulfilled.
What inspires you the most about remaining in Canada?
I love Canada. With everything that's going on the world, we have the best country ever, and the more I travel, the more I love my country. I love the open-mindedness and the diversity. We're not perfect but we're pretty close to it. I also love the four seasons. Too much winter is not good, but I try to appreciate it much more because I have an eight-year-old daughter, Emmanuelle, and she needs to do winter sports and appreciate the snow.
To what do you attribute your drive and that clarity of vision?
Maybe my education. My parents are both business people. They're in real estate, but they took charge of their careers. I guess it was the way my parents always educated me and my sister to follow our dreams, even if they were scared when I first said I wanted to have a manager when I was only nine-years-old. The fact that they helped me and gave me confidence…well, just having that gives you wings. Also, because I was extroverted, I always talked about my emotions and how I felt, and I always expressed what I wanted to have and I put it down on paper. I was very disciplined since I was very young. I believe that if you put it down on paper, at one point you will do something about it.
You seem to really understand the importance of walking the line between art and commerce. Most people don't have both sides of their brain working that way — they're either creative, or they're business-minded.
But what most creative people always say is, I'm not good at business! Stop saying that to your brain. You are good. You just have to start focusing. I learned it all. Obviously I had some of the right characteristics — like my temperament was maybe made for that. But I still try to influence people to stop talking negatively about business. A lot of artists think that because they're thinking marketing, they're thinking of the consumers and they're reducing the quality of creativity. That's not the case at all. It's the opposite. You have to understand your market and you can go crazy on a piece, but just make sure there are some pieces that are less niche and going for a wider range of people. As an artist you want people to love it, to wear it.
You're also doing pieces for men.
And wow! That's a growing market…
How come? Why do you think men are so attracted to maybe not only what you do but jewellery in general these days?
I think it's new. I have a lot of new customers who never wore any bracelets before. But I feel with the internet, they see other people doing it so then they start doing it. They start thinking about taking care of themselves. I feel people — both men and women — are taking much more care of themselves inside and outside.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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