Because CoutureLab deals in small quantities, Busquets wants to ensure that the site will not be overloaded with demand—at least for the moment. Access is by membership only, and for now it’s a select group of just 700. Those core customers are friends of Busquets’s and the CoutureLab staff, family members and friends’ referrals. Over the next few months, Busquets says, she’ll slowly open the site to a wider audience as she acquires enough designers to meet the demand. Currently, 5,000 people are waiting to join.
“We want to sell products with a story and tradition behind them.”
Busquets divides her time between Paris and London. Because she travels frequently to South America, India, the U.S. and across Europe for her other role (she manages her family’s financial portfolio, which includes stakes in industrial companies and hedge funds), she does a bit of sourcing herself. Some CoutureLab merchandise is also the work of designer friends.
“Luxury has gotten to the point where it’s so homogeneous and corporate,” says Clements Ribeiro’s Inacio Ribeiro, who will design a collection of 12 dresses with his wife and business partner, Suzanne Clements, for CoutureLab in November. “Carmen has understood that today it’s about exclusivity and personal service.” Ribeiro adds that some might underestimate Busquets. “She’s blond, sexy, Latin—and passionate about fashion. But she’s no bubblehead; she’s a sharp, cunning businesswoman.” Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet says Busquets has a great blend of artistic and financial acumen and a sixth sense about what’s coming next. “And she’s not afraid to roll up her sleeves,” Massenet adds. “She opened tons of doors for us in the early days, and would be in meetings with the buying team until 4 a.m.”
CoutureLab has been a long time coming for Busquets, who has attempted other Web ventures over the years, including a site for Hispanic women called Entrenos, which was a flop. “At that time, it was all about maximizing subscribers and content on the Internet—and not about e-commerce,” she says. “The advertising was slow and slowed down even more in 2000. It was one of those great ideas that happened at the wrong time.” She also served on the board of Deepak Chopra’s ill-fated Web site mypotential.com. (Busquets’s Cuban mother and Spanish father are friends of Chopra’s.) “It came out in 2000, and the investors freaked out,” she recalls. “They’d spent millions on it, and they didn’t want to spend any more because the market crashed.”
But Busquets remained undaunted. In fact, she takes pride in thriving under challenging circumstances. She’s dyslexic and has been wearing a hearing aid in each ear since she was in her early 20s. “I kept saying I was half deaf, and no one would ever believe me! So I’m half deaf—and dyslexic. How about that?” she says. “Nobody’s perfect, and I’m proud of my defects.”