By  on October 11, 2006

NEW YORK — Maureen Chiquet has been named global chief executive officer of Chanel, effective Jan. 1, 2007.

The appointment completes Chiquet's transition from the mass world of Gap, her previous company, into running one of the world's most iconic luxury brands.

The global ceo position is a new one for Chanel and Chiquet will "oversee and coordinate all of [the company's] activities worldwide," the company said. She will report directly to Chanel chairman Alain Wertheimer and will be based here, where Wertheimer has his primary office.

"We are a global business," Chiquet told WWD on Tuesday, "and New York places me in one of our largest markets to keep an eye on how the business is developing. The heart of the brand is in France, but its blood runs through the different markets of the world."

Chanel officials pointed out that the company's continued expansion and development necessitated "a position that ensures the coherence of the brand, that coordinates all of its different activities worldwide and that sponsors its ongoing growth."

In perhaps a nod to her populist past and high-end present, Chiquet, 43, typically dresses in jeans topped by a classic Chanel jacquet. She joined the company in 2003, and most recently had the title of president of Chanel Inc. in the U.S. Over the past three years, Chiquet has traveled extensively in the company's various markets and worked in the brand's different product categories, including fashion, accessories, fragrance, beauty, watches and fine jewelry.

A search is on for a successor to Chiquet as president of Chanel Inc.

Prior to Chanel, Chiquet was president of Gap Inc.'s Banana Republic division after holding several executive positions at Old Navy and the Gap. She joined Gap in 1988 as assistant merchandiser in the accessories division. She began her career at L'Oréal in Paris in 1985 as a product manager.

Chiquet acknowledged she'll be on the road much of the time as Chanel's global business continues to develop. "I'll be traveling around the world and my time will be evenly distributed between travel and time in New York," she said.

As for her initial priorities, Chiquet dismissed the high-pressured notion of growth for growth's sake, describing Chanel's position among luxury ranks, and its status as a private company, as a "wonderful advantage….The priority is not extensive growth, but sustaining the brand's growth over time while never compromising. We need to take risks and continue to stay modern, but always stay true to the core values of the brand."Opportunities will come on several fronts, she pointed out, from the brand's existing product categories to developing global markets. While she did not single out any one market, Chiquet acknowledged Asia was an area of great potential for the entire luxury sector.

The Wertheimer family is famously guarded about figures and Chiquet declined to disclose any sales numbers, but she said that "growth has been good over the last 15 years" for the label. And while noting the increasing complexity of growth, given the global dimensions and multiple product categories, she stressed the strategy of proceeding at a measured pace.

"It's not about speed," she said. "We can really manage this brand for the long term. Each of our segments has a stand-alone business and we see growth in each and every different segment."

Sources corroborated that Chanel has had steady growth in recent years, particularly in the beauty, jewelry, watches and ready-to-wear categories.

Market sources peg Chanel's 2005 beauty volume at 2.24 billion euros, or $2.79 billion. According to the firm, Chanel No.5 is the number-one selling female fragrance in Europe, and Coco Mademoiselle and Chance are also in the top 10. Its Précision line is now the eighth best-selling facial care collection worldwide, while men's fragrances hold the fourth position worldwide.

Recent launches include the lipstick Rouge Allure, the mascara Inimitable and the antiaging skin care product Sublimage. Celebrities have also fueled Chanel's fragrance business; a Nicole Kidman campaign for No.5 is said to have catapulted sales worldwide. Keira Knightley has been tapped as the new face of Coco Mademoiselle, replacing Kate Moss.

On the fashion front, Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel's designer for 23 years, has continued to ramp up his fashion output, practically at the rate of a collection per month among couture, runway shows, pre-collections and his "satellite" line of luxury rtw made with couture ateliers owned by Chanel. Lagerfeld is slated to show his next "satellite" pre-fall collection in Monte Carlo in December.

Widely considered France's biggest couture house, Chanel has also been at the forefront of pushing the limits of pricing with its luxury products. Last year, the firm said it sold 12 coats priced at 35,160 euros each and a dozen J12 watches priced from 36,320 euros to 48,950 euros each.The company continues to invest heavily in its fashion shows, events and global retail network to bolster its haute positioning. Last March, Chanel reprised its January couture show in Hong Kong, complete with a soaring 100-foot column containing a spiral staircase for the finale.

A freestanding boutique in Moscow, which opened over the summer, is among the company's latest, complete with a large showcase for watches and fine jewelry. A new Hong Kong flagship opened last December and boasts a three-room, apartment-like section for fine jewelry and watches.

Although Chanel's large-scale Coco's Cabat bag for fall is already a hit with fashion editors, the leather goods category has been battling declining sales in recent years. A forthcoming art project, in a traveling pavilion designed by architect Zaha Hadid, is said to be partly a showcase for Chanel's iconic handbags, with a grid-patterned exterior evoking its classic chain-handled style.

Chiquet pointed out the company will not pursue the multiple brand model practiced by some of Chanel's key competitors, including LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Gucci Group. Chanel favors managing the company as a monobrand.

Asked what skills transcended her prior life at the Gap, Chiquet drew several parallels. "I love product and the creative part of the business. At Gap, they respected the creative parts that really drove the business. Second, Gap and Banana taught me a team- and people-oriented approach to the management of talent."

While Banana Republic was far from the height of luxury, Chiquet noted that, like Chanel, it "had an iconic brand, where every detail counts, from product detail to counter images to advertising. Chanel just takes it to a whole other level."

She conceded nuances and subtleties in the luxury sector take time to learn, but common to the management of any iconic brand are "having a vision, thinking forward and having the tenacity to get there."

Chiquet will be copreside with Alain Wertheimer over Chanel's President's Committee, comprising various division heads.

Her appointment will likely stir speculation that Françoise Montenay, longtime president of Chanel SAS, might soon retire. Over the summer, Montenay was named the president of the Comité Colbert, a French luxury goods trade association. However, it is understood there is no imminent change in Montenay's role overseeing Chanel's Continental European business. One of France's most prominent executives in fashion and beauty, she has a strong rapport with Lagerfeld, who is also based in Paris.And how will Chiquet's new role change her relationship with Lagerfeld?

"No change. Karl is a genius. We're fortunate to have him."

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