Rendering of Chanel's Verneuil-en-Halatte workshop

VERNEUIL-EN-HALATTE, France — It may be a tall order, but Bruno Pavlovsky, president of fashion and president of Chanel SAS, delivered it cheerfully.

“With this project, a new chapter in Chanel’s history, guided by the ambition of becoming — and there’s a heavy responsibility for the teams here, I’m weighing my words carefully — the most beautiful leather goods production site in Europe. To develop and produce the most beautiful handbags in the world,” he said, kicking off a brick-laying ceremony for a new manufacturing site north of Paris.

The new site, which will stretch over 270,000 square feet, is billed by the luxury group as the first in France to seek such stringent environmental standards. Certifications sought include High Environmental Quality and BREEAM certification, while electricity production will come from the building’s solar panels; a pool of water ringing one side of the building and green spaces are planned, meant to favor biodiversity of plants and wildlife.

Currently a building site cluttered with cranes, dirt-moving machines hummed in the background while Pavlovsky, site manager Rodolphe Maucolin and local officials scraped wet cement into a section of wall set up for the ceremony.

“It all started with a little leather goods workshop in the first arrondissement of Paris, not far from Gabrielle Chanel, where the quilted handbag created by Gabrielle Chanel in February 1955 was produced,” said Pavlovsky, referring to the 2.55 handbag. Three years after Karl Lagerfeld arrived at the house, the leather workshops were moved to Compiègne, a city north of Paris, where a workshop was established in 1986.

In 1990, the group moved production to the current site at Verneuil-en-Halatte, which will be knocked down once the new one is in operation, set for the end of next year.

“Our desire is to allow the entire luxury industry to benefit from their exceptional know-how,” said Pavlovsky, referring to the workshops. While most of the production is for Chanel, the site, which works with the house’s high-quality calf and lamb skins from the Haas tannery, as well as with denim, tweed and jersey, also produces for other luxury labels.

Unlike some of its luxury peers, Chanel doesn’t control all of its production sites, but works with around 10 external workshops in France and around seven in Italy, and, indirectly, over a hundred producers, estimated Pavlovsky.

“We never favored internal or external production, even if, obviously, more and more we are moving toward the large actors in France today,” he told WWD.

Rendering of Chanel's Verneuil-en-Halatte production site

Rendering of Chanel’s Verneuil-en-Halatte production site.  Courtesy

“Chanel has over some 40 years developed strong collaborations with workshops that are often independent businesses — with whom we really have close ties, with specific contracts, but that aren’t necessarily Chanel subsidiaries,” he added.

When it comes to the environmental focus of the new site, Pavlovsky noted that the company seeks both to curb its carbon imprint as well as create better conditions for workers — and so it was time to upgrade the workshops.

“Workshops from 20 years ago are nothing like those of today — even the position of a workshop has evolved tremendously,” he noted.

“The goal is for each worker to express his talent in the best manner,” he added, noting that some prefer to assemble handbags standing up while others might prefer being seated.

Chanel is an important employer for the Oise region, where the new production site is being built, with around 10 other sites, mostly for perfume and makeup, but also a logistics center.

“They’re all part of the same group, so there can be a movement of people between them — things are happening, they cohabit together — I think it functions well,” he said.

“Chanel for several years has set ambitious objectives in terms of reducing its environmental footprint — they are truly at the heart of our transformation strategy,” he added.

The new site will come with around 100 new jobs over the next three years, to employ 500 in total. Overall, about 5,000 people work for Chanel in leather goods production, in France and Italy, the executive estimated.

“The site is a showcase of French excellence and sustaining employment…the fashion and luxury sector, which is so strategic for the French economy, has to be vigilant and consistently engaged if France wants to maintain its preeminence in this domain,” noted a local official, Jean-Charles Geray, who wore a tie with a horse-bit pattern from Hermès.

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