PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday officially inaugurated 19M, Chanel’s hub for its specialty workshops on the border between Paris and its northern suburb of Aubervilliers, lauding it as an example for perpetuating craft traditions precious to the nation’s economy.
“The professions you represent are crucial,” he told an audience that included many of the 600 artisans who work in the building, as well as Minister of Culture Roselyne Bachelot and Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer. “Luxury, fashion and art and craft professions in our country are a flagship. They represent 600,000 jobs today,” he continued. “When we look at the figures for 2021, it was our biggest export sector.”
He told the artisans, “You can be proud of the jobs you do because they are important for the French economy and its development.…These are gestures and crafts that are a part of our history. It’s essential to preserve, perpetuate and enrich them,” he said. “They need to be passed on.”
Training and recruiting young people have been an element of Macron’s program since he was elected in 2017. Particularly in the luxury segment, the difficulty of passing on both artisanal and industrial knowhow to younger generations and recruiting young talent is seen as key to the future of the industry. It is estimated that in fashion and leather goods, some 10,000 posts are unfilled in France.
“For fashion and leather goods, we need far more talent than is currently trained,” said Bruno Pavlovsky, president of Chanel Fashion and Chanel SAS.
The opening of 19M last March has allowed the Chanel-owned specialty workshops to ramp up their recruitment initiatives. Around 200 new employees joined the workshops there last year, double what was initially planned.
During a speech, Pavlovsky said the company is upping its commitment to employing more youngsters, and will take on 1,200 trainees each year for the next three years.
“We have decided to commit even further to prioritize employment for young people, because we are better equipped today thanks to our workshops, our tools and our structure to tutor young people, and we want to accelerate our commitment at all our French sites, not just here. This is just the visible part of the iceberg,” Pavlovsky told WWD.
Macron, accompanied by his wife Brigitte Macron, visited a number of the specialist workshops in the building, which houses 11 workshops, an embroidery school and an exhibition space, interacting with employees and learning how a felt hat is molded at Maison Michel and watching pleats being formed at Lognon, for example.
Pavlovsky continued, “To find these talents and provoke these vocations, we need to attract people who don’t necessarily know these professions.”
Industry players have reported that recruiting skilled workers has become even more complex since the beginning of the pandemic, although according to the president’s office, 700,000 apprenticeship contracts were signed last year, up from an average of between 250,000 and 270,000 five years ago.
Chanel is hoping to turn the site near Porte d’Aubervilliers, an area that in recent years has dealt with an influx of homeless migrants, into a beacon for social mobility by recruiting young people from neighboring areas to learn specialized skills in its luxury workshops.
Macron also toured the first exhibition to be staged at the site’s gallery space, a 13,000-square-foot modular area designed by Studio GGSV dedicated to craftsmanship.
Its first exhibition, titled “L’Ouverture” and running through April 23, traces the building’s construction, delves into the work of the houses it is home to and showcases collaborations between them and contemporary artists.
It also features a collaborative embroidery workshop in which visitors can participate with Maison Lemarié, Lesage and Atelier Montex to create a monumental embroidered map of the neighborhoods surrounding the building.
The exhibition space is key both to inspiring the people who work in the building and raising awareness of the professions involved, Pavlovsky explained. Future installations will also serve that dual purpose. “We need to use it to inspire both our artisans and the public,” he said. “People don’t know these professions, and that’s why the gallery is important, as it will create a dialogue with the world outside, and allow people to discover the professions involved.”
The site is named 19M — 19 for the number of the Parisian district adjoining the site, and M for French words like “mains” (hands), “mode” (fashion) and “métier” (craftsmanship).
With a sprawling surface of close to 275,000 square feet over five floors and two basements, the building designed by award-winning architect Rudy Ricciotti has a striking structure covered in a concrete shell evoking threads, in a nod to the French fashion house’s knowhow.
It is home to embroiderers Lesage and Montex; shoemaker Massaro; feather and flower expert Lemarié; milliner Maison Michel; pleater Lognon; grand flou atelier Paloma, and goldsmith Goossens, as well as the lingerie and swimwear brand Eres. It also houses an embroidery school.
The artisans that work there make pieces for a variety of French and international labels as well as being responsible for producing Chanel’s Métiers d’Art collection, which was launched in 2002 to celebrate the craftsmanship of the suppliers and workshops in Chanel’s orbit.