PARIS — As Europe’s luxury players jockey to secure rare raw materials and know-how, leather goods isn’t the only category in view.
Signaling the importance of fine fabrics to its ready-to-wear business, Chanel will today reveal it has invested in four French silk specialists, all in the vicinity of Lyon, France, a historic center for high-end fabric production.
“We need this expertise to ensure the future of our collections,” said Bruno Pavlovsky, president of Chanel fashion, revealing the pack of deals exclusively to WWD. “Step by step, we are investing more and more in the upstream process to be sure we have what we need to manufacture collections. And silk is very important. It’s a pillar of what we are doing.”
Financial terms were not disclosed, but Pavlovsky said Chanel took a majority stake in three of the firms: Moulinages de Riotord and Textiles Henri Lacroix, both spinning mills specializing in high-twist yarns, and Hugo Tag Ennoblissement, prized for two centuries of know-how in dyeing and finishing high-end silk fabrics. It holds multiple patented dyeing processes.
Moulinages de Riotord boasts the Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant label, a Living Heritage Company in English. It’s a mark of recognition from the French state for excellence of traditional and industrial skills.
It and Textiles Henri Lacroix each employ about 15 people.
Chanel took a minority stake in Denis & Fils, which weaves plain and Jacquard fabrics for ready-to-wear, lingerie and home furnishings. One of the last French firms specializing in silk weaving, Denis & Fils was founded in 1956 and boasts more than 100 weaving looms.
It and Hugo Tag each employ 49 people.
Pavlovsky said Chanel would immediately invest in high-tech machinery and bolster staffing — something these firms weren’t always able to do, given the vagaries and “ups and downs” of the fashion business.
“It’s the best way to continue to preserve and advance expertise,” he said. “For each of these companies, we have an investment plan, which is part of our acquisition cost.”
Chanel plans to leave management in place at the four firms, and continue serving all of their customers. In addition to Chanel, the silk makers are suppliers to brands of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Hermès International and Dior.
Pavlovsky stressed the importance of synergies between the four companies, allowing Chanel to build a “very strong affiliate” and to ensure the longevity of silk weaving in France. “If we want to be able to offer such a creative proposition, we need to have the best links and synergies between these partners,” he said.
Chanel’s couturier Karl Lagerfeld uses Lyon silks for linings, printed fabrics and scarves and as an ingredient in its bespoke tweeds. The spinning, weaving and finishing of the silk all contribute to the fabric’s property “in terms of feel, and how they drape and fall on the body,” according to Chanel.
“When you wear a Chanel jacket, the feeling comes from the lining,” Pavlovsky said.
He noted that having ready access to fabric makers with sufficient production capacity is key to ensure timely deliveries of its collections. “In the ready-to-wear process, between the show and the delivery dates, one of the most crucial steps is having the capacity to immediately launch production of the fabrics. For that, you need to have enough weaving looms and sufficient staffing.
“We also need to have all of this know-how nearby,” he added.
Makers of high-end fabric firms in Italy and France have come under pressure in recent years from competition in China, Korea, Japan and also Brazil, a key supplier of raw silk and yarns.
Chanel manufactures 90 percent of its woven fabrics in France. Finished products, including denim and leather garments, are made in France and Italy, while knitwear is sourced in France, Italy and Scotland.
Earlier this year, Chanel took a minority stake in French lacemaker Sophie Hallette’s parent company Groupe Holesco, and in 2014, it acquired tweed specialist A.C.T.3 via its wholly owned embroidery house Maison Lesage. In 2012, the fashion house acquired Scottish cashmere expert Barrie knitwear, maker of Chanel’s bicolored cardigans and other sweaters for more than 25 years.
Lesage is one of the specialty ateliers Chanel controls through its Paraffection subsidiary. These also include the jeweler Desrues, feather maker Lemarié, embroiderers Maison Lesage and Atelier Montex, shoemaker Massaro, milliner Michel and Barrie.
Keen to ensure savoir faire and production capacities around its key products, Chanel also recently acquired a majority stake in a French tannery that specializes in high-end lambskin for its small leather goods. Founded in 1852, the family-run Richard tannery in Millau, part of the Aveyron region in France, is prized for leathers with metallic, pearly, printed, varnished or crushed finishes.
That acquisition echoed the silk investment in creating a cluster of specialist manufacturers. Chanel also owns Causse, a glove manufacturer whose workshop is located in Millau, and nearby tannery Bodin-Joyeux, also specializing in lambskin and with more than 150 years of experience under its belt.
Gucci, Hermès and Prada have all acquired French tanneries in the last three years.