PARIS — On the heels of major openings in London and New York, Chanel has unveiled its new five-story flagship in Paris, marking the culmination of a six-year project that lays the groundwork for the digital transformation of the French luxury house’s retail network.
The new location, a stone’s throw from its historic boutique on Rue Cambon, is the brand’s largest in the French capital, with 10,800 square feet of sales floor, including its biggest shoe department. Architect Peter Marino designed the store, which is housed in three historic buildings, among them a former 17th-century convent.
In addition to the entire Chanel range of ready-to-wear, accessories, watches and fine jewelry, perfume and beauty, the flagship features two floors of reception rooms where VIP customers will be able to do everything from take a shower to enjoy a private meal.
And in the first half of next year, the store will be the testing ground for digital initiatives Chanel is developing with luxury e-commerce platform Farfetch in the framework of the partnership they signed this year, according to Bruno Pavlovsky, president of Chanel SAS and the house’s president of fashion.
Coming just 10 days after the unveiling of Chanel’s renovated flagship at 15 East 57th Street in New York, the opening of the Paris store on Saturday underscores the brand’s commitment to brick-and-mortar as one of luxury fashion’s last e-commerce holdouts.
“The store remains the place where you can discover the brand, because we think it’s not enough to post images online,” Pavlovsky told WWD. “Being able to touch a product, to try it on, to understand the craftsmanship and sophistication behind it, the creativity and the details — that’s something priceless, I think.”
He described the Paris and New York boutiques as “strategically key” in the company’s fleet. “They are among the pillars of Chanel’s brand-building, not only in those two countries, but worldwide, so I consider these two stores as fundamental for our future,” he added.
Chanel plans to make another major statement in New York next month. The subject of a vast retrospective at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2005, the brand plans to return to the landmark New York museum on Dec. 4 to parade its next Métiers d’Art collection.
Though the timing is a coincidence, the stores in Paris, New York and another recently opened boutique in London’s Brompton Cross district share some key characteristics, including a cross-merchandising approach that is new for the house, as are the display units featuring different background colors and sliding elements.
“It reflects Chanel’s desire to better showcase products in-store,” said Pavlovsky. “Customers are always very interested in seeing the latest collection in a new setting, and the objective for us is always to give them an even better, more powerful perception of the brand.”
In accordance with Chanel’s “one boutique, one story” philosophy, Marino designed each unit in the spirit of its location. “I think these three stores reflect three different moods extremely well, and at the same time, you can see that the signature is the same,” Pavlovsky said.
The Paris boutique is dotted with no fewer than 60 mannequins — versus an average of 15 in other stores — to show off creative director Karl Lagerfeld’s collections. “It’s the first store where we’ve done this, and I hope it will allow us to attract a clientele that doesn’t necessarily see Chanel in that way,” Pavlovsky explained.
The ground floor and first floor are dedicated to accessories, and feature for the first time separate rooms for small leather goods and costume jewelry, while ready-to-wear — ranging from seasonal collections to the cruise, Métiers d’Art, Coco Neige and Coco Beach lines — will rotate on the second floor.
The window displays on Rue Saint-Honoré, where the store’s main entrance is located, provide expansive views of its beauty section and shoe department, which features 200 footwear styles. “It’s a way to try to draw a slightly younger, different clientele that is interested in the brand,” Pavlovsky noted.
A side entrance on Rue Duphot opens onto the gold-walled beauty space. Another on Rue Cambon lends the boutique its prestigious address: 19 Rue Cambon. Chanel recently acquired numbers 39 and 41, and also owns numbers 23, 25, 27 and 31, the latter purchased by founder Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel in 1918.
“This is where the history of Chanel was born,” Pavlovsky emphasized.
Marino’s design for the store is minimal yet opulent, contrasting graphic black-and-white features, such as the Art Deco-inspired staircase, with gold and metallic textures, specially commissioned art works and antiques, including an 18th-century Coromandel screen reminiscent of the one in Chanel’s private apartment nearby.
The store is bathed in natural light, with the front windows providing views of the square in front of the Catholic Church of Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption and the Tuileries Gardens beyond, and the back windows opening onto a courtyard with a terrace dotted with magnolia and camellia trees.
Marino faced the challenge of gutting, then unifying three buildings of varying structures and styles into a single L-shaped unit, all under the supervision of the French architectural review board, known as Bâtiments de France, which oversees work on historic buildings.
“This type of work requires a huge amount of time, preparation, consultations and authorizations and a very delicate execution,” said Pavlovsky. “The idea is to deliver buildings in perfect condition that respect all the historical restrictions, of course, but also really contribute to making the city more beautiful.”
Marino noted it was a new approach for the brand. “It’s really like the house of Chanel,” the architect said. Indeed, the store’s soaring spaces, alternating with more intimate rooms, bring to mind a Parisian apartment — albeit a particularly well-appointed one.
For the ground floor, Marino opted for limestone floors that echo the building’s sober facade. On the first floor, the stone alternates with Versailles parquet. The floors are linked by a curving staircase lined with mirrors, in an echo of the famous steps at 31 Rue Cambon where Chanel liked to be during her fashion shows.
This one, which was meticulously restored, showcases a custom-made 45-foot-high spiral sculpture made from sliced vinyl records by German artist Gregor Hildebrandt. The store features 28 works by 20 artists.
The top two floors of the flagship, which can be reached via an elevator, are reserved for VIP customers. “I designed that area to be very modern with soft black linen sofas and white walls,” Marino said, adding that it’s different from his usual aesthetic.
“If you can afford couture clothing, you want to be in the simplest environment when you’re looking at a dress. Also, I assume the couture lady lives in a totally gorgeous, beautiful, fabulous environment. I went the other way in Paris: simple and very contemporary,” he explained.
“Back in the day, the real couture ladies would go to the rear of the store to the atelier,” Marino said. “Remember, Coco Chanel went to school in a nunnery and dressed in black and white for half of her life.”
Pavlovsky said the two floors, set to begin operating next year, were designed as a hospitality area for international customers. “There’s no space like it at the moment in France or elsewhere,” he said. “Today, we don’t really have a dedicated area to organize a dinner, or a thank-you gesture. We’ll be able to do that here.”
Elsewhere in the building, Marino played with elements like enameled gold-textured plasterwork, metallic fabrics, tweed-effect carpets and lacquered display tables. “The lower floors are a little bit jollier. It’s a little wackadoodle,” he said, referring to the result of integrating three buildings.
Among the special features are curtains embroidered by Lesage, one specialty atelier owned by Chanel; chandeliers, lamps and mirrors made by jeweler Goossens using its signature bronze and rock crystal, and a Fifties-era Line Vautrin mirror in one of the changing rooms.
Though Pavlovsky declined to say how much Chanel spent on the Paris and New York flagships, the executive underlined it was a long-term investment.
“This is really a renovation for the next 15 or 20 years,” he said. “The infrastructure and the spirit of the store have to be quite visionary, because we expect them to be around for a while. That’s how we work with Peter Marino: we’re thinking of today, but we’re also thinking about tomorrow and how all of this might evolve over time.”
More specifically, the Paris shop will become a testing ground for innovations in omnichannel retail technology, or what Farfetch calls augmented retail. Pavlovsky noted that Chanel’s customers increasingly lack the time to browse through its extensive collections.
“Some know exactly what they want to look at and try, and have a dialogue with their fashion adviser. Others prefer to be surprised, so we have to be able to adapt. We know they have less and less time, so paradoxically, we have to preserve a sense of discovery and escapism, yet also be more efficient,” he noted.
The digital initiatives, which include the launch of a Chanel app, will be geared at broadening access to the kind of personalized treatment available to the brand’s most loyal shoppers.
“We’re not going to reinvent something that’s working well. We’re going to try to make this privileged relationship that customers are able to have with the brand — in terms of discovering collections, reserving items and booking an appointment to try them on — available to a wider group,” he explained.
Chanel opens or renovates an average of 30 stores a year. It plans to unveil stores in Harbin, China, in January; New Delhi, India, in February; Seoul, South Korea, in March, and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in April. In addition, it will reopen boutiques in Chicago, Monaco and London next year.
But Paris sets the tone for the brand’s image worldwide, which is why Chanel is investing a lot in the French capital, despite the fact that its domestic luxury market lags in size behind the U.S., China and Japan, among others.
In addition to its support for the upcoming renovations of the Grand Palais and the Palais Galliera fashion museum, the brand is building a site in the north of Paris to house the specialty ateliers it controls through its Paraffection subsidiary.
In the center of town, the company is renovating several buildings, including the offices at 31 Rue Cambon, which is also home to its haute couture atelier and Lagerfeld’s design studios. Once that work is completed, its historic boutique at 29 Rue Cambon will be closed beginning in 2020 for renovations and expansion.
“Rue Cambon will have two magnificent stores, each with its own cachet and specific perspective on the brand,” Pavlovsky predicted.