PARIS — Chanel kicked off construction on the new site that will house its specialty ateliers in a ceremony with local politicians on Monday evening that underlined the rapid transformation of the working-class area north of Paris.
Bruno Pavlovsky, president of fashion and president of Chanel SAS, laid the first brick of the building flanked by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, architect Rudy Ricciotti and a host of local officials. Due to be completed in 2020, the site will house most of the 26 specialty ateliers Chanel controls through its Paraffection subsidiary.
With a surface of close to 275,000 square feet, the building near Porte d’Aubervilliers will house creative and production workshops in a striking structure covered in a concrete shell evoking threads. Through the project, Chanel hopes to contribute to the influence of Paris as the capital of fashion.
“We aim to maintain and create jobs, and to preserve and nurture Parisian skills that are admired overseas. We also wish to allow French and international fashion houses to find here a creative buzz, an exceptional energy,” said Pavlovsky.
“This future building is not designed just to welcome our specialty workshops and their clients. It will have the two-fold task of supporting French creation and creativity, and supporting the local economic environment by settling in a rapidly changing neighborhood and area,” the executive added.
Hidalgo attended the ceremony despite being embroiled in a political crisis, following the surprise resignation earlier in the day of first Deputy Mayor Bruno Julliard, who sharply criticized her policies in an interview with French daily Le Monde.
Smiling broadly as blazing sunlight shone through the clear plastic tent where the ceremony was held, Hidalgo flagged the presence of Julliard’s replacements: Emmanuel Grégoire, who will take on the first deputy role, and Christophe Girard, a former fashion executive who will be in charge of the city’s cultural affairs.
“Paris and Chanel are two brands that are not only well-known, but desired by so many people, probably because Paris and Chanel both care about beauty, aesthetics, craftsmanship and human skills,” she said, noting that she inherited her appreciation for precise manual gestures from her mother, who was a seamstress.
Hidalgo credited Chanel’s decision to keep its specialty ateliers in Paris with helping the city maintain its position as the world’s leading fashion capital.
Chanel’s collaborations with artisans date back to founder Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, who worked with Massaro on the production of her signature two-tone shoe, jeweler Goossens for her costume jewelry, and Lemarié, which continues to be the exclusive provider of the camellias that are an emblem of the house.
In addition to the Aubervilliers project, the house has pledged 25 million euros toward the renovation of the Grand Palais, where creative director Karl Lagerfeld stages his fashion shows, and will devote just under 5 million euros to the creation of permanent exhibition spaces at the Palais Galliera, the city’s fashion museum.
Patrick Braouezec, a member of parliament who heads the Plaine Commune metropolitan region, pointed to the diversity of the area north of Paris, which is home to 136 nationalities, and underlined its transformation from an abandoned industrial hub to a growing center for company headquarters and cultural institutions.
“We want to remain working class, yet we also want to erase some boundaries with Paris, while remaining what we are,” he said.
Highlighting tensions between Paris and the surrounding regions, Meriem Derkaoui, the mayor of Aubervilliers, took advantage of the ceremony to challenge Hidalgo on topics including the immigration crisis. Authorities in May dismantled a camp near the future Chanel site that was home to more than 1,000 homeless immigrants.
But the official was keen to underline the potential of the area, noting that a local school, the Lycée d’Alembert, was one of the best in the department and has a fashion studies program. “I think those high school students will perhaps also find work in these new facilities,” Derkaoui said.
Even Ricciotti got in on the political discussion, in a speech peppered with references to metaphysics and the creative process.
“When you are an industrialist, you have a political and economic responsibility to spread know-how, and in that sense, Chanel is the jackpot,” he said, describing the site as “halfway between a bourgeois city and a working-class city.”
Ricciotti, winner of the Grand Prix National d’Architecture, is known for his innovative use of concrete in buildings like the Museum of Civilizations in Europe and the Mediterranean in Marseille and the Department of Islamic Arts at the Louvre.
He noted that the “exoskeleton” of the Chanel building, elaborated with his engineer son Romain, was devised using “100 percent French” technology. “Tough luck — it means we can’t be copied in this area,” he added triumphantly.