Ordinarily, a major itinerant show would be the anchor event of Bruno Pavlovsky’s work week. This past week was a little different. On Monday afternoon, in a suite at the Mercer Hotel, the president of Chanel Fashion and president of Chanel SAS discussed more ominous activity: the antigovernment demonstrations in France which on Saturday involved significant vandalism at the new Chanel store at 19 Rue Cambon in Paris.
“I was there, everything was OK until four o’clock,” Pavlovsky said in describing his experience of the day’s events. “At four o’clock, in five minutes, everything went wrong. It was pure violence, a few minutes, and after, it’s gone. It was [only] many material things; there were no injuries, people were safe. The boutique was closed because [an hour before], the police asked us to close. So we were following the instruction of the police.”
Pavlovsky arrived in New York only after spending Sunday morning at the store, where he went to talk with staff and assess the situation. “At the end of the day, we were able to open at eleven o’clock in the morning as usual with a lot of customers. We saw a lot of customers coming into the boutique just to support us,” he noted.
Pavlovsky offered that the government of French President Emmanuel Macron must take the steps necessary to open “the right level of dialogue” to stave off repeats of the widespread violence of the past two Saturdays. “It’s [essential] to [engage] with the people who are not happy, and just being sure that if they want to demonstrate they can demonstrate, but without this kind of violence. That’s not acceptable.”
Turning to what in comparison is a happily more mundane subject — the world of Chanel — Pavlovsky delivered some brand news — that, as reported, Chanel will cease its use of exotic skins, beginning immediately with Karl Lagerfeld’s new collections after a transitional period at retail. While exotics have never figured prominently in Chanel’s product range, their definitive elimination has cultural resonance and puts even greater focus on the house’s renowned research and development. “It has become increasingly complex to be able to have the right level of everything — supply, quality, trustability,” Pavlovsky said. “So we have decided now to focus on creation.…We are totally convinced that the future of high-end product will come from the know-how. And we have some examples in the current [Métiers d’Art] collection of what our ateliers are able to do.”
Because of that ability, Chanel can focus less on the scarcity of materials such as skins, and instead highlight craftsmanship. “It’s quite important,” he said. “It’s not about today; it’s about the next 20 years. We believe that’s the best way for us to prepare the future.”
Pavlovsky discussed in-depth the primary purpose for his trip, Tuesday night’s Métiers d’Art show at the Temple of Dendur, the ancient Egyptian temple housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The timing is right for another show in New York, he noted, since the brand’s last major runway event here was nearly four years ago, a restaging of its Métiers d’Art collection first shown in Salzburg, Austria. The house unveiled the Métiers d’Art lineup in New York once before, in 2005 at its boutique.
Pavlovsky cited the reopening of Chanel’s recently renovated store on 57th Street as evidence of the brand’s commitment to the U.S. market. He noted, too, the significance of showing at the Met, describing it as “something amazing for us, amazing for Karl.”
The purpose of the Métiers d’Art collections is to highlight the work of the amalgamation of 12 specialized ateliers — Lesage (embroideries), Desrues (buttons), Lemarié (feathers), Guillet (flowers), Barrie Knitwear and Causse (gloves) among them — and 14 factories that Chanel owns and that create exquisite work for fashion houses at the highest levels of ready-to-wear as well as couture. “Fashion could not be what it is today without this amazing know-how,” Pavlovsky said.
To that end, he stressed that for all the massive marketing punch gleaned from its mind-blowing extravaganzas — beach, Eiffel Tower, Chanel Grocery, Chanel Gallery installed within the Grand Palais, and the world-tour Métiers d’Art and cruise shows, in locales from Salzburg to Havana to Edinburgh — the core of the Chanel ethos, and its long-term success, remains its dedication to the consistent creation of exquisite product. He noted three components to that product excellence: first, design, “obviously, Karl is the best”; second, the know-how and craftsmanship, without which Chanel couldn’t produce eight rtw and two couture collections each year, and third, tireless research and innovation in materials. Pavlovsky offered an iconic example. “The tweed of today has nothing to do with the tweed of yesterday,” he said. “All the work we are doing to develop new threads which are a mix of natural and technical fibers is quite amazing. That gives you the finished product — the jacket, the dress, etc.”
The Métiers d’Art shows are the ultimate expression of the fusion of all three, and afford “a good opportunity to explain and re-explain the value of this approach to our customers. I believe that’s quite important.”
While such customer outreach in various markets is invaluable, taking the Métiers d’Art and cruise shows on the road also affords the brand’s local organizations essential interface with Chanel’s leadership, right up to Lagerfeld and Pavlovsky. It’s a way, Pavlovsky said, “to be connected. Because [the local operations] are a part of the story, they are involved. It’s very important, because they can talk to the customers.”
Furthermore, the road shows provide opportunity to pique interest and curiosity among younger consumers. “Here in New York we have a large number of very loyal customers, and [the show] will be for them,” Pavlovsky said. “But it is also a way to attract a new generation. Everything we are doing today is a mix of both — being able to give the best to our loyal customers who know quite well the bond, but it’s also a way to get the interest, at least through all the digital communication, of this next new generation of customers.”
Such outreach includes videos celebrating the craftsmanship of various Chanel-owned ateliers, and will be supplemented with in-store workshops as the clothes reach the stores. The digital communication does not include plans for broad-stroke e-commerce, which Pavlovsky considers antithetical to Chanel’s luxury ethos. “We continue to be convinced of the role of the boutique and the role of e-services,” he said. “I think you cannot replace the boutique, the experience in the boutique, the connection [of customers] with our fashion advisers, the sophistication of our product, and also be able to have the right fittings and those kinds of things. We believe that it’s becoming more and more important.
“At the same time — this is certainly the case here in New York — we know that our customers have less and less time, and we need to improve our relationship with them. That’s the reason why we are doing more and more with what we call e-services. We have many different initiatives, many in the big cities, in New York, in Paris, in London, to try to better connect our customer with the brand and be where they want us to be. So that can mean appointments, deliveries, whatever. It’s not a revolution, but it’s a way to be near and refer the best to our customers.”
As for Chanel’s intricate, highly sophisticated retail network, Pavlovsky said being in the right places isn’t enough, and that brand must keep its outposts fresh and compelling. “We are opening new stores and innovating the others,” he said. “Renovation is becoming even more important as we have more and more to say to our customers.” To that end, the brand wants to increase its in-store focus on ready-to-wear, which Pavlovsky said, perhaps surprisingly, “is not always the case.” In terms of visual display, that means something that sounds pretty basic — installing more mannequins, “to give a silhouette, a feeling. It helps to give more energy [and transmit] what the collection is about.”
At the same time, Métiers d’Art speaks very specifically to the uniqueness of Chanel. “We are the only ones to have this collection,” Pavlovsky noted, adding that many customers take a “collector’s approach” to the range, shipped on a May/June delivery. “More and more, we have seen in every single country in the world, even where the ready-to-wear is not that strong in terms of penetration, that having this kind of very sophisticated collection improves our ready-to-wear penetration.”
Expectations for the U.S. market, particularly New York, are high. “Because of our strong history with haute couture, we believe that we can do much more than what we are doing [now] with this Métiers d’Art collection,” Pavlovsky mused. “Because there is a love for this sophisticated product. Our customer loves to understand and to see all the details of what we are able to do. Now, with the [new] boutique, we’ll be able to even give them more product.”
Pavlovsky expects those customers to respond to the entirety of that product, its quality, its craftsmanship and its inherent emotion. “Luxury, it’s about emotion and freedom,” he said. “Emotion, because you have to create something within the people who are looking at you, and freedom because there is no obligation. The people that want to buy, they buy; if they don’t want to buy, they don’t buy. If you create the right emotion, people will follow what you are doing.”