PARIS — More than a showcase for its specialty workshops, Chanel’s Métiers d’Art show on Tuesday also served as an unofficial inauguration for its new craftsmanship hub on the outskirts of Paris, with celebrity brand ambassadors including Sofia Coppola and Pharrell Williams stepping up to extol the virtues of the human hand.
Creative director Virginie Viard’s collection was presented at the site near Porte d’Aubervilliers, an area that in recent years has dealt with an influx of homeless migrants, and which Chanel is hoping to transform into a beacon for social mobility by recruiting young people from the neighboring areas to learn specialized skills in its luxury workshops.
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). Through the project, which Williams dubbed “a living, breathing museum,” Chanel hopes to contribute to the influence of Paris as the capital of fashion.
Bruno Pavlovsky, president of fashion and president of Chanel SAS, said the house was committed to preserving traditional skills, at a time when many of its competitors are investing heavily in new technologies like NFTs and the metaverse.
“We remain faithful to what sets us apart as a brand, which is all this know-how. Having said that, we follow all these evolutions with great interest, and the metaverse is a huge evolution. Chanel will find its own way to participate in it and offer creations to our clients, but we’re in no rush,” he told WWD.
“In any case, we know that we won’t develop our clothes in this imaginary world. Our clothes are real. We have real models to wear them, and real artists and clients to magnify them, and I think that remains the condition of success,” he added.
With a surface of close to 275,000 square feet over five floors and two basements, the building designed by award-winning architect Rudy Ricciotti houses 600 employees in a striking structure covered in a concrete shell evoking threads, in a nod to the French fashion house’s know-how.
The site is also 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.
Williams was among several celebrities who chaperoned visits to the workshops ahead of the two runway shows on Tuesday. In addition, he and Coppola will appear alongside other personalities in a series of behind-the-scenes videos, to be broadcast on Chanel’s official platforms on Dec. 9 and 10.
“I’m just like a diver in the middle of this whole entire biosphere of preservation, because their whole intention is to preserve the craftsmanship and to continue to foster new talent to come in and pass along the art forms,” the musician told WWD at the Goossens workshop.
“We can’t leave it up to AI. It’s a human touch. It’s the reason why people get so excited, because you feel the chisels, you feel the mallets. When you’re just looking at the work in stores, you feel the people. Humans can sense other human touch,” he posited.
That’s why Williams is convinced that craftsmanship will retain its relevance, even as many consumers switch to virtual worlds and avatars.
“I think what people are very excited about in the NFT world is the minting of human ideas, human intellectual property, digitized and protected on a blockchain. They’re excited about that. It’s not just simply some algorithm,” he said.
“At the end of the day, who is going to make the purchases and who is scouring and checking these things out online? It’s humans, it’s not robots, right? So either way, we are in the beginning. We’re the alpha and the omega of the entire crypto and NFT process. Take us out of it, and it’s just computers,” Williams said.
For Coppola, a longtime friend of the house who often wears Chanel’s most exclusive creations on the red carpet, the emotional connection is clear. She has particularly fond memories of an embroidered black velvet top and pants from the fall 2018 haute couture collection, which she wore to the opening of the “Mademoiselle Privé” exhibition in Tokyo in 2019.
“I just felt so lucky to be able to wear something that was made with so much expertise and beauty, and it’s not something that’s part of regular life, so it’s really such a unique special experience,” she said.
Coppola was selected to present the Lemarié workshop, which makes Chanel’s signature fabric camellias. “It’s such an iconic emblem and I’ve always appreciated them, but I never realized the work that goes into them, and each petal, and the tools that have existed since the founding of the company in 1880. It was really moving to see,” she recounted.
“And I asked, even the camellias that go on the boxes, they said that they’re all handmade. I just assumed that for the boxes in the store, they would have some other way of making them. But yes, I’ll never look at a camellia the same way again,” the director said.
Pavlovsky said having 11 houses under one roof creates a virtuous circle, and promotes innovation. He cited the example of the embroidery workshops, which use 3D printers to produce some pieces. By housing the artisans in a modern building, he hopes to draw in new recruits, at a time when the French luxury sector is struggling to attract talents.
“The houses based here hire around 100 people per year,” he said. “Through our relationships with local schools and organizations, I hope the people we recruit in the coming years will be young people from this area.”
Coppola compared the process of creating the Métiers d’Art line to making movies. “When you make a film, it’s collaborating with a lot of people who are experts at what they do, so I can relate to watching how Virginie puts a collection together and seeing all these experts all bringing pieces together,” she said.
“I don’t know if it comes from her being a costume designer originally, but just her love and appreciation for all the crafts, you can really feel it, and it’s a bit that I love, so it’s exciting to be around. And she has so much respect and appreciation for what they do, and you can see the creative conversation between the artisans,” Coppola continued.
“So I’m just so happy that this tradition is continuing and that they’re all supporting each other, because I imagine it’s probably the only place in the world, and I always thought that that was kind of a dying art,” she added. “All these young people that they’re training, that have so much love and enthusiasm for this work, it’s really inspiring to see.”