BANGKOK – “Sabai, sabai” was the phrase of the day as Chanel brought its most recent cruise collection to Thailand, re-staging it as part of a celebrity-laden affair during a week of special activities for VIP clients who’ve transformed the market into one of the French house’s top ten.
Sabai means a carefree attitude somewhere in between “no worries” and “feeling fine,” and Chanel certainly conjured the mood, ferrying guests including Pharrell Williams, Lily-Rose Depp and Tilda Swinton in traditional boats across the Chao Phraya River to a warehouse that had been transformed into a pier for the show.
“It’s the first time Chanel is showing in my homeland. It’s so special,” said Thai model and actress Aokbab, who had shot a special short video with the brand in the lead-up to the event. As Swinton good-naturedly posed for shots with swarms of fans, she talked about how she’d been shown around the city by director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who was also attending the event.
The dedication to Chanel was evident among the 1,600 guests who turned out for the two shows. Despite the tropical temperatures, tweed jackets could be spotted throughout the audience, paired with sandals or other weather-appropriate twists.
Actor Gaspard Ulliel, who is the face of Chanel’s Bleu fragrance, said the Thai way of dressing – laid back but elegant – had begun to rub off on him.
“The smooth silhouette and fluid textures. It’s very inspiring,” he said. “More and more I tend to go for a less stiff silhouette. I grew up in Paris, and have this very Parisian fit and stiff silhouette.”
Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s president of fashion, said the Coco Beach collection “fits much more with the temperature here in Thailand.” After Chanel harmonized its prices in the region three years ago, the Thai market responded with enthusiasm, repatriating a lot of the spending. The show, and the many activities going on this week, are a reflection of that flourishing relationship.
“They are in the top ten of our customers. That is quite significant. If we are here, then we believe there is growth in this market for tomorrow,” Pavlovsky said during an interview at the Mandarin Oriental before the show.
He would later speak to a group of university students about Chanel, while Caroline de Maigret, Amanda Sanchez and Soo-Joo Park hosted an intimate panel discussion with clients. The brand also set up a temporary pop-up Instagram account @chanel.sabaistyle, asking the public to tag and submit their own photos.
The Thai customer has been maturing, moving from accessories-driven purchases to fashion and the full realm of the brand. Pavlovsky said Chanel’s presence here this week was a nod to that. “It is not [only] about the show, it is about the renovation of the boutiques, having the right boutiques, the right training, with an understanding of what Chanel fashion is today. It’s a job we started a few years ago.”
Chanel opened its first fashion boutique in Thailand in 1997, and has added three more in Bangkok since then, at Central Embassy, EmQuartier, Siam Paragon, and Suvarnabhumi International Airport. The brand also has 20 points of sale for beauty and fragrances.
While Thailand may not offer the explosive growth that China does, it’s still a significant market. “In Asia, I think that you have two types of business, the Chinese one, and the others” Pavlovsky said, adding that Thailand, along with South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan, can hold its own against European markets such as France or Italy.
Pavlovsky added that Chanel expects to tap into the growing momentum in the Thai market.
“A year ago we were in Chengdu [to show our Cruise collection]. The research in terms of connections in Chengdu was the best we ever had: 450 million unique connections with the brand. It was something huge. Above what we can imagine.”
Pavlovsky also addressed the death earlier this week of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the founder of King Power, Thailand’s largest duty free company. Srivaddhanaprabha, who was also the much-loved owner of Leicester City Football Club in England, died suddenly in a helicopter crash with four others, including the pilots.
“First, we are very saddened and I know that King Power is a strong friend, if I may say, of the brand. We are very sorry for what happened,” Pavlovsky said, adding that “we have done a lot with Southeast Asia, with them.”
The business will continue with the new generation at King Power, where a growing number of Korean and Chinese tourists were showing up in Thailand.
“We are here for Thailand, for Thais,” Pavlovsky underscored. In looking at opportunities across Asia, he said he believes it’s a conversation that should occur city by city rather than by country, and it may still be too early to expect Thailand to wield the Asia-wide influence of Japan or Korea.
“I would prefer to talk about big cities,” he said. “Bangkok is a big city. Singapore is a big city. Tomorrow, Jakarta will be a big city. In Southeast Asia, we are talking about a big hub of local people but foreigners going through and I think Bangkok is becoming one of these key hubs in Asia.”
“Chanel is not just about putting out the product and seeing the level of sales. Chanel is about having this strong relationship with the brand the creative connection of the brand,” Pavlovsky said.
The brand had one last surprise for its Thai guests to drive that point home. Post-show carousing and free flow Champagne was halted for Pharrell to unveil a special announcement that he would be debuting a capsule collection with Chanel in the spring.
The N.E.R.D frontman has been working with the brand for some time now, previously designing a pair of Adidas sneakers with Chanel. The musician didn’t let on too much about what the collections would involve, but it made for another “sabai” moment, when he performed “Get Lucky” and “Happy” wearing a yellow hoodie from his upcoming capsule.