Speaking a day after creative director Virginie Viard presented her Métiers d’Art collection at the venue, dubbed 19M, the rapper and entrepreneur commended the site for supporting Chanel’s mainly female workforce and creating opportunities for people from the surrounding neighborhood near Porte d’Aubervilliers, an area that in recent years has dealt with an influx of homeless migrants.
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.
It’s 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.
The “Happy” singer was among several celebrities who chaperoned visits to the specialty workshops ahead of the two runway shows on Tuesday. In addition, he 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.
Dressed in a black tweed Chanel jacket pinned with a multitude of sparkling double-C logo brooches, Williams joined speakers including Bruno Pavlovsky, president of fashion and president of Chanel SAS; brand ambassador Caroline de Maigret, and choreographer Dimitri Chamblas at the event, held in front of several hundred local students.
The musician compared 19M to a project he is pitching with award-winning architect David Adjaye in the city of Norfolk, Va. Dubbed Wellness Circle, the $1.1 billion urban revitalization development would include public spaces, mixed-income housing and commercial spaces, a nonprofit private school, as well as a state-of-the-art arena.
“I was raised in a housing project,” he said. “Oftentimes, we’re looked down upon, and the odds are pretty much stacked against us.” He’s conceived Wellness Circle to eradicate stereotypes and preconceptions. “We want to change the paradigm with this charter community,” he explained.
“It cannot just be the elite, you have to recognize the workforce. And in this case, there’s a lot of women in this building. And that’s the other thing that I commend Chanel on, because they lift women so high, it’s such a beautiful thing. We need more of that,” he said.
“We’re so used to patriarchal societies. If you think about it, if more women had their fingers on the codes to the nuke buttons, I wonder how few wars we would have,” he added to applause from the audience.
Hinting at future projects in the pipeline, Williams said Chanel was committed to increasing diversity in its ranks. The brand hired Fiona Pargeter as head of diversity and inclusion in 2019.
“The intention is to diversify. The intention is to take a more democratic approach to France itself. We do know that there has been tension with our African brothers and sisters here in this country, our Arabic brothers or sisters in this country. Chanel understands that,” he said. “They can bring tax dollars to this area. That’s a beautiful thing.”
He added that his relationship with the brand has progressively evolved into a partnership. “We’ve been mutually supportive of each other, and I have to say, it’s beautiful to see the color, so much color, being injected into the brand,” Williams said. “Now, you’re really feeling the effort to be inclusive of human beings.”
Pavlovsky noted that Chanel has local teams in more than 40 countries. “We are connected every day with them,” he said. “It’s a French brand with international roots.”
However, he suggested that its design influences would remain resolutely local. “We are proposing to all these cultures, who today are our customers, a French vision of what is fashion, and I think that is making the difference,” Pavlovsky said. “We are a French brand with a French woman designer who is giving her best of her vision of fashion.”