Chanel’s Bruno Pavlovsky on LA, the customer experience, The Met Gala and Karl the provocateur
It felt like Chanel took over Los Angeles this past week, with the staging of its latest cruise collection and the opening of supremely swish and chic new mega boutique on Rodeo Drive.
The City of Angels had Chanel billboards dotted across the landscape. While the Paris house also organized Agnès Varda in California, Chanel in Cinema within the Academy Museum, a debate about the great French director between her daughter Rosalie and Chanel ambassador and Oscar winner Marion Cotillard.
All together, this West Coast triumph was the latest example in smooth and inventive luxury management at Chanel in a team led by Bruno Pavlovsky, president of fashion at Chanel.
It also comes after a sensational moment for Chanel on the East Coast at The Met Gala 2023, with exceptional social media coverage of the soirée and the opening of Costume Institute’s exhibition Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty.
Where Pavlovsky and creative director Virginie Viard hosted some 15 actresses and ambassadors at Chanel’s table. Hosting a brilliantly eclectic squad of stars that included Nicole Kidman, Jennie Kim, Dua Lipa, Gisele Bündchen, Angèle, Marion Cotillard, Kristen Stewart, Margaret Qualley, Sofia Coppola, Margot Robbie, Charlotte Casiraghi and Penelope Cruz. Nice work if you can get it.
Founder Coco Chanel first reached Hollywood back in 1931 when Samuel Goldwyn paid her the then exceptional sum of $1 million to come to LA twice a year to design clothes for GM stars. Coco ended up dressing Gloria Swanson, while Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich became major clients. In the end, presenting Chanel’s cruise 2023 collection inside Paramount Movie Studios felt a little like the brand coming home to meet a dear old friend.
The connection has also helped drive revenues. In 2021, Chanel scored a 23% rise in revenues to $15.6 billion, as operating profit grew 58% to $5.5 billion.
FashionNetwork.com sat down with Pavlovsky for an update on all things Chanel in that mecca of classic Hollywood, the Beverly Hills hotel. Its Polo Lounge hosted Humphrey Bogart, Fred Astaire swam in its pool, Marilyn Monroe’s last Vogue shoot shot there. As the Chanel executive discussed coming to California; curating the customer experience; attending The Met Ball; and Karl Lagerfeld’s ability to post-humously wind-up people.
FashionNetwork.com: Why has Chanel come to Los Angeles to show in a film studio?
Bruno Pavlovsky: Paramount Picture Studios is a mythical location. So many films were shot there, movies that included Chanel. Plus, you feel you could be anywhere, in New York or in a Coppola movie. And, there is practical motive – the setting corresponds to exactly what we looking for. Plus, three days ago it bucketed rain in LA. So, if it does on the evening of the show, we will go inside a sound stage. That’s the principal of cinema, and part of our story. Like when Karl showed inside Cinecittà in Rome, and we recreated Paris.
FNW: What’s the thinking behind Chanel in Cinema?
BP: This exhibition on Agnès Varda exists independently of Chanel. But Virginie Viard has always been very influenced by the New Wave. And though there is not a direct line, to this collection, it’s part of the Chanel culture. From Last Year a Marienbad, there are many extraordinary links. And there is a great complicity between Rosalie and Vivienne. They both began as costume designers.
FNW: What is most exciting and new about your new super boutique on Rodeo Drive?
BP: I was with (architect) Peter Marino this morning and quite honestly, I believe this latest store is his most beautiful. It manages to incarnate all that is best in our brand. What it is today – luxury, sensitivity and beauty. There is an equilibrium between product and décor that is finessed to perfection. Don’t forge, it’s 10 years in the making. It’s hard to build on Rodeo Drive and get all the permits. We erased our old store and reconstructed the best we could from scratch. Making it very specific to LA, with its sunny climate. Like in Miami, we have a white box in which you place black. While in our boutique in Seoul, it’s a black box with white. What’s important is fitting into the neighborhood. Here on Rodeo Drive, Peter traps the daylight and does so without deteriorating the interior lighting of the store or any product.
FNW: Last year Chanel discussed developing new special stores dedicated to super loyal clients. How is that project working out?
BP: The key thing is to offer each client the best possible experience, in each city. Like in Rue Cambon in Paris, where we have two floors that we receive clients on a rendezvous basis. And where our fashion assistants can prepare a selection before they arrive. That works very well, as it provides more intimacy. Even if most clients like to pass through the boutique and discover out latest selections. In China, or in Hong Kong, sometimes these private spaces are in separate buildings. Here in LA, as we built from scratch, we have two dedicated spaces on the third floor, which can only be reached by elevators.
FNW: What effect do you expect the exhibition Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty to have on Chanel business?
BP: The Met Gala and the exhibition is about all Karl Lagerfeld. And the extraordinary work he did with Chanel, but also for Fendi and his own brand. I regard the curation by Andrew Bolton as exceptional. So when we were at The Met Gala we were not thinking of Chanel, but of Karl. A Line of Beauty is a homage to an exceptional personality. The only thing that surprised me was all the polemics from certain people. But that’s what happens when you do exceptional work.
I also recall seeing 15 extraordinary women at our Chanel table who incarnate the modernity of today with the complicity of Karl Lagerfeld. Plus, Karl adored The Met and, in my view, he would have found this homage to himself exceptional.
FNW: How has your demographic been changing in recent years?
BP: It has surely evolved with Virginie, since she creates collections that are maybe more liberated and with a certain femininity. Karl maybe created more costumes. Perhaps Virginie is closer to daily reality, which touches more clients and younger women. Maybe Karl created a little fear as his fashion statements were so strong and dramatic. Maybe Virginie’s creations are a little more accessible, which doesn't mean they are less sophisticated. But the result is more free and liberated and fluid. Virginie loves to dress the models and has another way of doing things. Karl was more strict. Not that he wasn’t extraordinary– but there is a difference.
FNW: One notable difference is that unlike Karl, who loved to include several men’s looks inmost shows, almost as cool insider fashion jokes. Not Virginie?
BP: It’s true Virginie has never included men in her shows, that doesn’t mean one day she might. Karl did love a good menswear insider joke, that’s true. He loved a little provocation. In the end, Karl was an enormous provocateur! And even more than three years after he has gone, there is still lots of provocation in the air. That’s what is intriguing.
FNW: What would Karl – who hated to look back – have made of the retrospective?
BP: We have often asked ourselves that question. My view is that Karl was so smart he would have loved the evening, and how many women looked so marvelous in his creations. And he would have been amused by the whole circus. Especially seeing Choupette on the red carpet. He loved creating personalities, from Choupette to himself. And always winding people up. No wonder some people are still criticizing him. But when you shoot a lot of arrows like Karl, no wonder some people are shooting back. It’s easier for them when he is not around to respond.
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