Chanel’s Bruno Pavlovsky predicts strong 2022 growth, as house unveils latest collection in 19M
It’s a pivotal moment for the storied fashion house, which has weathered the business storm caused by the global pandemic, and now stands poised to reveal 19M, a giant new center of couture and fashion skills, assembled in a techy-style building on the ringroad of Paris.
“2022 can be good from a business point of view but very difficult from a day-to-day point of view as you are dependent on sanitary conditions. It’s a great unknown,” conceded Pavlovsky in a Zoom call on Thursday.
“We have to be optimistic but also realistic, as we are facing challenging situations. But these past two years we have focused on our loyal customers; and we have enjoyed double digit growth in each country with local customers, even if tourism is up and down,” the executive stressed.
On Tuesday morning, Chanel’s creative director Virginie Viard will present her latest Métiers d’Art collection for Chanel, and the 20th in the house’s history. A unique blend of luxury ready-to-wear with luxury couture elements, Métiers d’Art is unique to Chanel. As is tradition, it brings down the curtain annually on catwalk events by major league fashion houses, with its show, perennially staged in the first week of December.
Last year, due to Covid-19, Viard presented Métiers d’Art in a show video shot in the legendary Chateau de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley, lensed by Juergen Teller.
“In terms of retail sales, we reached a 95 to 96 percent sell-through with that collection! This will be our 20th collection of Métiers d’Art collection, and we hope to do even better,” beamed Pavlovsky in the online interview, with a half-dozen fashion editors from Britain and France.
Despite the tricky restrictions, Chanel plans to Eurostar over editors for the show. It is a house with a long history of epic runway events, even if its pandemic runway videos also appeared to strike a chord with fans.
“We had to show without the public in the Chateau de Chenonceau; and it proved to be one of our best ever selling collections. Its images and ideas clearly attracted customers into our boutique. So, our storytelling has remained strong,” he said.
Given its success, why have other couture houses not followed Chanel's example, with their own Métiers d'Art collections?
“The others have been busy doing other things,” chuckled Pavlovsky. “Mademoiselle Chanel and Karl and now Virginie have always worked hand in hand with all these different crafts people. When you come to our Chanel studio, they are always present, and they always have been present. Especially at Chanel, where we are making 10 collections a year. And recall that Chanel was the first designer to really partner at this level. Decades ago, working with Lesage or Massaro, Hurel or Goossens. These sources in turn that have worked with many couturiers and artistic directors. That’s the key to their longevity, adapting to different visions of fashion. Coco Chanel was the very first couturier to create these partnerships because she had no other choice. That was obvious for Karl too. Virginie never starts a collection without a dialogue with all these people.”
Named for its arrondissement and métiers, 19M is a 25,000-square-meter center designed by architect Rudy Ricciotti, which groups together 600 professionals – from embroiderers (Lesage) and bootmakers (Massaro) to milliners (Maison Michel) pleat makers (Logon) and feather suppliers (Lemarié), in a truly unique constellation of skills and know-how. Its airy five floors are finished with white metal tentacles, suggesting giant strips of thread.
The French executive noted that 19M now works with than 40 brands, each with different approaches and ranging from rivals Chanel and Givenchy to modern couturiers like Alexander Vauthier.
Many of the skilled craft companies Chanel acquired were being managed by their third generation. Often in companies founded in the early 19th century, where everything has been recorded and archived, helping to inspire a new generation of designers.
Asked what Chanel looked for when acquiring a Métiers d’Art supplier, Pavlovsky responded: “An authentic engagement, and not just one person; a strong atelier; know-how and monitoring. More or less a guarantee that they will continue to contribute. When we bought Barrie (Scottish cashmere specialist) it was losing staff and people were less interested in cashmere. But since we bought it, Barrie has doubled the number of staff and tripled its output!”
Looking ahead, he revealed that Chanel is still in the market for new resources, possibly in textile and materials, whose future supply he believed is “quite fragile.”
“We’ve been thinking about textiles and fabrics where sustainability means lot.
Where and when raw materials have been made is very important to guarantee our customers get the best. And that’s becoming more and more difficult whether in cashmere, silk or cotton,” he stressed. This summer, Chanel acquired a majority stake in Italian fine knitwear maker Paima; and in November it bought leather goods specialist Ateliers De May in the Charente-Maritime region of France.
Pavlovsky sees tomorrow’s show as a presentation of Métiers d’Art, while 19M’s official launch will be in January. Quizzed about NFTs, Pavlovsky said Chanel was looking also at them and at the metaverse. “Three years ago, everyone spoke of blockchain, and now we are using it throughout our entire manufacturing process. The day we are ready we will come with our own contribution to the metaverse.”
It has not all been plain sailing: Chanel just came in for some brutal attacks on social media, especially TikTok, by fans disappointed by its latest advent calendar that included stickers, mention of which made Pavlovsky winch.
“The calendar was designed to be very sustainable. If some customers were frustrated – they should know it came from that change,” he shrugged.
He was also keen to downplay reports that Chanel has begun limiting sales of products in several key markets.
“We have not put new limitations on selling in any country. We just had a big successful year, especially in Korea, and we don’t have enough products – especially for handbags. In many countries we were short of inventory. Because last year during Covid we were at the highest level of inventory, and we had to close several hundred boutiques overnight. It’s been complicated. So, in certain boutiques, our salespeople decided to split the product between as many customers as possible. It’s decided city to city, especially in Korea,” he insisted.
Though his greatest obsession is very much 19M. It’s very much Pavlovsky’s baby, which he sees as representing the new generation for Chanel.
“It’s full of lots of young kids. They are not in their 80s, they are in their 30s, and they are artistic and committed and passionate and knowledgeable and love what they do. There is also lots of technology. When people think of going to an atelier, they think 'old'. Now we have lots of 3D printers and simulators and AI to imagine what can be done. 19M is not a location for tomorrow, it is for today; the best conditions for our 600 couturiers, artisans and embroiders. And an archive with digital monitoring, taking this all to a new level.”
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