FLORENCE — “Chanel is a diamond, but you don’t know what’s inside,” said Bruno Pavlovksy, president of fashion and president of Chanel SAS.
The executive thus aimed to shed light on what contributes to Chanel’s success during a workshop held Tuesday morning before the brand’s repeat show of the Métiers d’Art collection in Florence. Speaking to a group of about 240 students of schools ranging from Polimoda and Bocconi to Politecnico di Milano to Mita, it was obvious there is no doubt in his mind that craftsmanship, injected with innovation, exceptional materials and the manual work behind those carefully embroidered tweed jackets are keys to ensuring the future of the brand for years to come.
Many of those hands are actually to be found in Italy, so it’s not surprising that Chanel decided to hold the show, originally unveiled on Dec. 7 at the French fashion house’s new center for specialty workshops on the outskirts of Paris, in Florence this time, highlighting the strong connection with the country.
To further drive his point home, Pavlovsky gave a shoutout to the young students gathered at the city’s Camera di Commercio. “We are here to recruit, your development interests us,” he said. Chanel, which has 40 different agreements with schools in France, is looking at “inspiring and to talk to new generations,” he said.
On Tuesday, Chanel revealed it had signed a partnership with the Politecnico di Milano University in line with the sustainable transformation of the house’s activities, aiming to use that institution’s expertise in science and technology, specializing in engineering, architecture and design, to model new methods that take into account the fast changes occurring in luxury manufacturing activities.
Pavlovsky addressed sustainability and the challenges it presents for total transparency. “To be the best you need to be more active than in the past, and it is no longer enough to simply trust your suppliers. We must guarantee and ensure that any kind of material is the best for our customers. There is no other choice but this social commitment to be the best. Sustainability is not a choice, it’s an obligation.”
Sustainability is also about work ethics and protecting the know-how of the artisans Chanel works with — a key priority for Pavlovsky — as it helps to ensure that their expertise is handed down to younger generations. Chanel has a history of taking control of its suppliers and it has done so in Italy for years. Since the acquisition of Italian shoe manufacturer Roveda in 1999, Chanel has acquired eight more companies in Italy specializing in footwear, leather goods, tanning and textiles and the company paid tribute to four of those producers with a short video. In addition to Roveda, Chanel controls Gensi, acquired in 2015; Nillab, acquired in 2020; leather goods manufacturers Corti and Mab, acquired in 2019; Tanneries Samanta, acquired in 2019; Gaiera, acquired in 2020; fancy yarn company Vimar, acquired in 2020, and knitwear manufacturer Paima, bought in 2021.
“The manufacturers are our partners, we work together and I strongly believe they need to have their own business model and be free to work with other brands and not take risks,” said Pavlovsky speaking with WWD ahead of the show at the Stazione Leopolda. “We must prepare for the next 20 years. We don’t want to control everything, what we need is to have the best talent.”
At the end of 2014, the house opened its first Italian distribution center in Vittuone, near Milan, which has a strategic role for the local market.
“At Chanel, we love Italy,” claimed Pavlovsky. “Half of our life is in Italy,” he said, conveying the message that “Chanel is about emotion, too.”
He said that with the workshops he wants to offer “another perspective” to the brand, an “emotional link.”
The masterclasses have previously been held in Japan, Korea, Thailand and Dubai, for example, to connect local teams with students.
Italy is also a key market for Chanel. “It’s our number two, after France,” in Europe, he offered.
“Business is doing well here, although not as well as before COVID-19, but it’s starting to come back. We have a strong relationship with local customers.”
There are seven boutiques in Italy and asked if more are in the pipeline, Pavlovsky said the goal is rather to “improve the quality” of the existing stores. Case in point — the Florence boutique will reopen in July, historically and strategically positioned in the stunning — and major tourist attraction — Piazza della Signoria.
The original intention was for the opening to coincide with the show, but work was slowed by the pandemic. No matter, Pavlovksy is taking this in stride and enthused that the newly revamped flagship, designed by Peter Marino, “will be fantastic, of a different scale and with a different spirit,” expanded “to accommodate more product, with bigger fitting rooms and salons,” to offer “one of the best experiences. It has to be perfect.”
Size is not an issue, though, as he pointed to the Capri boutique, “small but nice,” and where “it’s always a pleasure to be. Step by step, we will improve the existing network.”
Itinerant shows are back, following Chanel’s Dubai event in November — a repeat show of its cruise 2022 collection — and the Métiers d’Art shows are a way to prove the company’s “respect and admiration” for its suppliers and “reinforce the relationship with local businesses.” After all, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, also in light of the times she lived in, traveled a lot around the world, he said, adding that a replica of the cruise show will be staged likely in October, while not providing a precise location yet.
In Florence, a private view of the Métiers d’Art collection was to be presented at the Camera di Commercio for Chanel’s top clients the day after the show.
Asked by a student about dressing people with disabilities, Pavlovsky responded: “We find solutions for everyone, we redevelop and reset the product. But we must accept what we are, we cannot be for everyone. The dream, the magic, the product incarnates a kind of exclusivity for its know-how and its price, but the people behind the brand are about inclusivity. In the atelier you discover another world that is not in the boutique and which is as important.”
He touted the harmonization of Chanel prices around the world, claiming it was the only luxury company that has pursued this strategy. “But this has a price. We started six years ago,” and he acknowledged it’s unlikely the company will increase its prices again any time soon, after a series of recent hikes, as reported. “But if we have to do less, we will, to offer the best.”
Trumpeting Chanel’s authenticity, he concluded: “I don’t know how we’ll be in 20 years, but I know we will be consistent with our values, heritage, and codes, to ensure they will be the same but evolved. Otherwise we cannot be the ultimate house of luxury.”