Bruno Pavlovsky on Chanel’s bricks and mortar strategy
With every luxury brand executive racing to build a digital empire, it’s refreshing to sit down with Bruno Pavlovsky of Chanel; whose main focus for next year will be bricks and mortar, and live events.
“2018 will be the year of flagships, six of them, either brand new stores or major re-openings, which will be very impactful,” says Pavlovsky, the president of Chanel’s fashion and accessories divisions.
And the destinations are all major ones. From New York, a new boutique on 57th street to a new flagship in Seoul, Chanel’s first there, to a new location in tony London shopping mecca Brompton Cross. Plus, openings in new markets like Copenhagen and Abu Dhabi, to a Chanel network currently consisting of 190 free-standing boutiques. Plus, on December 1, Chanel opened a second Tokyo flagship in Ginza on Namiki-Dōri, a three-year renovation, where architect Peter Marino clad the building in matte black and white panels, a very Coco color scheme.
“All of boutiques designed by Peter. Everything is by Peter, more than ever Peter,” smiled Pavlovsky.
Though the biggest opening will be in Paris, where rue Cambon (Chanel’s historic headquarters) meets the rue St Honoré, in mid 2018. A space clad in scaffolding at present, unlike a new mat gray Christian Dior boutique which opened a catty corner nearby.
“They cannot live without us. Not only for the boutique but also for many things. But that is good. It’s good to have a leader and someone try to follow!” meows Pavlovsky in Hamburg, where Karl Lagerfeld staged the latest Métiers d’Art for the storied fashion house.
“It’s a very nice adventure; a great location and a very nice harbor. A great inspiration for Karl and for the studio,” says Pavlovsky, perched in an opera singer’s dressing room with a fantastic view of the harbor and its own Steinway piano.
Five hours later, Lagerfeld would win a standing ovation for one of his greatest collections for Chanel, a merchant seaman mode show of dark beauty. A proper fashion moment. Given that Karl is an octogenarian; and the show was in his family’s hometown, rather inevitably several websites speculated that this might mark a final passage for the fashion legend. A notion that Pavlovsky dismissed out of hand.
“Whoa! A rumor because we are here where Karl came from. But I would say just one thing. Last night we were talking with Karl and already discussing our next location in December 2018!” he scoffs.
“Look, strong story telling is vital for Chanel. It delivers the sort of message that costumers of Chanel want to know. Each of our shows is a vehicle to maximize the impact of what we are doing, to maximize the buzz. Not just for our customers, but also for the fans of the brand,” he stresses.
A ceaseless global traveler, last month he was in Chengdu, where Chanel reprised the Ancient Greek goddess cruise collection, originally shown in Paris in May.
“We scored 698 million hits from that show, on WeChat and Weibu, etc. That impact allows us to create an accessible dream. A chance to see and touch and understand what the brand is all about. That has nothing to do with customers – we don’t have 500 million customers in our boutiques. Don’t worry!” he laughs.
To Pavlovsky, the key equation in luxury is balancing accessibility to the dream with the exclusivity of one’s products inside boutiques, carefully playing those two cards. Hence, unlike practically all its competition, Chanel’s e-commerce is essentially limited to beauty and eyewear.
“Chanel is not a click. But when you think of a $5,000 jacket or a $10,000 dress the customer experience has to be more than just a click – you can click on everything,” he snorts.
In China, Chanel is also about to open in Beijing’s China World mall. Business in China, he stresses, has been boosted by the policy of global price harmonization that Pavlovsky began introducing in 2015. Chanel, privately owned by the hyper discreet Wertheimer family, does not release official financial results, but is understood to have achieved 2016 turnover of $5.7 billion.
“We see more and more Chinese in China coming to our boutiques regularly. They don’t need to travel to Paris, New York or London to buy Chanel and this is very important,” he underlines. Comparatively, Chanel garners less revenue (less than 10% of global sales) from Chinese consumers than many of its rivals, allowing considerable room for expansion in the key market of the 21st century. One vehicle will be harnessing influencers.
“What is interesting about influencers in China is their point of view of the brand. Some are followed by
20 or 25 million, which is quite impressive. And they are very clear that what their followers want from them is a point of view. And we have to work with them not to dilute this kind of positioning. They are KOLs, Key Opinion Leaders, and we don’t want to try to turn them into Key Office Ladies! One of them told me, ‘Our followers want to know our point of view, but we cannot do the job of a brand. So be careful. The brand should not mix up and blur everything.’ That was a good message. I don’t want to pay them to say that the brand is wonderful. Anyway, we don’t have any of them under contract. Not one!” he stressed, as a small armada of craft passed by his giant picture window.
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