“It’s a new way of doing things. We have to be agile, we have to have more content, we need to nourish more creative people.” Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s President of Global Fashion, tells Paul dela Merced how his company is handling the digital challenge
Imagine revolutionising the future of a 110-year-old brand. Imagine heading up a giant multinational corporation and taking care of its crown jewel. Imagine the magnitude of being No. 1 in the fashion industry. That’s been the everyday life of Bruno Pavlovsky, President of Global Fashion at Chanel, for over 30 years now.
At the official launch of Chanel’s “Mademoiselle Privé” exhibition in Shanghai in April, the head poncho praised Karl Lagerfeld’s successor, Virginie Viard, outlined how the company is meeting the challenge of social media, and described how the brand is nourishing its DNA to propel it into the digital future. Highlights of his interview with Prestige:
What brings Mademoiselle Privé to China?
There’s a strong relationship between China and France, and between China and Chanel. It’s not a new relationship. It’s one that has existed for a long time. It’s important to come here and be able to talk about Mademoiselle Coco Chanel and showcase what she did: No. 5, haute couture and high jewellery.
This exhibition is not only about Mademoiselle Coco and her creations. It’s about the maison’s vision and how our DNA is still so modern, and still so powerful for the future of the brand. It’s important to be able to have this dialogue in China with such a scale of exhibition.
What we want to communicate is a clearer and deeper understanding of what Chanel is about: the creation, the craftsmanship, the values that make up the brand, as well as the artistic designers and ateliers. So it’s quite important to come here with something concrete.
In the fragrance and beauty department, it’s the same. Today, we have a large number of young creators and web designers. We need all teams to have the same approach and understanding of the brand, while at the same time pushing them to elevate the content quality. At the beginning, it was a bit difficult. Now it’s part of our day to day, and we have to say that we are quite happy.
With the audience being much more vocal on social media, how do you ensure that the content Chanel puts out doesn’t spark controversy?
We have a strong balance between global teams and local teams. If you want to be meaningful in a country, we believe you need to have a very strong understanding of what is important locally, and I think the success of Chanel is a strong balance between global creation in Paris and strong local execution.
I believe that the key to our success here in China was, quite early, we have been very engaged on WeChat to talk to our Chinese fans. In the States, it’s all about Instagram and Facebook. You create more impactful content when you have a strong local orchestration, because your local team understands its customers. Chanel is about this balance: strong creation, strong local execution.
Chanel is steeped in history. How do you make sure you’re always moving forward and ahead of the curve?
History is not a bad word – it’s the opposite. For us, this history is the key to the future. We take our energy from this rich history. We have this permanent dialogue, consciously and unconsciously, between the brand’s history and the future of the brand. And the most important thing that we want to keep is consistency. The collections change, but at the end of the day we are talking about the Chanel silhouette, from Mademoiselle Chanel to Virginie Viard. The tweed is the best illustration of this consistency.
One thing we need to keep in mind is that, at the end of the day, each product has to incarnate the values of the brand. When you see a Chanel bag or jacket, it’s more than just a bag or a jacket. I can tell you the story of the tweed, I can tell you the story of the finishing, I can tell you every detail. Each detail is coming from the past and we need to think about the next step. It’s a day-to-day effort to ensure that we are not designing products with no meaning. And the job we do for each collection, we try to nourish the imaginations of our customers, the dream – but at the same time to be consistent and to build the next step of the brand. We are very careful about that.
How different is Virginie Viard to Karl Lagerfeld, and what can we expect to see from her?
She will be able to bring something new, some femininity, and at the same time, she knows by heart Mademoiselle Chanel and Karl. She’s been able to work with him for the past 30 years. She’s ready because she knows the past. When you arrive at Chanel, if you don’t know the past, if you don’t know the codes, if you don’t know what it’s about, you can make a lot of mistakes. When you know everything, then you can be much more creative in your decision making and your propositions. That’s why, for the future, Virginie is the best new designer for the brand.
What’s top of mind for the President of a multi-billion dollar brand?
My job is to prepare the next 20 years. I am looking at what will happen next. All the decisions that we are taking today are about tomorrow. All the investments that we are doing at the atelier are about the next 20 years. They are not only about being the most successful today, it’s also about what I do to continuously develop and nourish the brand.
What’s your own secret to succeeding in this cutthroat industry, especially in this day and age?
You’re always lucky to be able to work at Chanel. Even more lucky to be able to work with Karl Lagerfeld for the past 30 years. He was a kind of sponge. He understood everything. He was looking to everything. He was very generous in the day-to-day dialogue we had – on everything. So working with him is an everyday wake-up call on what you have to do and not to do, and I think the best learning experience that you can have as a manager.
And now we have to continue to create, in a different way, the same kind of collaboration with Virginie. But, again, I have been working with her for the past 30 years, so we know each other well. I am sure that we will be able to continue to write a story.