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Chanel Plays Risk

Chanel's make’s a bold decision to remain almost entirely out of e-commerce, leaving uncertainty for the company’s immediate and future business success

The fast-paced world of the fashion industry has been obligated to slow down, or maybe even to be put on lockdown. The impact of the Corona Virus pandemic has made brick-and-mortar shopping practically obsolete and the concept of observing a garment live on a runway has been coerced to live a 2D life on a screen. This unexpected insurgency has incited restorative conversations about the rigorously unattainable supply and demand chain within high fashion and called for an entire re-evaluation of an industry that has typically anathematised futuristic change or conformity.

There is an incessant push within the industry to create and show new garments and accessories as swiftly as possible to get them to their consumer; leading both independently- owned and big-name brands to take a step back and re-evaluate their options. The rigorous schedules are said to take away from the creativity of high fashion and move brands into a sector more like fast fashion, and in a time when the world has finally been able to slow down, brands want to focus on creativity and innovation over sales revenue. Amid this widespread push for change, Kering conglomerate owned brands, Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, have announced that they will not be participating “in any of the pre-set schedules of 2020”.

Creative director, Anthony Vaccarello and chief executive, Francesca Ballettini, of Yves Saint Laurent announced in late April that it will derive from the traditional and stressful fashion month calendar in order to

“take ownership of its calendar and launch its collections following a plan conceived with an up-to-date perspective, driven by creativity”.

While Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele, asserted in a statement last month that they will opt out of, “the worn-out ritual of seasonalities and shows.”

Both Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci are responsible for a high percentage of Kering’s annual revenues (in 2019, Gucci generated $10.7 billion of Kering’s $17.5 billion intake) and their announcements lend major credence to efforts made by smaller brands and retailers that are trying to make a multi-trillion dollar fashion industry

“become more responsible for our impact on customers, on the planet and on the fashion community and bring back the magic and creativity that has made fashion such an important part of our world,” as said by designer, Dries Van Noten.

However, with all of these brands looking to remake the fashion landscape into a more creative and sustainability conscious industry, Chanel, the fashion industry’s second largest individually owned brand (by annual revenue), has announced that they will not be conferring to bid to adopt changes to the multi-annual runway show calendar nor move any of their products available for online purchase.

In a post-covid world, the choice announced by Chanel’s president of Fashion, Bruno Pavlovsky, is not only bold but potentially a detrimental move for the brand. Their choice to continue to create six (or sometimes eight), ready-to-wear collections a year works for the brand,

“we prefer to have six more focused main collections rather than two endless collections,” Pavlovsky told WWD.

Fair enough; each individual collection can have a specific focus that can really be perfected in order to enhance the creativity in their collections. It stands as a different approach to that of Chanel’s competitors who are trying to produce more creativity by allowing more time in between show schedules, however it is not necessarily a detrimental approach for the brand.

“We chose this rhythm and we like it, we believe it’s what our customers want to see in our stores. So we are sticking to this schedule.” Pavlovsky says.

On top of this bold statement, Chanel has also announced that even though some companies are moving their shows online and making them more accessible via the internet, they will not be. “the fashion show remains the best way to express the brand’s creativity and know-how,” Pavlovsky says, hoping to resume its runway shows in October, while choosing to scale their notoriously over-the-top runway shows down to enrich client relationships and less commercialised. Karl Lagerfeld’s successor, Virginie Viard, states that her predecessor’s otherworldly sets were,

“great... but now it no longer makes sense, we’ll still always travel when we can, but we want to go back to fashion shows.”

While making their stance on the show circuit clear, Chanel additionally explained that they will not join some of their similarly-situated brands jumping on the E-commerce bandwagon. Even though Covid-19 mandates have halted international travel and converted all store fronts into something which resembles the Prada sculpture by Elmgreen and Dragset in Marfa, Texas, Pavlovsky claims that the brand will stick to its current model offering online sales for eyewear and cosmetics only.

“No, we are not going to launch e-commerce. It works very well this way,” he asserted. “Maybe we could sell a third more bags by doing it online, but we are taking a long-term view of the brand. We are not aiming for an immediate return on investment on this kind of thing.”

It will be interesting to see how these choices end up effecting the brand in the long run. Since Karl Lagerfeld took position as creative director many moons ago, he consistently provided an improved sales margin. He was innovative, exciting and enhanced experiences for consumers. While sales were lacking before his arrival, they thrived for the duration of his entire tenure. The choices made by the former CD, were not simply frivolous choices to create universes onlookers didn't know were possible in a fashion show, but strategic choices to continue to be a forward thinking brand, stay ahead of the times.

“Change is the healthiest way to survive,” is just one of many famous quotes regarding change from the late, great Karl Lagerfeld.

The former creative director of Chanel, who was so successful in his endeavours for the brands he headed (including Chanel, Fendi and his namesake brand), was a passionate paraclete for refusing to look towards the past to enrich your future, and it paid off. But why, then, are the new creative director and chief executive so hell-bent on keeping the old-time tradition of the 111 year-old brand alive in a time where change is imperative?

Only time will tell how the brand’s choices will effect Chanel in comparison to its competitors. Many major players have agreed to move to a more e-commerce friendly platform, and amend show schedules to accommodate current travel obstacles and rigorous schedules. It will be a shame if Chanel falls behind because they ignored Lagerfeld’s warning against nostalgia and praise for always moving forward and looking towards the future.

Yes, traditional fashion shows with models and celebrities and glitz are amazing and yes, the experience of walking into an impeccably presented store, physically interacting with salespersons and feeling the fabric of a dreamy garment is unparalleled. Of course, looking at a screen will never be as satisfying as human and physical interaction, but it is what is necessary for the current climate of our entire world. However, if Chanel chooses to keep the physical fashion show and the schedule then keep the grandeur of it all, because that is what creates buzz and engages clients; and in a time when people are not allowed to leave their homes, let alone go out to a shop, it is an interesting choice not to engage with clients virtually more seamlessly.

Indisputably, keeping tradition alive can be a good thing, (“If it ain’t broke, don't fix it” comes to mind) but when the majority of an industry is evolving towards a new future, based on current world circumstances and events leading to changes in consumer behaviour and economics; a company that was once headed by someone who said, “Change is the healthiest way to survive.” would be expected to stand alongside Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent to the new world of change.


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