It's all about heritage

Bruno Pavlovsky, president of Chanel fashion, gives an insider's view. Divia Harilela reports


Q: Chanel has managed to respect its heritage while creating a contemporary and modern brand. What's the secret to achieving this balance?
First, it's about a consistent approach and strategy, regardless of whether business is good or not. Secondly, one of our key strategies is to invest in the creative process. Having Mr [Karl] Lagerfeld [Chanel's head designer and creative director] makes it easy because he is able to come up with a permanent reinterpretation of the brand's codes. Mr Lagerfeld works all year long to create the heritage of tomorrow. It's a lot of respect for what Mademoiselle Chanel has done, but it's also about coming up with new ways to reinterpret and give this heritage a vision of tomorrow. Chanel has always been advanced, audacious and innovative - we try to continue in this same spirit.


Q: These days, a digital strategy is integral for any luxury brand looking to engage with its audience. How does Chanel engage its customers online?
We are doing a lot online, but we are not selling. We sell fragrance and beauty, but not handbags and fashion. Digital initiatives are important because they attract customers to the boutiques. They attract more people to visit our boutiques. Our product is a lot about seeing it, testing it, touching it - that has to happen in a boutique. We have to keep some exclusivity.


Q: A key part of your strategy in recent years has been education from the Culture Chanel exhibitions in China to the recent Numéros Privés event in Hong Kong. Why are educational events important to Chanel?
It's not about educating per se, but more about understanding the role of Chanel in today's world. When you see Numéros Privés or Culture Chanel, you understand the world and environment of Chanel. We create a parallel between Mme Chanel and what Mr Lagerfeld is doing today. Every morning Mr Lagerfeld knows what is happening around the world - it's this curiosity and permanent interest in other topics such as photography, art and culture that is important. Mme Chanel had the same attitude. Culture Chanel is one of the best ways to show that there are a lot of historical links between Mme Chanel, her environment, Mr Lagerfeld today and the direction he wants to go.


Q: Many of these key events are happening in China - why choose China above all other markets?
We chose China because it's an [emerging] country. We need to be more or less everywhere at the same time. Sometimes it's the States or Japan. Every year we focus on key countries depending on what's happening. Hong Kong and the mainland are very important for our future, but in the next two years it might be Brazil or Russia. We want to help our customers understand what's behind the brand and show them that we are a true luxury brand with so much history, codes and attitude. That's the message we want to deliver through these events.


Q: Chanel has just opened its eighth Hong Kong boutique at Elements shopping mall. With so many outlets around the world, how do you keep the brand exclusive and alluring?
We don't have that many boutiques compared to other brands. We only have 10 boutiques on the mainland. When we open a new boutique it's to attract customers and [keep them coming back]. We have six collections a year, and novelties coming into the stores every two months. People can't always travel, so if we want them to understand our collection - especially ready-to-wear - we [need them to be in] the boutiques. We need to be where they are.


Q: Many critics have remarked that haute couture is dying, yet Chanel continues to acquire manufacturing houses (i.e. Lesage, Desrues), including Barrie knitwear most recently. Why is preserving the craft so important?
It's part of the creative process. If we want to be able to continue to create amazing collections 20 years from now, we have to have the best product. This means the best quality, fabrics and production. We have to ensure we keep the right know-how and artisans.