LES BAUX-DE-PROVENCE, France — Chanel is heralding the return of physical fashion shows in Paris, with plans to stage a display with guests during the French capital’s couture week in July.
As France prepares to gradually lift lockdown restrictions from May 19, the luxury house is getting ready to hold what will be its first show with an audience in nine months. The venue it has chosen is the Palais Galliera, the fashion museum that briefly reopened in October with a large-scale exhibition on Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel.
“I hope other houses will follow,” Bruno Pavlovsky, president of fashion and president of Chanel SAS, told WWD in an interview, as the brand separately prepared to unveil its cruise collection online on Tuesday at 6 p.m. CET.
The Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, French fashion’s organizing body, has not yet specified the format of the upcoming men’s and haute couture shows in June and July, after several seasons of online-only presentations.
Chanel has a special link with the Palais Galliera, as the exclusive sponsor of its new area for permanent exhibitions. The Chanel retrospective was forced to close on Oct. 29 after only a few weeks as France imposed strict measures designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus. It will reopen from May 19 to July 18, the museum said.
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Meanwhile, Chanel is lobbying for its competitors to once again rally behind Paris Fashion Week, after a year that has seen a number of major labels, including Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Celine, break away to show on their own schedule.
“I hope that everyone returns to the structure of the official calendar because the strength of Paris lies in its fashion weeks, whether men’s or women’s, haute couture or ready-to-wear. I think we need to come back to a bit of discipline in terms of organization. It’s important. We have a federation that’s doing a remarkable job,” Pavlovsky said.
“That doesn’t prevent anyone from staging events elsewhere during the rest of the year,” he added, noting that Chanel was the first to organize exotic destination shows for its cruise collections.
The house invited a handful of press and celebrities to attend the filming of the cruise 2022 show at the Carrières de Lumières, in the village of Les Baux-de-Provence in the South of France — a location that ties in with the history of its founder.
Coco Chanel was close to poet Jean Cocteau, who used the area’s stone quarries as the backdrop for his 1960 film “Testament of Orpheus,” which inspired the collection.
A look from Chanel’s cruise 2022 collection. Photograph by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin/Courtesy of Chanel
In a wide-ranging talk ahead of the show, Pavlovsky also addressed the issue of copycats, and explained why Chanel is standing by DJ Michel Gaubert, who apologized after showcasing slanty-eyed paper masks on social media that were decried as racist by industry influencers, including Susanna Lau and Bryan Grey Yambao.
Through the COVID-19 crisis, the house has stuck with its usual pace of collections and shows. While other brands have toyed with digital formats ranging from video games to mini movies, it has shot runway shows in striking locations such as the Château de Chenonceau — sparking a mini trend of fashion shows filmed at French castles.
While advocating a return to “business as usual,” Pavlovsky explained why Chanel has not organized any events in Asia, at a time when luxury brands have rushed to fill the void in live events elsewhere by holding screenings and shows in markets like Mainland China, which are driving growth in luxury sales.
“We will of course stage events in China — I think it’s important — but we view them differently. What’s working well for us in China is one-on-one exchanges with our customers based on the content we have developed, with our local celebrities. It’s perhaps less visible, but it has a more targeted impact,” the executive said.
“As soon as possible, we’ll be present in Asia, in China and Japan, which are historically important markets for us. But it’s extremely unlikely that we will stage a fashion show in Asia before the end of the year,” he said, noting that Chinese authorities have indicated they don’t plan to reopen borders before Chinese New Year in 2022.
“We’ve learned to work differently, and I will say we don’t miss it. The quality of our relationship with our customers is what matters the most,” Pavlovsky said.
Nonetheless, at a time of heightened sensitivity over anti-Asian hate crimes, Chanel has decided to continue working with Gaubert, who has devised the soundtracks for its shows since 1990 and was present at the filming in Les Baux-de-Provence.
Gaubert was sharply criticized for posting a video on Instagram last month of a private dinner where guests could be seen holding the offensive masks while one person yelled: “Wuhan girls, wahoo.”
He subsequently took down what he labeled an “inconsiderate and stupid” post and added: “I am extremely sorry for this lack of dignity, especially in the times we are going through now. Asian hate is not acceptable and I condemn it like any other hate.”
Pavlovsky said while Chanel does not tolerate any form of racism, it has accepted Gaubert’s apology.
“Michel is a talented man who’s very respectful of others, and he’s apologized for his actions. He is mortified, because he never intended to offend anyone. He’s a long-term partner of the house, and you don’t abandon a partner because of an incident,” he said.
“We know Michel well. He’s a fine man with real values, so there’s no reason for us not to continue our collaboration with him, which stretches back over many years,” he added.
Told of rumors that Chanel is interviewing other designers, Pavlovsky reiterated his confidence in artistic director Virginie Viard. “The more time passes, the more I am convinced that Virginie is the best for Chanel,” he said of Viard, who worked alongside Karl Lagerfeld for more than three decades until his death in 2019.
Pavlovsky hinted that the company’s full-year results, due to be published around mid-June, would reflect the strong performance of rtw, thanks to the company’s efforts to engage local clients in the absence of global tourism, using a mix of public and private digital content.
“More than ever, the Chanel silhouette anchors the brand. That is extremely important for us, and Virginie does it extremely well,” he said.
Pavlovsky slammed competitors, in particular Saint Laurent, for featuring similar looks in their collections. Saint Laurent’s fall 2021 collection, unveiled last week, featured a plethora of tweed suits.
“How sad to see a brand like that parasite another brand. Saint Laurent is a magnificent brand. I think it’s such a shame not to write your own history and to have to sponge off someone else. But the customers won’t be fooled. The customers will decide which brand makes the most beautiful tweed jacket. I’m not too worried,” he said.
Chanel is hoping that its growing efforts to produce sustainable fabrics will further seduce its luxury clientele. The cruise collection features four eco-friendly tweeds, the first of their kind, made by Lesage with manufacturers Act 3, Denis & Fils and Vimar, the Italian yarn maker that Chanel acquired last year.
In all, 28 out of the 78 looks contain more than 70 percent of threads that are either GOTS- or GRS-certified. That is up from 14 out of 51 looks at the same time last year.
The Global Organic Textile Standard is a textile production certification that limits the use of toxic bleaches, dyes and other chemical inputs during the production process of textiles. The Global Recycled Standard sets requirements for third-party certification of recycled content and chain of custody.
“GOTS certifies that the materials come from organic farming, with dignified working conditions and respect for the environment throughout the value chain. GRS guarantees a minimum of 20 percent recycled fibre composition in the fabrics along with responsible social and environmental practices,” Chanel said in a statement.
Opening a tweed swatch card that detailed the composition of nine separate threads, Pavlovsky said Chanel was requiring not just its internal manufacturers to adapt, but also its external suppliers.
“We have initiated a transformation at the heart of the brand in order to be able to claim to offer products that are not only the most sophisticated, but also made with materials that are produced in the most sustainable way possible,” he said. “I hope that eventually, a great majority of our fabrics will meet these new criteria.”
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