As it celebrates more than 100 years as a luxury brand, Chanel shows no signs of fashion fatigue. The brand's president of fashion, Bruno Pavlovsky, tells us about the makings of the maison and the legacy Karl Lagerfeld will leave behind.
You're here for Chanel's Little Black Jacket (LBJ) exhibition in Dubai. Do you have a favourite photograph?
There are a few that are very nice because they are so natural. I particularly like Micheline Chaban-Delmas [the widow of the late French prime minister Jacques Chaban-Delmas]. Her strong personality shines through.
I was there on the day of the shoot and it lasted all of 30 seconds. There was no preparation and she didn't want hair or make-up time - nothing at all. She just turned up and was photographed in three seconds. You don't need 20,000 shots when you get the right one.
Karl Lagerfeld has photographed new images of celebrities wearing the LBJ for this show. Are additional shoots planned? Will we see multiple volumes of the book?
I don't know but these new images are truly friends of the brand, people who are important to us. We've had a lot of requests from people saying: "Oh, you forgot us. Please photograph us," but it's not really about that. This exhibition has been going for more than a year now and every time it's newly presented. From the cities and buildings selected right down to the launch party, we pay particular attention to all these details.
In that case, why Dubai and the imposing "black box" construction next to the Burj Khalifa?
There's a strong and very important link between Dubai and Chanel. It's a fairly recent market for us but we've grown our network of boutiques here a great deal. It's the first time we've organised something of this profile in the Middle East and because we have many loyal and local customers here, we wanted to offer them something special. The location epitomises Dubai; the Burj Khalifa demonstrates the UAE's importance today - for everyone.
What Chanel products outperform in the UAE?
Ready-to-wear - the very DNA of our brand as a fashion house. We've had a very good response from local customers to our collections, which take Chanel's "clothes of the past" and reinvent them for the future.
How would you sum up Chanel's DNA?
It's so much about the legend of Mademoiselle Chanel. She was a visionary, and from her close acquaintances with artists and writers she was able to draw a lot of inspiration. That was a very modern and unique approach in her day, and it's something we look to preserve.
Take our collaboration with Zaha Hadid, who created a mobile art pavilion for Chanel in 2008. We continue to feed off creative types from diverse fields.
Karl Lagerfeld is the perfect maestro to deliver that message through the collections season after season. He perpetuates what Mademoiselle Chanel was doing.
Let's talk about Karl. What happens when he decides to retire?
Well, I can tell you that just before our interview this morning, and despite it being two hours earlier in Paris, we had a chat on the phone and he's in great shape. I'm not even sure he'll retire one day. He's doing a great job and is so passionate about Chanel.
Every day he's reinforcing the codes of the brand and what Mademoiselle Chanel created - as a result the label under Lagerfeld is getting stronger and stronger. If something happens, it happens. But today he's very active and we're working well together. He's doing an incredible job. We'll soon be heading to Singapore for our cruise collection and we've got non-stop projects lined up for next year.
Has he spoken to you of a potential successor?
We never, ever speak of succession. We only talk about continuation.
Can you identify some key trends for Chanel's coming seasons?
I'd never divulge Karl's secrets, even about the new cruise collection, which I've seen. We want every collection to be a surprise. It's one of Karl's strengths to constantly come up with collections that look normal but we know they are extraordinarily difficult to produce. He delivers new interpretations every season. There are always plenty of new things, novelties and details.
Lagerfeld's forthcoming biopic about Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel stars Keira Knightley. Out of all the actresses featured in the LBJ exhibition, why was she chosen?
She's the Coco of the moment. I think she captured Karl's imagination. We've talked a lot about her and he was honoured to be able to work with her.
What would a Chanel capsule wardrobe consist of?
Well, a jacket is obvious, but not necessarily black - any of our tweed ones. Also, one of our new dresses and I'd say knitwear, too, which is perfect for people's lifestyle today and is becoming more and more important to the brand.
We recently bought a factory in Scotland and it's a very strong sign of the time that women want easy-to-wear pieces suitable for everyday life. But we're not talking basic cardigans. It's something that still epitomises Chanel.
How do you tackle the issue of counterfeit Chanel goods?
It's always a big concern because we're investing such time and energy in the creative process and the quality of our components. We're tough from a legal standpoint in trying to limit the impact of counterfeit goods and our customers know that if they can buy a bag for a hundredth of the regular price, there's clearly something wrong.
The temptation of counterfeits is everywhere for some people, and although it's not a good explanation, it is a way to measure the success of the brand. But to be clear, we're aware the problem exists and we're taking measures to limit and avoid its impact.
What kind of details are counterfeiters unable to replicate, with Chanel's handbags, for example?
Firstly, security identification. We have a unique and extra measure of identification in our handbags but I can't tell you how. Secondly, our leather is highly identifiable and we spend a lot on research and development, working with leather in the same way as our fabrics. This cannot be replicated and it's the best way to outsmart the counterfeiters. We also have six collections a year, meaning there's a high turnover of products in store, which is our way of saying "if you don't buy now, you won't find it again".
Louis Vuitton has continued to raise its prices this year in a bid for exclusivity in the luxury market space. Are similar price hikes in the pipeline for Chanel?
That's not our way of doing things. We're continually coming out with new lines and our strategy of producing six collections per year is very special. No other brand can match that right now. We care about our customers and, although we're not cheap, we're certainly not trying to be the most expensive.
What surprises are in store to mark Chanel's centenary? Any landmark celebrations, limited editions in accessories, apparel lines or fragrances?
There's only one secret I'm willing to reveal. On May 8, log on to www.chanel.com to see Keira Knightley as Coco. It will also be premiered in Singapore during our cruise collection show.
To see a clip of Karl Lagerfeld's new short film, go to www.chanel.com
The brand, year by year
1883 Gabrielle Chanel born in France on August 19
1910 First shop opens at 21 rue Cambon, Paris, selling hats
1912 Coco introduces jersey sportswear
1918 Chanelís couture house is launched
1921 Chanelís first fragrance, No 5, is created
1924 The brandís make-up is rolled out
1924 Gabrielle discovers tweed during one of her many trips to Scotland with the Duke of ≠Westminster
1926 The little black dress (LBD) is created
1954 Birth of the little black jacket
1955 The iconic 2.55 quilted ≠handbag with gold chain is born
1957 Chanelís two-tone slingback makes its debut
1971 At the age of 87, Coco Chanel dies on January 10 at the Hotel Ritz, her home for 30 years
1978 Creation of ready-to-wear
1983 Karl Lagerfeld appointed artistic director
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