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On April 18 in Shanghai, we arrived at the West Bund Art Center with Chanel to preview “Mademoiselle Privé.” Presented by the fashion house, the traveling exhibition previously stopped in London in 2015, Seoul in 2017, and Hong Kong in 2018. In themes, and each time with a new selection, it showcases recherché pieces from the house’s three main departments: haute couture, fragrance and beauty, and high jewelry.
Upon arrival, we were immersed in the industrial space. On the bottom floor, bookcases that doubled as seating spelled out “MADEMOISELLE PRIVÉ,” spiral staircases led to the second floor’s exhibition spaces, a center stage at the far end provided workshop space, and in the back was stadium seating that onlooked a large film projection screen. But at first, we were greeted by one painting by the late Karl Lagerfeld. Standing tall, it replicated Gabrielle Chanel’s studio door at 31 rue Cambon in Paris.
On it then, and here again now, were the words that inspired the exhibition’s title: “Mademoiselle Privé.” Before the opening, Whitewall sat down with the president of fashion at Chanel, Bruno Pavlovsky. It was an interesting time to discuss the exhibition and the happenings at the house, as Lagerfeld had just passed away and Virginie Viard was gearing up for her first solo presentation. There, we spoke about these topics and more, homing in on how sustainable choices are the luxury of tomorrow, and how legacy in haute couture will live on.
WHITEWALL: Chanel continues to be one of the highest-regarded couture houses for its artisanal work and craftsmanship. What is Chanel currently doing to ensure that this type of skill and legacy for haute couture lives on?
BRUNO PAVLOVSKY: Everything we’re doing at Chanel is for the next 20 years. Perhaps 20 years ago you would have some doubt about our capacity to protect this know-how, this craftsmanship. But today, with the shift we have seen in the past 20 years with the investment of Mr. Lagerfeld, of the collections, of haute couture, we have been able to recruit a lot of newcomers. If you go visit the atelier, what is striking is the number of very young people that are there. And they are there because they are inspired by what they are doing.
Twenty years ago, we may have had some failure because a lot of people were coming because they were obliged. At the end of the day, they are not good at school and when you are not good at school, you are obliged to go to some technical school or be a part of the atelier. That was a problem. Now this is not the case. People are coming because they love what they are doing. They have ideas; they are engaged. We are in the first cycle. They are here because they love it, and because they love it, they are doing better and better. Today, we see people who are very happy to be here and we see a change in the structure and the way the atelier works.
So, for us, for Chanel, with Mr. Lagerfeld yesterday and with Virginie today, they are very connected. With the way that they work, for each collection, they are part of the development and they are more and more active.
At the moment, I believe we have reached another level. The point is there is still a lot of know-how that we need to ensure continues to exist in the next 20 years. We are still working on some new acquisitions just to ensure that tomorrow we’ll be able to develop the right fabric, get the best materials, and be careful with this topic.
The products of Chanel are about passion. Mademoiselle Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, Virginie Viard . . . I think that we have the best. So, we are very comfortable with the future. It’s about the know-how. We’re about 30 [in the] atelier today and we’ll continue to acquire, because they are the key for our product. First, we need the know-how, then it’s about materials.
Today, we are more and more engaged in many different programs to ensure we only get the top quality. But the top quality is not enough; it’s also about being able, in the sourcing of what we need, to be as sustainable as possible. We are doing a lot of things in this direction because we believe that passion and sustainability are the two pillars of the brand for tomorrow.
WW: What else can you tell us about sustainability with Chanel? Does this topic at all impact the house’s decision to stop using fur and exotic materials?
BP: From factories, the boutiques, the day-to-day of our people, there is a lot of sustainability. At the end of the day, the most important for us is that we, with a lot of authenticity—Chanel is about authenticity—engage our customers in the best direction.
Why we decided to ban exotics is because we aren’t happy and not convinced with the future of such materials. So today we’re working on sourcing each single raw material, being sure that what we are doing is better after than before. The wool, the cashmere, the silk, the cotton, the feathers . . . all kinds of raw materials. We are very engaged in all these categories, being sure that in ten years we’ll be able to get the best qualities, but also something which will be quite sustainable.
We want the planet to be able to continue producing these raw materials, rather than the opposite. So we are investing more and more in this direction, and we’ll be able to show and to communicate to our customers this initiative because we believe that it’s part of the pillars. On one hand, we have everything about the creativity—the history of Chanel, Mademoiselle Chanel, it’s all about this creativity. On the other hand, we now need to be sure that everything we are doing will be a good move for the next step.
For the last two factories—one we just opened last year— everything is about positive energy. We create our own energy, and if we have surplus, we deliver it to the community.
We just opened a new warehouse here in Shanghai with solar panels. The materials we use in the boutiques are recyclable. There are many, many initiatives. There is not one part of the activity where we aren’t thinking about what the next step for tomorrow is. The luxury of tomorrow is about that.
WW: How does this exhibition translate the house’s creative spirit?
BP: What you see upstairs is the future of the brand because these pillars will continue to incarnate what is so special, what is unique at Chanel. There is no other brand that can do the same at this level—with this level of detail, this level of creation, this level of craftsmanship. It’s something very important. Here, through one exhibition, you see all the values— what the DNA of the brand is about. And when you understand that, you better understand what the role is of each of our “boutiques” in the world of Chanel.
So that’s what we are trying to communicate here. We are not talking about the product; we are talking about the rules of Chanel. A posture, a vision, and how that is today engaging for the future.
WW: Where do you think the Chanel retail experience will be in 20 years?
BP: No e-commerce. We’ll offer an amazing experience in the boutique, but at the same time we’ll be able to, perhaps, deliver everything to your home. We’ll be able, perhaps, to deliver everything to your home. An alterationist to your home. I hope we’ll be able to communicate this creative energy, but on the service level, be as flexible as possible to follow the wish of the customers and to be meaningful with them. That’s the ultimate objective with the brand. It’s not to be automatic or systematic, but to be able to consider each customer for what she is. To offer the best experience to each of them.
WW: Lagerfeld’s untimely passing is the biggest news of the past decade for a lot of us. What does this mean for the house?
BP: Nobody is eternal. So you have to be ready for that. The brand is stronger than that. The job done by Karl in the past is a preparation for the next step. And today, we feel such an energy; we are so confident with the future. He did an amazing job. And you will see, year after year, what he has done…
At the same time, we are very sad. Our relationship was more than 30 years. You have to live with that. But we feel ready and quite energetic to prepare the next step. I’m sure you will see something different. Virginie is the same, but she is different. She will probably bring some femininity to the Chanel look, but that will still be the Chanel look designed by Karl.
We are very enthusiastic for the next step.