Exclusive: Chanel's President of Fashion Bruno Pavlovsky on Cruise, Covid, and what Karl would say

BY Olivia Phillips / Jun 15 2020 / 13:00 PM

Hours after its digital Cruise 2020/21 reveal, President of Fashion at Chanel, Bruno Pavlovsky sat down with Editor in Chief, Olivia Phillips to discuss steering the beloved brand through quite possibly its most tumultuous waters yet…

Exclusive: Chanel's President of Fashion Bruno Pavlovsky on Cruise, Covid, and what Karl would say

What happens when a fundamental pillar of a brand – spectacular, large-scale destination shows in some of the world’s most fabulous, far-flung locales – suddenly falls victim to COVID-19’s relentless grip?

That’s exactly what Chanel found itself having to navigate these past few months, having announced back in September – now a distant memory of blithe optimism – that its always-grand Cruise collection would be showcased on the jet-set isle of Capri; the perfect backdrop for clothing that would no doubt be purchased for jaunts to this exact spot.

“The idea is the Mediterranean, its islands, the summer, and that always makes me think of the 1960s, all those legendary actresses holidaying on the Italian and the French Riviera,” Virginie told Harper’s Bazaar Arabia. “Sunshine, sophistication, something that is very simple. And beautiful vibrant colours, just like the shades of the bougainvillea.”

Image courtesy of Julien Martinez Leclerc

Fast-forward to May, and the world was a very different place, leading Chanel to announce that the show must indeed go on, albeit in an equally different guise than originally planned; a digital presentation in the form of a seven-minute video directed by Julien Pujol.

Still encouraging us to dream, the virtually presented collection, titled Balade en Méditerranée (A Trip Around The Mediterranean) was not only proof of the house’s deft ability to adapt, but also displayed its dedication to wearability – specifically now, when customers demand more from their clothes than ever. “This collection has been conceived to travel light, with just a few multipurpose items of clothing. A long jacket in black chiffon that can be worn over a swimsuit or with jeans in the evening. And if worn against bare skin, it becomes a déshabillé.” Proof, perhaps, that COVID-19 has engendered a change in philosophy around smarter tactics in what we buy, and why.

Just hours after the digital presentation – a first for Chanel – Editor in Chief, Olivia Phillips sat down (virtually, of course) with President of Fashion at Chanel, Bruno Pavlovsky…

Image courtesy of Julien Martinez Leclerc

Olivia Phillips: Back in October, you said that we need to imagine the Chanel of tomorrow. What does that look like?

Bruno Pavlovsky: Chanel is not just a fixed image; we have a strong link to the past. I think that Chanel has held the interest of many people from all generations because we are very loyal to our codes, but at the same time, we work on them all year long to make them modern and part of the future.

We’ve always had to adapt for our customers, but I’ve also heard many rumours where [detractors] don’t want to give that point of view. They can say whatever they want, that’s fine, but at Chanel we find a way to continue to emerge and to create the dream and the desire for our customers.

OP: Does the Chanel of tomorrow look different now to what you envisaged mere months ago?

BP: Absolutely! The context was a bit different! Adapting ourselves has to be the permanent posture of the brand. Not to imagine everything is done, but to challenge ourselves. And after what we’ve seen in the last five months, we needed to adapt ourselves more than ever, so it’s been kind of an acceleration.

To be very frank, I couldn’t imagine in January, when we had Couture, that a few weeks later we would be in such a situation. So yes, we need to adapt and keep in mind that the most important thing is to continue to seduce and to propose a kind of dream. Something amazing!

Image courtesy of Julien Martinez Leclerc

OP: Cruise is certainly about dreaming. I know that Chanel is famed for really pioneering it as an entire concept, and also that Cruise tends to stay in stores for far longer. Virginie does an amazing job of producing nearly 10 collections a year, but would you say that Cruise is the most important of them all?

BP: It’s a very symbolic collection. Chanel was the very first one to create it and make it visible, starting in 2000 with Karl, so 20 years later I think it’s very important for us to continue. The best way to engage with our customers is through the Cruise collection, so even if the show wasn’t possible in Capri, it was crucial, aside from everything else, to get us through this crisis by having our team and manufacturers come back to some energy.

The main ready-to-wear collections are very important, too. It’s kind of like a creative evolution and competition, even if we don’t like the term ‘competition.’ But we have two very special moments with Cruise and Métiers d’art. It’s about taking time with our partners; be it press, customers, influencers… when it’s not the rush of a 20-minute show. They’re all important, though!

Image courtesy of Julien Martinez Leclerc

OP: What measures has the maison taken to protect itself during COVID-19, and how much of that has been management and strategy versus design approach?

BP: I think these are two very different things and thank goodness, Virginie is very much part of this world. We’ve been talking every day during confinement, and she brings her contribution to this difficult situation we’re all facing. What’s great about Virginie is she knows the world she’s living in. It’s a very unique experience when you see everything stopping around you. We’re not up for that – we love the excitement of the business, the collection… we like to be under pressure!

In France, we’re a team of 8,500 people. In Italy, 1,200. Everywhere in the world you need to take the decision to protect your people, your partners, your manufacturers, and ensure that everyone is preparing themselves for when the business starts up again. We’ve taken decisions to be able to adapt to our level of cost. I hope that in the coming weeks that these decisions will continue to protect the brand.

Image courtesy of Frédéric David

OP: If Karl were still here, what do you think he would be saying?

BP: To be honest, I don’t know, and we’ve been talking quite a lot about that with Virginie. We are not Karl, she is not Karl and I am not Karl. But what we’re doing is what we feel is meaningful for the brand today. It’s more about Chanel than about Karl. We are sure, collectively, though, that he would have been terrified by the situation. When it was about illness and health etc… But he would no doubt have had some good sentences or one-liners, he would have said some shocking thing, but we liked that with Karl because he liked to be quite provocative. We aren’t the same. But we all miss the guy and his little provocations [laughs].

The full Cruise collection can be discovered at chanel.com

Lead images courtesy of Karim Sadli

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