Challenge for Chiquet: Growing Chanel Brand After Kopelman Success

As Arie Kopelman hands over operating control of Chanel Inc. to Maureen Chiquet, the duo discuss the past and future of the famed house.

Arie Kopelman and Maureen Chiquet

Arie Kopelman and Maureen Chiquet

Photo By David Turner

NEW YORK — If she were still around, Coco Chanel most likely would approve.

As operating reins at Chanel Inc. were officially handed over to Maureen Chiquet this week, a new star has joined the ranks of the industry’s top luxury merchants — and she showed up for her debut interview wearing jeans.

Granted, the remnants of a hurricane were pouring through town, obliterating the Central Park views of her new Peter Marino-designed office. But Chiquet has made designer denim a regular part of her working wardrobe at Chanel since she was recruited from the executive ranks of Gap Inc. last May to succeed Arie Kopelman as the company’s president and chief operating officer.

The dressing down was a conscious decision on her part, as Chiquet — an attractive, 41-year-old who is stylish in a modern way — is emblematic of the latest shifts in fashion. Following that logic, she represents the future of Chanel, not only as its president, but also as its ideal customer. Chiquet, who is a working mother of two and runs five to seven miles every day, wore her Seven For All Mankind jeans with a black muscle T-shirt, accessorized with Chanel jewelry and, naturally, a fitted tweed jacket, much as Chanel herself was not averse to mixing a little costume jewelry with an expensive suit.

“The way that people used to approach brands, wearing a logo as a badge, is very different than the way people approach brands today,” said Chiquet, who has spent the past year and a half preparing for her role at the helm of Chanel’s U.S. business, including a nine-month intensive immersion in the Chanel SA corporate culture at its headquarters in France.

Although Chanel and its owner, Alain Wertheimer, have not spelled out their plans for Chiquet, observers have said she is expected to take over Chanel’s global operations in the coming years. During that time, the company — which has traditionally treated the U.S., its largest market, as an independent business from those in Europe and Asia — will likely move to integrate its operations as part of its plan to remain at the top of the luxury pyramid.

Despite the lengthy notice given by the outgoing Kopelman — who remains vice chairman for another four years — and the 15-month, global search for his replacement, the timing of Chanel’s executive transition remains intriguing for a number of reasons, each as complex as the construction of its iconic tweed jackets.
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