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.

The luxury business is in the midst of its own sea change, which has radically altered the way consumers perceive not only fashion, but also everything from automobiles to coffee beans, opening up all sorts of opportunities for not only new markets, but also new competition. Chanel, which happens to be riding one of the strongest moments of demand for its product, thanks to the ingenuity of its longtime creative force, Karl Lagerfeld, is operating at peak performance, generating sales estimated at $2.2 billion worldwide. But, as the unique example of a luxury business dedicated exclusively to the more rarified extreme of fashion and beauty, it faces much the same question for its future as it did when Kopelman was recruited to head the American business 19 years ago: How will it remain on top?

In telling their stories in separate interviews, Kopelman and Chiquet may not have realized that they have far more in common than would seem to be the case with two aggressive marketers from different generations and genders. But when they first met, it was apparent they would be fast “pals,” as each described the other. Their common link, it would seem, is that both prize creativity — in this case Lagerfeld’s — above anything, and then the ability to turn such ideas into dollars or francs.

But there are more coincidental parallels in their respective interests, with both having considered film among their early ambitions, both cutting their teeth in the world of beauty marketing and each taking their third jobs at Chanel — with the mind-set that this would be the place where they would ultimately end their careers.

“This was the first time in my life when everything came together,” Kopelman said. “It was all the things I looked to do. It was advertising, it was merchandising, it was retailing, it was running a business. And I loved fashion from a distance — I was one of those rare husbands who didn’t mind when his wife asked him to come and look at two dresses and help her make a decision.”

By Kopelman’s account, Chanel was quite a different place when he joined the company in 1985. The firm was just beginning to open its own stores and Lagerfeld had been designing the ready-to-wear collection for only a few years. The mind-set among many of the long-term Chanel employees he encountered was that the house’s fashion was on a pedestal of its own and shouldn’t be advertised at all, or at least not in the same way that fragrance was promoted.
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