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Bruno Pavlovsky: When creativity meets legacy

  • Willy Wilson

    The Jakarta Post

| Sat, April 19, 2014 | 11:27 am
Bruno Pavlovsky: When creativity meets legacy (Courtesy of Chanel)

(Courtesy of Chanel)

President of Chanel Bruno Pavlovsky may be a man of a few carefully measured words, but he reveals what accounts for the legendary fashion house'€™s lasting success.

The world of fashion is notoriously fickly. One season, a design is in, the next it is definitely out. An exception is Chanel; its quilted handbags and tweed jackets have always been in style, whether in 1966 or 2014.

The French fashion house owes much of its success to its history, particularly the modernist spirit and vision of founder Mademoiselle Gabrielle '€œCoco'€ Chanel.

A feminist who aimed to liberate women from binding corsets and other impractical garments, Chanel revolutionized fashion at the turn of the 20th century. Those unmistakable Chanel handbags and jackets are the byproducts of her idealism.

But they wouldn'€™t have been so iconic if it wasn'€™t for the luxurious quality and unfettered creativity that go into making them '€“ two values that the brand still stands by.

From its beginnings as a millinery shop in Paris in 1913, Chanel is one of the most recognizable brands in today'€™s US$318 billion luxury fashion industry. Chanel is privately owned by Gerad and Alain Wertheimer, the descendants of businessman Pierre Wertheimer, an early business partner of Coco Chanel.

Nobody truly knows how much the company is worth, although analysts are convinced that brand'€™s fragrance and beauty business alone rake in more than $1 billion yearly '€“ thanks to Chanel No. 5, the pioneer in modern fragrances that the house launched in 1921.

The brand'€™s ready-to-wear and haute-couture businesses are estimated to bring $3 billion in sales revenue every year. Today, like many other luxury businesses, a big chunk of Chanel'€™s revenue comes from emerging markets like Indonesia.

Its glittering 4,500 square foot store in Plaza Indonesia, opened early this month, bears testament to the brand'€™s commitment to reaching out to emerging markets. Navigating the house'€™s business operations and business expansion is Chanel President Bruno Pavlovksy.

Pavlovsky can'€™t '€“ and won'€™t '€“ talk about his low-profile owners, and the amount of business interests the house invested around the world is also strictly off limits. But this much he could give: '€œBeing a privately-owned company doesn'€™t diminish the challenges the company faces '€“ whether privately or publicly owned, companies expect equally ambitious results '€“ the way we address those challenges does differ.'€

Pavlovsky believes the Indonesian market has a bright future in terms of luxury. Its first boutique opened in Grand Indonesia in 2008, and according to Pavlovsky, the company has since noticed that '€œcustomers in the region are more aware of the brand, and are showing a strong aspiration for luxury goods.

'€œChanel'€™s entry into Asia, including Indonesia, has to be strategic. It is meant to be a long-term engagement, and so we continue to invest in our know-how and strong vision to ensure it is a successful venture. The Asian market is extremely diverse '€“ it is necessary to not only select the right locations, but also to understand the regional culture and lifestyle in each new city,'€ he added.

Creative business

As the president of Chanel, Pavlovsky holds an interesting position. For one thing, Chanel is one of a few family-run high-end fashion brands '€“ most of them exist under such luxury conglomerates as Kering, Richmond and LVMH. As such, competition is tough.

For another, he is responsible for creating a business environment in which Karl Lagerfeld'€™s eccentric designs are both artistically and commercially viable.

A one-time management consultant at Deloitte, Pavlovsky is the corporate face of the Chanel brand. Like the fashion house he works for, he is discreet and guarded (he refused to answer any '€œpersonal'€ questions, including ones regarding recreational activities and style preference).

Meanwhile, Lagerfeld, the fashion pope and the epitome of modern flamboyance, is constantly in your face (he has at least two documentaries with him as the subject).

But chat with Pavlovsky and you soon realize that the Bordeaux School of Management and Harvard Business School graduate is just as obsessed with the brand as Lagerfeld.

'€œFor us, real luxury is being able to create a perfect product, using only the best components and according to a creative and innovative perspective, but without ever forgetting that in each single product the brand and its story are present.'€

Having dedicated 24 years of his life to Chanel, Pavlovsky has had many highlights in his career. He isn'€™t just an accountant for a fashion empire; hee actually understands the importance of craftsmanship, suppliers and makers.

In the 1990s, Pavlovsky was among the first to spot the potential trouble of outsourcing systems '€“ the artisans who sewed pearls and stitched feathers onto gowns and the mills that made the finest cashmere for its jackets were in financially precarious times.

This led to the setting up of Paraffection in 1997. It functions as an umbrella company that buys ateliers across France to ensure the supply chain of craftsmanship runs smoothly. This explains why Chanel could presents eight collections a year.

But Pavlovsky is not one to look back. He is more concerned about what the future holds. So far, he says, his recipe for success is to blend creativity and legacy.

'€œOur challenge is to be a brand that evolves along with the products themselves, in a consistent way. This approach helps us to constantly re-evaluate ourselves, to set and achieve new goals,'€ he shared.

This is where the creative and aristocratic German Lagerfeld comes in.

'€œThis is how we ensure that Chanel remains, and will continue to be as fashion forward and modern as ever,'€ he said.

Chanel'€™s creative formula is often hard to grasp '€“ the set for its ready-to-wear presentation during Paris Fashion Week ranged from a makeshift art gallery, full with commissioned artworks bearing Chanel logo, to a fake supermarket '€“ but it is certainly still within a thoughtful and calculated business strategies.

At the very least, it gets the word out.



Bruno Pavlovsky

Place and Year of Birth

Age: 51

President of Chanel since 1990. A consulting auditor at Deloitte from 1987 to 1990, Pavlovsky is also a professor at the ESSEC Business School and a guest professor at the Institut Français de la Mode. Apart from Chanel, Pavlovsky also runs Paraffection, a group that buys and manages ateliers across France to support Chanel. He is also the chairman of Eres, a high-end swimwear and lingerie brand owned by Chanel.  

Graduate of Sup de Co Bordeaux (Bordeaux School of Management), Bordeaux, France and holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Harvard Business School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States.


In Brief

Chanel outfit isn'€™t available online. Why?
The Internet is nowadays essential to have a connection between the brand and the audience, but it is fundamental for our clients to have physical contact with the Chanel item of their choice. We want our clients to have the Chanel experience.

Has the Internet affected your business in any way?

The brand is open to the world and turning toward the future, communicating through different means - online shows, ephemeral boutiques, social media, website and our own online magazine called Chanel News, which is becoming an important part of our digital communication strategy. We also have 11 million fans on Facebook.

Any thoughts on Karl Lagerfeld'€™s design?
My job is to not interfere in his creative process but to give him the best environment to create. We have worked together for 20 years now. We have the same idea of where the brand is going. He has total freedom to design whatever he feels being right for the '€œair du temps'€ (the spirit of the age). His creativity is the engine of everything we do; it drives the company.