Anna Wintour, Penélope Cruz, Claudia Schiffer, Marion Cotillard, Monica Belluci, Cara Delevingne … Nobody with a name and surname in the world of fashion or show wanted to miss the presentation of the latest collection for Chanel designed by the late dressmaker Karl Lagerfeld, last Tuesday in Paris. After all, an era was closing. Because the Kaiser was one of the last great of a golden era of fashion, today in decline for many despite the astronomical figures that continues to bill. And, also, for the maison Chanel, who for the second time in her history is facing the great challenge of moving forward without one of the names that placed her at the top of Olympus fashion. Can Chanel survive Lagerfeld?
"There has been one after Coco Chanel, there has been one after Christian Dior, there is one after Yves Saint Laurent. In these three cases, the brands have survived well the death of its eponymous creator, who even created a new style, the style of the brand, its visual signature, "recalls Jean-Noël Kapferer, expert in major international brands and author of numerous books about luxury. And although the Kaiser himself stated that "Coco Chanel would have hated" what he was doing from his most iconic models, such as the legendary tailleur, his two-piece tweed suit, "lto replace Lagerfeld it will mean fewer difficulties, "says the also professor of luxury marketing in an email. Because, according to Kapferer, in spite of what he said, Karl Lagerfeld "was above all a great communicator, an interlocutor worshiped by the media and social networks, but he did not create a personal style, he merged in the Chanel style, as he did also in the Fendi style ", the other brand of which was artistic director.
While Fendi has decided to take the time to look for a new artistic signature, Chanel announced the same day of the death of the designer, on February 19, which will replace him, at least for the moment, Virginie Viard. It is a clear commitment to continuity, while Viard has been working hand in hand with Lagerfeld for more than 30 years. "Chanel has done as Gucci, take someone from within who is already legitimized to facilitate the transition and not risk what has been built since the first Karl parade, in 1983," says Kapferer. If there is something that there is no doubt, he emphasizes, is that "Viard will continue to do Chanel". "You just have to learn to communicate a little more," he says. "But everything is learned."
And a priori, Viard leaves with an advantage: knowing that Chanel's accounts are healthy. That Lagerfeld suffered from pancreatic cancer was something only a few knew, but his advanced age, 85 years, made it foresee that his work at the head of the house that he revived during his more than three decades of reign, even though he declared himself "Immortal", was approaching its end. Coincidence or not – secrecy and "discretion" are hallmarks of the house – Chanel gave last year the unprecedented step in the company to announce its economic results, something he had not done in its 108-year history, as The New York Times to give the news.
According to his report, in 2017 he achieved sales of 9,600 million dollars and an operating profit of 2,700 million, something that puts him at the head of international luxury brands, surpassed only by Louis Vuitton. In terms of company value, with 50,000 million dollars as brand value, according to BNP Paribas, Chanel is in fourth place, only behind the giant LVMH, Kering and Hermès, Bloomberg notes. Chanel, which last year also initiated a reorganization – the first since 1950 – that involved the installation of its head office in London despite the Brexit (although Paris remains its creative headquarters), employs more than 20,000 people and has hundreds of boutiques around the world.
"We realized that our culture of discretion no longer served us," justified the unexpected decision to publish the results of the group's financial director, Philippe Blondiaux, to Reuters. "It was time to put the data on the table so that we know who we are: a $ 10 billion company with a very strong economy, plus all the means and ammunition available to us to remain independent," he added in a statement to Bloomberg.
It is not just a question of numbers. Also of a broad successful business model, perfected over the years by Hurricane Lagerfeld, and which seems consolidated beyond its inspiration. In addition to the – for most of the pockets – unpayable haute couture garments, Chanel knew how to develop a whole perfumery market, with its No. 5 as a flagship even before the times of Marilyn Monroe, of cosmetics – another of its engines – and products such as glasses that, respecting some "extremely strict brand codes", made a luxury brand coveted by many more affordable, explains consultant Philippe Jourdan. "You can buy only a lipstick and you already enter a luxury home. There are few brands that have achieved that. And when it has been achieved, it means that there are solid foundations to endure "beyond Lagerfeld, this specialist in methods of evaluation and branding of the consulting firm Promise Consulting is on the phone.
Even so, the rumors of a possible sale have not been completely silenced. Partly because Chanel is still hanging on an unknown and is not called Karl Lagerfeld. The owners of the brand, the brothers Alain and Gérard Wertheimer, are two French millionaires – with a fortune valued at around 23,000 million dollars; They are among the 40 richest men in the world, according to the Bloomberg billionaire index, which have always privileged discretion, to the point that few face them, unlike the omnipresent president of LVMH, Bernard Arnault. But despite their age, 70 and 69 years, respectively, nothing has leaked about who could take command of the iconic company founded in 1910 by Gabrielle Coco Chanel and that part of their success, according to Kapferer, to their way of to be governed, "like an independent family house, like Hermès."
"Yes, there is some uncertainty about the succession of the Wertheimer brothers. It is evident and is, in a certain way, even more disturbing than the disappearance of Lagerfeld ", corroborates Jourdan, for whom, although Chanel's" is not a model of the past, it is a model to which, of course, others will follow him in the future. future". Which one? How? These are questions that still have no answer.