Chanel has been evaluated the 6th most valuable luxury brand by the Millard Brown ranking published in April 2013. Compared to the previous rating, it was a drop since this French brand used to be in 2012 at the 4th position. This decrease is mostly to be explained by the skyrocketing arrival of Gucci and Prada in this ranking.
But, this independent French company still remains one of the best examples of luxury marketing. Chanel succeeds indeed in keeping a leading position whereas it is not a global brand, like most of its main competitors who carry women’s and men’s fashion.
Chanel ’s stance is to focus on women’s fashion (except for a few men’s fragrances) and to stick to the promotion of a traditional know-how and a legacy from its founder, Coco Gabrielle Chanel. Therefore, there is no wonder why most of the brand's communication is centered about her heritage but also the strategy is to reaffirm the brand's image always reflecting its modernity.
Coco Chanel as the Common thread of Chanel ’s Communication
Karl Lagerfeld, the very charismatic and mediatized designer, takes care of enhancing the brand identity reinterpreting every season what made Coco Chanel famous for: the tweed jacket, the pearls, the black and white and the camellia. But always bringing them a modern twist which makes these recognition elements parts of a timeless fashion, which can be worn by young and older customers.
It is also interesting to note that in different seasons, for the Haute Couture, the shows were clearly referring to Coco Chanel’s life. For example, the use in the FW 10 collection of a huge replica the Venice lion (where the City of the Doges was one of her favorite places and Leo was also her birth sign), use for the FW11 collection of a replica of the Vendome column (reminder of Chanel ’s apartment in the Ritz hotel in Paris), after having used for the SS08 collection a huge tweed jacket, the favorite outfit of Coco Chanel from 1956 onward.
Obviously the British actress, Keira Knightley, looks too much like Coco Chanel in her young age to be a coincidence. The 2 “Coco Mademoiselle” commercials (the one released in March 2011 and the brand new one released on March 21st 2014) display a bold and independent young woman with a kind of a boyish attitude. A description which perfectly applies to Coco Chanel.
Editing a succession of short videos called “Inside Chanel”, the brand also explains its success story, as well as the one of her founder. Moreover it is possible to mention as well the short movies directed by Karl Lagerfeld about Coco’s life : “Once upon a time” released in May 2013 or “The return” in December 2013.
But this digital communication watched by hundred thousands of viewers is not the only way used by Chanel to promote its legacy. The brand decided to organize an exhibition about one of the most iconic products of the brand : the “little black jacket”. So from April 2012 starting in Tokyo till December 2013 in Singapore, this exhibition made a world tour visiting 16 major cities, like New York, Paris, Shanghai, Dubaï, Moscow…
This exhibition was actually a continuation of the “Chanel Mobile Art” which was focusing on promotion the other iconic product : the quilted 2.55 bag. This itinerant exhibition in 2008 was also an art project made with the famous designer Zaha Hadid and was showcased in Hong Kong, Tokyo and New York and should have gone to London and Moscow if the financial crisis would have not put a premature end to this ambitious project.
Besides, to enhance the brand awareness towards its customers, Karl Lagerfeld decided to use the “Métier d’art” fashion shows which have been paying tribute for 10 years now to the excellence of the craftsmanship of Chanel’s suppliers. So in last December the show took place in Dallas, where in 1957 Coco Chanel was awarded with the « Neiman Marcus Award for Distinguished Service in the Field of Fashion », previously in December 2012 this show edition was held at Edinburgh.
The highlighting of the traditional know-how is indeed a very important issue in Chanel ’s communication. The company was one of the first to emphasize this aspect, with Hermès. But for the French fashion brand, it was so crucial that they started to take over their major suppliers and to build up from 1997 on a talent pool, named “Paraffection” whose goal is to preserve and promote the heritage, craft and manufacturing skills. Today, this Chanel subsidiary gathers a dozen of fashion artisan workshops, among them Lesage (embroideries), Lemarié (feathers and camellias), Causse (glovemaker), Michel Herbelin SA (milliner) and the last acquisition in last December Bodin-Joyeux (tanner).
But beyond this preservation of an endangered industry, this strategy also allows Chanel to secure its production and its supply chain integrating all the different manufacturing steps.
In the Spirit of the Times
Nevertheless, if tradition is a key element for Chanel, it doesn’t mean that innovation is excluded. On the contrary, the French house is also very concerned to demonstrate its creativity.
Therefore, a turn has been taken with the last fashion shows. Karl Lagerfeld displayed indeed the Summer 2014 Haute Couture show in a less theatrical set with a collection facetiously called “Cambon Club”, with the hype French singer, Sébastien Tellier, and models wearing sneakers. As well as both Ready-to-Wear collections : the SS 2014 collection in an art gallery showcasing contemporary art and the FW 2014 collection in a supermarket. A smart way to underline that the Chanel customer is a modern woman.
For the same reason, the Cruise 2014 collection will be presented in the new Dubaï Design District in next May, a location destined for enhancing the creativity in the Middle-East.
A further proof of this close association between Chanel and modern creativity is also easy to perceive in the brand's shops. Karl Lagerfeld, who is himself a highly cultivated person, likes art in many forms. Everybody knows that he is passionate with the photography. But he's also a modern art lover. So about 10 years ago, Lagerfeld asked the famous architect, Peter Marino, to include pieces of modern art in Chanel ’s store. An important amount of money were allocated to allow Marino to buy every year pieces of work or even to commission contemporary artists. When visiting a Chanel's flagship store, the clients have the opportunity to see works from Jean-Michel Othoniel (with his pearl sculptures) or from Mark Swanson. These shop displays also emphasize in the client’s mind the association between Chanel and the artistic creativity.
This willingness to be perceived not only as a timeless fashion brand but also as a fashionable brand is clear if we consider the spokespersons used for the advertising. The choice of Blake Lively for the campaign for the Mademoiselle bag in 2011 is clearly related to the success of this young actress in “Gossip girls”, a TV broadcast mainly targeting the 15/20 year old girls. And the quite mediatized Rihanna’s attendance to the fashion show in last March is also a clear sign for trying to appeal the younger generation.
With a very well mastered and consistent communication to enhance its luxury brand image, Chanel is addressing as well as to the Western clients as the new ones from the emerging countries which are the real challenge to ensure the continued success of the brand.
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