If she were not in the business of luxury, she would have loved to be a gardener, one who built luxury gardens. Her deep “belief in luxury and its power to make us dream” is what makes Françoise Montenay,president of Chanel SAS, one of the most-admired executives in the luxury business. Before signing on as the managing director of fashion activities for Chanel in 1988, Montenay worked for Mobil Oil, Procter and Gamble, L’Oréal, Jean Patou and Ungaro. Montenay says all these experiences were useful, but she places particular importance on the time she spent with François Dalle. “He taught me everything I know about ‘sensitive marketing’,” she says.
In an interview with Campaign, Montenay talks about creativity, taking forward Coco Chanel’s dream—“luxury from Paris should reach the world over”, and the emerging Indian market among other things. Excerpts:
Coco Chanel changed the way men and women looked and looked at themselves. In many ways, Chanel is one of the earliest brands to define luxury and to define exclusivity. How do you maintain the hallowed mantle of brand such as this with time?
Creation is at the very heart of the world of Chanel. Through fashion, Karl Lagerfeld reinterprets the codes and icons created by Mademoiselle Chanel.
From tweed jackets, pearl necklaces, quilted handbags, the camelia, and little black dresses, he carries on the tradition through transmission, not only making the collections young and trendy, but also sophisticated, elegant and desirable.
Coco Chanel created the iconic quilted Chanel handbag in 1955. Every year, Lagerfeld reinvents it whilst keeping the spirit and the codes, changing details, size, colours, materials, etc. Jacques Polge, the ‘nose’ at Chanel since 1978, works each fragrance as a new story, reinventing the brand.
Jacques Helleu, the artistic director of Chanel since 1966, has built upon the pinnacle of excellence of Chanel No 5. He focused his efforts on turning the signature black and white packaging into a universally recognized brand. He is also the creator of the J12 watches and is the genius behind launching the first ever white Ceramic J12 watch. Dominique Moncourtois and Heidi Morawetz, the Chanel make-up creators, have been creating make-up collections several times a year within the same spirit as for fashion. So, I should say we maintain the hype by creation, imagination and dreams.
Change seems to be the only constant, especially in the world of luxury. What, according to you, is the next big thing in luxury?
Our credo is “let Chanel surprise you!” In India, like in any other country, our aim is to constantly surprise our clientele with the beauty and luxury of creations, service and environment. Unlike any other house, Chanel gives freedom to its creators to invent the exceptional.
When Jacques Helleu decided a few years ago that white would be a magnificent colour for watches and created the White J12, it became a superb proposition and a global success! The latest surprise is Jacques Polge’s new line of perfumes called “Les Exclusifs”, sold only in Chanel boutiques, including the one in New Delhi.
The next big thing in luxury is more individualism.
Luxury has never been so fashionable, or profitable. A look at the balance sheets of luxury brands confirms this fact. What has led to this unquenchable thirst for luxury?
Luxury is not a question of fashion, but a question of perfection and exceptional style come true. More and more people can afford luxury, this is why it is “fashionable”.
What has been your experience in India and other emerging markets ?
In 1932, Mademoiselle Chanel said, “Luxury from Paris should reach the world over.” Today, Chanel has a strong presence in new markets such as Russia, China and India. We are following the development of these markets very closely as they will increasingly aspire to luxury.
What are your plans for India?
India has a strong heritage in luxury and sophistication. Mature markets as well as new markets are developing. At Chanel, we wish to offer a new imaginary universe to Indian women, corresponding to their femininity. We want to share with Indian women the fabulous story of Gabrielle Chanel and why she was such a visionary.
Chanel started in India with a boutique at The Imperial in New Delhi in March 2005 and has since then opened points of sales for fragrance and beauty products in Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore. Chanel’s distribution is selective and we continue to invest in building the brand image media advertising and press relations. We are also working actively on a boutique project in Mumbai.