When Arie Kopelman ’62 became Chanel’s president and chief operating officer in 1986, he faced a brand in crisis. At the time, he says, the only people who thought Chanel was a hot brand were “maybe some moms and certainly lot of grandmoms.” Kopelman reinvigorated the brand with creative, relevant products that appealed to women of all generations. He also succeeded in making the brand the international presence it is today.
In an interview with Amina Runyan-Shefa ’06, Kopelman discusses why today’s marketers have to move faster than ever. The full interview is available on the Chazen Web Journal site. An edited transcript follows.
Fashion has historically moved a lot faster than other industries. What lessons can be drawn from the fashion industry and applied to other industries?
Certainly, from a marketing perspective, people have got to move much faster, regardless of the industry, because information is shared so instantaneously. Things are copied instantaneously, whether it’s in the automotive arena or in the fashion business.
Everybody has to have a different kind of creative edge. There’s more of a sense of urgency to make things happen on a timely basis and to do it in a cutting-edge way.
It’s all about really standing for something and being different from the competition. And that is really critical, because it gets harder each year to do that, and the only way to do it is to keep that edge, keep moving forward and move forward quickly.
How has Chanel been able to create products that transcend or endure three generations of women?
If you focus on an older demographic, you’re out of business eventually. There’s no question about that
We wanted to market to all three generations. We wanted to talk to women in their 20s and their moms and their grandmothers across the board without putting ourselves into a niche market for any one of the three. And that’s what we did.
To do it means exciting new products — just being interesting, being relevant — and not just having a brand that people would like to have but must have. That’s really what marketing is all about: going from the like-to-have to got-to-have-it.
How can a brand like Chanel stay competitive with new competitors popping up like weeds every day?
The name of the game is essentially understanding that what you did yesterday is history. Karl Lagerfeld always says, “I don’t care what I did yesterday. It doesn’t make any difference anymore. It’s now history. The only thing that counts is what I do today and tomorrow.”
I think everybody has to live like that in business today because things are evolving so quickly. You can’t get caught up in what you did. It’s all about keeping that sense of urgency.
How have you changed or adapted the Chanel brand or its products across borders?
You have to adapt certain products because the markets are different; there are different cultures, there are different needs. Different colors work in Asia better than they would in the States, as an example, or in Europe.
But what we want — regardless of any product differentiation, which does take place in the fragrance and beauty business, certainly — we want to make sure that the imagery of the brand is exactly the same. That’s the key.
We don’t do that, however, in the area of fashion. In fashion, the line is the line — ready-to-wear or accessories. And we’re not going to adapt different styles for different markets.
As people travel so much more than they used to, frankly, it’s a universal thing right now. The well-dressed woman in New York is not much different from the well-dressed woman in London, Paris, Tokyo.
Any additional thoughts that you’d like to leave marketing students or practitioners with today?
In the end, people skills and energy levels are as important as just the raw horsepower, the ability. There are a lot of people who can come up with ideas. There aren’t a whole lot that can make them happen.