Chanel is a high fashion house that specializes in haute couture and ready-to-wear clothes, luxury goods and fashion accessories, and has been ranked the 7th most valuable luxury brand by the Millward Brown ranking published in 2014.
The label focuses on women’s fashion (except for a few men’s fragrances) and sticks to the promotion of a traditional know-how and a legacy from its founder, Coco Gabrielle Chanel. Most of the brand’s communication is centered on her heritage while also emphasizing the forward-thinking modernity she was known for.
This forward-thinking and innovation has no doubt helped Chanel rise to become a fashion powerhouse worth an estimated $19 billion today.
How did they do it?
1. Challenge the status quo: design products that are not afraid to defy social norms
Chanel revolutionized fashion by replacing structured-silhouettes, based upon the corset and the bodice, with garments that were functional yet flattering.
In the 1920s, the simple-line designs of Chanel couture made popular the “flat-chested” fashions that were the opposite of the hourglass-figure achieved by the fashions of the late 19th century – the Belle Époque of France (ca. 1890–1914), and the British Edwardian Era (ca. 1901–1919).
Chanel also challenged notions of femininity and sought to empower women by incorporating trousers and blazers in her designs, and using masculine colours, such as grey and navy blue.
By thinking outside the box and creating a line of fashion unlike anything else in the market, Chanel grabbed attention, got consumers talking and established itself as a label to watch out for.
2. Established brand’s high-end reputation with premium pricing, exclusivity and celebrity endorsement
Chanel products have a relatively steady selling curve with prices remaining the same or slightly increasing over time to give them more value and to entice the buyer to purchase with the mindset of an investment.
By the end of the 1980s, the boutiques sold goods ranging from US$200-per-ounce perfume to US$11,000 dresses and US$2,000 leather handbags, and are strategically placed in upmarket locations like Galeries Lafayette in Paris, Harrods in London and Bergdorf Goodman in New York.
When the iconic Chanel No.5 perfume wasn’t selling well in the U.S., the number of outlets carrying the fragrance was reduced from 18,000 to 12,000. The fragrance was removed from drugstore shelves, and millions of dollars were invested in advertisement for Chanel cosmetics, including using celebrity endorsement from the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Tautou.
Over the years, celebrities like Catherine Deneuve, Candace Bergen, Nicole Kidman, and Brad Pitt have become real-life manifestations of the French label’s ethos. Their association indirectly expresses the brand philosophy — an icon of complete refinement, affluence, and high living.
Whether to express incredulity at the high-end prices, or awe at the latest ad campaign featuring label’s latest ingenue of choice, Chanel is fantastically adept at getting consumers talking.
3. Great content marketing – Iconography and heritage as an integral part of branding
The label’s content-centric microsite, INSIDE CHANEL, launched in 2013, takes consumers on a narrated, highly visual ride of Chanel’s historic rise to fame — intertwining the life of designer Coco Chanel herself with the evolution of the company and its products, touting their respective successes in each of the ten chapters.
Opting for a true narrative approach, INSIDE CHANEL tells the brand’s story in chronological fashion, allowing consumers to immerse themselves in the story behind the company’s growth — each chapter capturing the unique story behind the brand’s iconic items.
As a label that attributes its success on creating an image, Chanel makes use of iconography — all of which has significance to its heritage — as part of its branding. The interlocking double C logo, Camelia flower, quilted leather, and use of monochromatic black and white all serves to strengthen its identity, and are instantly recognizable as quintessentially Chanel.
The result is an image that transcends the label’s own identity. Fans have managed to incorporate the Chanel aesthetic into their own lives, from cupcakes, to parties to interior decoration.
4. Aesthetics over everything: creating visual spectacles to be talked about
Chanel has also earned a reputation for its theatrical and over-the-top runway shows, of which in recent years have featured increasingly elaborate backdrops and stunning settings. Past runway shows have included giant icebergs, an underwater kingdom and even a replica of an entire Parisian street.
For their Fall/Winter collection in 2014, Chanel created a supermarket on the runway and filled up the shelves with hundreds of props amongst cartons of real produce. Suffice to say these shows are much anticipated and highly acclaimed.
Not content to limit their visual spectacles to the runway, Chanel has also filmed a number of opulent mini-movies as part of their ad campaigns. These movies feature noted celebrities and supermodels. While some of the films take on the form of an extended commercial, others are decidedly more absurd and artistic, sometimes resembling more like a music video.
Here’s a quick recap on how Chanel maintains its position as a fashion powerhouse through Word-of-Mouth:
- Create products that challenge the norm
- Nurture a reputation that encapsulates the brand’s ethos
- A strong image will expand the brand’s influence and reach
- Create exciting visual spectacles to flex brand’s aesthetic prowess