The Former CEO of Chanel On Feminine Leadership Qualities And The New Luxury

Beyond The Label.

The former CEO of Chanel, Maureen Chiquet, is creative, playful and witty and she also doesn’t give out advice so don’t ask. But she will sell you on her new book “Beyond the Label” which is about her time and journey leading up to the greatest role in any fashionista’s dream: being the boss of Chanel.

On a raining Tuesday night, IVY, The Social University, hosted a very French cafe chat with the dewy-skinned American turned Parisian on how to lead a luxury brand to be worth $6.2 billion. “I sat at the head of the table with 10 other men who were primarily all French” the former CEO bragged. 💪🏿✨🐚

Beyond the Label is essentially about stories and fluffy ideas about Ms. Chiquet’s time getting to know the French culture while working in marketing and then getting recruited as a headhunter to work at Chanel. From the book, you’ll get the intimate details of her twenty-something ordeals, like witnessing her roommate soak in a bathtub, while having a conversation with a male friend and smoking cigarettes. This seemingly glamorous vision left a lasting impression on Ms. Chiquet, who thought it was so French. When I asked her about why she even decided to include this in her book At IVY Happy Hour hour, she responded, “that was when I realized stuff about my sexuality and being comfortable with my body.”

Although she was whisked away during our 1-1 time (right in the middle of my question about how the urban and millennial buyer fits in with Chanel’s marketing strategy ), I was in complete awe that a CEO could be and act like such a free spirit.

In 2015, under the direction of Ms. Chiquet, Chanel reported their annual 38 percent rise in revenue, making its owners $3 billion richer and much of this success was attributed to expanding its markets to China. After Ms. Chiquet left Chanel in January 2016, the company’s revenue fell 23 percent. Hmm. As one of the only women at the helm of the brand, it’s interesting to hear someone’s story in the form of glamorous anecdotes about life. With those aforementioned numbers in mind, one has to credit the former CEO for something. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how French brands don’t like to pollinate with other cultures when top executive positions are at stake. It makes me wonder about Chanel’s overall strategy. Ms. Chiquet mentions in her book that her interview questions for this job about her lifestyle, like where she vacations, and the fact that she didn’t have much of a business degree, really baffles me. I don’t want people who strive for such high fashion positions to think that traditional business skills are not necessary. If anything, she has the confidence of a French person.

By the end of the IVY chat, Ms. Chiquet was comfortable letting her personality take the wheel, so much so that she literally couldn't stop ranting about the luxury experience and Wolford. If anyone wants to know where a CEO gets her bra’s from, it’s Wolford. “I was really upset I couldn’t use my store credit that I received from Wolford online, I had to go in- store,” confessed the reborn Parisian. However, TBH, Ms Chiquet doesn’t sound like the idea no-frill customer, but are luxury customers ever?

Here’s what Ms. Chiquet had to say on leadership, the new luxury experience and bloggers.

On Feminine Leadership:

I didn’t go in thinking I was going to command control of the groups, set strategy... Because that wasn’t going to fly in a room full of seasoned corporate men. You think you would go in with this “I am a vision,” type of mindset. But I had to use my feminine leadership qualities.” I had to be vulnerable… These are the things that helped me establish my credibility.

Again, according to the wannabe woman French woman, embracing one’s feminine leadership qualities mean listening, asking questions , not being afraid to admit that you don’t have all the answers and that you need help with a plan, and having empathy to sit in someone else's shoes. These are the skills we need to create innovation. She credits her feminine qualities as the key to her own success. But I wonder if these really will hold much weight for women in a corporate environment? I just read an article about how women don’t want to take leadership roles in corporate because they don’t want to deal with the responsibilities. When I think how sad that sounds, perhaps I could understand how feminine leadership qualities could work in a privileged society for certain people.

On The New Luxury:

Studies reveal that the luxury customer is becoming increasingly demanding as more people buy into the market. 20% of U.S households represent the ideal luxury customer with an annual gross revenue of $180,000 or above. However 40% of the “luxury customer” also shops on their mobile device, which says a lot about the luxury experience.

According to Ms Chiquet, we need to look beyond the label and think about what it means to have a luxury experience. “Time is a luxury. Space is a luxury.” If online shopping makes it easy to buy clothes then the brick and mortar store has to offer more. Take for example, Chanel who offers in-house tailoring, that experience alone must be done in-person and a true luxury to have found your go-to couture tailor.

“I just bought a Gucci shirt. I went into the store to try it on, but I ended up buying it online. I was so excited about my purchase at the end,” Maureen shared with the IVY audience.
“Saving time is a luxury.”
“Bloggers are the new experts.”

So yes, the luxury customer has a different way of behaving and the expectations are clearly technological-driven, and that takes a lot of participation to really understand. However, can we agree that the “luxury consumer” is not solely based on household income?

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