When I met a milliner named Gabrielle and a trunk maker named Louis
I can't profess to be a dedicated follower of fashion.
I've never been on trend or en vogue. I don't read fashion magazines unless I am at the hairdresser and I've forgotten my kindle. Both are rare occasions.
I can't remember when I bought new clothes... and before then 'new' would likely to have been from a second hand shop (erm...vintage?). I've always dressed for myself, for my feet (no heels), for practical reasons, and as a result, don't really know, or dare I say it, care, about designers/labels or latest collections.
So imagine my surprise, when in the space of a single week, I found myself worshipping at the altar of not one but two fashion behemoths. Chanel and the Madamemoiselle Privé exhibition and Louis Vuitton with the Series 3 exhibition.
Part story-telling seduction- part sensorial-how does one say it?- Bitch-slap!
Chanel hit the nose and ears (birdsong no less) with Gardens (indoor and outside), and rooms of giant compacts, steaming and gurgling as they opened, swirling and wafting the ingredients for Chanel no 5. Fingertips were seduced with floor to ceiling, drape upon drape, of black and white materials which begged to be touched. Eyes blinked at twinkles from Coco's one and only diamond collection, then squinted looking at the lighting rod filled busts trying to see HOW the artisans had melded sheer fabrics,feathers, beads and glittering embroidery to make up Mr Lagerfeld's latest evening wear collection.
Louis Vuitton- on the other hand- was brash. With digital multimedia and flash, LV logos changed shape, tunnels of lights connected rooms, models on walls walked circles around guests (making you feel a little bit dizzy if I'm honest). Lasers and 3D computer images created shoes and bags before your eyes. Trunks from the past were boxed in museum cases whilst the latest bags hung on white sculptures. A room full of catwalks and 25 life size screens gave everyone a front row seat.
If Chanel had been magic come nostalgic romance, LV was magic does tomorrow's world.
I loved that the crafts, on which the houses were built, were celebrated and shared; from workshops open to the public in Lemarié and Lesage at Chanel; to being able to sit at a LV Workbench and see the process through the makers eyes. And where Chanel's designs out-sparkled and enchanted any of the offerings on the LV catwalks (in my view) - it was LV's idea to have visitors crowd around a real-life LV craftswoman making signature "Petite malle" trunk bags(below) giving the curious visitor an opportunity to ask questions which really endeared.
And what did I take away to reapply to my world?
As a founder of fledgling business and hatter
1. That even Multi Billion dollar brands were small once.
Chanel was recently valued $6.8billion. Louis Vuitton a cool $28.1 billion. However we all start somewhere. This might seem obvious- but who would have thought a 1909 milliner could become the mother of the House of Chanel? Or in 1854 a trunk maker could become the darling of Paris and the founder of a mega fashion label? Hmm... I wonder if the Saatchi Gallery is taking bookings for the year 2100. Who for? The City Milliner exhibition of course.
2. Attention to detail is at the heart of well made products, from trunks to dresses. Your brand and everyone who works for the brand need to embrace it
3.If you want to be a luxury brand think like a luxury brand. Customer experience is key and goes beyond the end product
4. Functional, Simple, Modern is enduring.
Chanel's designs were classic and comfortable and have lasted the test of time. Firm believer in comfort and she build a beautiful brand which put comfort and 'being able to move in it' at the heart of it.
5.Slow and steady wins the race ( Quality over Speed)
Though you always want to get a clients order out to them as soon as possible- detail takes care and time. I was surprised and reassured at how slow Louise Vuitton machinist stitches the leather pieces together.
6. Strive for perfection in how you put things together so people don't know how you've done it. I remember my milliner tutor telling me this in making hats and both LV and Chanel's collections exhibited this- every one of our hats should beg the question 'how did they do that?'
7. Be curious in your craft and keep telling stories. It's not just about a dress, a trunk, a shoe... it's the experimentation, the testing, the multiple fittings and the story(ies) behind it.
8. Passion, Attention to detail, Drive and Constant Curiosity are attitudinal qualities which are vital to be a successful craftsman/business. It's not about the school you went to. This is a pet peeve of mine- I didn't study fashion or design. The LV craftswoman had been a chocolatier in her pre LV days. Chanel didn't go to a fashion school either:
I was self taught, I learned badly and haphazardly…I had worked out on my own that which cannot be taught…it is with this that one succeeds. ~ Gabrielle Chanel
6. The road is long. Like Louis or Chanel, I might not be around to see The City Milliner exhibition. But I can live with that.