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[In-depth interview]The man every woman wants to meet

Korean women are very strong and individual. That is Coco Chanel. It embodies everything she represented.

Mar 28,2007
Vincent Shaw
Vincent Shaw is a fortunate man. Every woman he meets gets excited when they hear about his job, for he is Chanel’s emissary to Asia, the president of Chanel Asia Pacific, the fellow who oversees all of the Parisian fashion house’s ambitions in one of its most important markets.
Mr. Shaw is an affable Englishman, who worked for Wedgwood in Hong Kong before he joined Chanel. He has an intimate knowledge of Korea. He was Chanel’s country manager here for seven years before he took up his present post. He is now responsible for the company’s activities in Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Australia.
From this lofty position he has a privileged view of the Asia-Pacific markets, especially when it comes to high-end retailing.
Chanel was founded in 1910 by Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel who later became known as “Coco.” She was as influential and revolutionary in fashion as Karl Marx was in politics and some would say her legacy, especially her suits, little black dresses and perfumes, has been more enduring.
Including duty-free locations, Chanel now has 14 fashion boutiques in Korea along with 75 cosmetic counters and one jewelry store. The company has many more locations across the Asia-Pacific region.

What are the key elements of Chanel’s success and how much do they owe to Coco Chanel?
There was constant innovation in her business style. She broke many of the rules. That made her uniquely creative. She was really into liberation. Karl Lagerfeld [Chanel’s current creative director] does the same thing for Chanel today. He is innovative with materials, innovative with design, and he makes it relevant to today’s ladies.

How significant is the counterfeiting issue in Korea?
In the early ’90s it was very serious. Chanel was carrying out over 1,000 raids a year and instigating more than 500 prosecutions. Today we are finding that a lot of the counterfeiting is taking place in China. It does exist in Korea. It is still a problem, but it is more manageable.

How important is Korea to Chanel’s future plans?
Korea is very important to Chanel. When the department stores started to consolidate in the ’90s with Lotte, Hyundai, and Shinsegae taking the lead, they revolutionized the retail scene. Other Asian countries started watching what the Koreans were doing and they have actually brought a new momentum and dynamic into Asian retailing.

Do Korean women have a Chanel-like sensibility?
Korean women are very strong women, and they are very individualistic. That is Coco Chanel. It embodies everything that she represented. So, Korean women are an ideal audience for Chanel.

Does the Korean market pose special challenges?
The challenges are not unique but they are Korean. There was heavy influence from Japan in a lot of the business models that were established here. However, consumers want their own identity. Since the ’60s they have pushed for that and we have to keep pace. We have to make sure they have the latest of everything. They are not going to settle for second best.

Are there lessons that Chanel can learn from Korean and Asian concepts of beauty?
We have ranges that are very specific to Asia. In fact, I think I can safely say that Chanel’s whitening range originated from Korea and Japan, and was developed by those two markets, because it is a very specific product range for Asians. Also, the way that ladies apply their makeup is different, so we have to design products specifically for Asian tastes.
Fashion, fragrances, and jewelry are three different industries. How does the company maintain a balance between them?
We have three organizations, which run the three pillars. It’s an organization underneath a matrix, and we have very strong interfaces, so that we get our own economies of scale in communication. The communication department covers all three, so we can then make sure we get a balance and we’re not pushing too hard on one of the pillars. Also, the consumers are different. A fragrance purchaser is not necessarily a fashion purchaser or a jewelry consumer. Therefore, there are marketing techniques which we employ to ensure we are consumer- and lifestyle-focused on the relevant markets.

In the fragrance market, is Korea more challenging than other countries ?
Traditionally Asians don’t use fragrances. However, when you have a young country, like Korea, I think it is a part of the educational role to introduce fragrances that are applicable to a particular lifestyle. Chanel is lucky in that we have a wide range of more than 25 fragrances. We can therefore be very specific about what kind of product works for a particular market. Asians in general don’t like heavy fragrances, they like lighter fragrances. So we have a big portfolio, which covers their needs.

From Chanel’s perspective, what have been the key developments in Korea?
There has been an economic revolution here. In 1992, there were approximately 150 department stores. Then, by 1997, with the crash, it fell to three major players ― Lotte, Shinsegae, and Hyundai ― to actually consolidate and create a new retail industry. Now Korean retailing is coming out into the bigger world. Lotte Duty Free, for instance, has begun a joint venture with a company in China. They are bidding for Singapore airport, they are bidding in India. And this is a great thing for Korea.
Are there still too many obstacles to foreign investment in Korea?
I don’t think the Korean government is doing anything different from what the Japanese government is doing or has done. The speed at which the Korean economy has grown and restructured itself in the last ten years has been phenomenal. The prohibitions that exist in emerging markets are becoming less and less obvious in Korea. So you’re getting into a mature paradigm, like that in Japan and other markets.

Which division of Chanel drives profit-growth?
Within the fashion group there are eight product categories and nearly all of them are profit drivers, so we have to make sure we’re developing products through the studios at the right speed for the market’s decision making. Similarly, for beauty products, we have three franchises ― fragrances, skincare and makeup. Obviously, in Asia, skincare is by far the biggest product category, making up over 60 percent of the market, whereas in Europe skincare is only about 30 to 40 percent. So we have a huge opportunity in skincare.

How important is training? Training is critical, one of the things that Chanel always tries to do is to differentiate ourselves by our service. Luxury is not just a product, it is the whole experience the customer gets in a store. We send people from here to Paris so they can understand the heritage of the house, the Chanel icons and where they come from.

What do you love about working for Chanel?
The creativity and the passion of the people who work for Chanel and the products themselves. They are always evolving, so you can never get bored. And we are dealing with a very active consumer base. In Asia, we have all the business models you can think of, so you are constantly challenging yourself to think outside of the box, as the house does, to approach the consumer in the correct way.

Daniel Jeffreys Deputy Editor [danielj@joongang.co.kr]


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