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“Data Center Chanel” observes the most important aspect of luxury’s future at #PFW

The “Data Center Chanel” theme saw a supercomputer act as the backdrop to Chanel’s SS17 show, in doing so arguably nodding to its future e-commerce moves.

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Data Center Chanel at Paris Fashion Week (Image via Chanel)

Chanel has long been known for bringing elaborate set designs to Paris Fashion Week. Tapping into a sense of Instagram-ready curation, Karl Lagerfeld has introduced everything from a supermarket to an airport terminal and casino in recent seasons. In other words, backdrops that the audience will love to capture for the sake of social media, almost irrespective of the collection itself.

Today was no different, except this time there was an extra layer to the proceedings, arguably a metaphorical one about the future of luxury.

“Data Center Chanel” was the theme, with a series of data storage units (a supercomputer if you will) acting as the set for the spring/summer 2017 collection.

Multicoloured wires sprung from the machines, replicated in both the invitation to the show – which saw the interlocking C’s formed from cables – as well as some of the detail in the clothing line itself, a reworking of the brand’s traditional tweed. The flashing green lights from the data farm were even mirrored in LEDs that appeared on some of the brand’s handbags.

Meanwhile, “bots” walked the runway too. Two models opened the show wearing a headpiece largely reminiscent of Pepper – the small humanoid robot by Aldebaran Robotics and SoftBank, which has been working in various retail stores this year. Other coverage also referenced the idea of Storm Troopers or even virtual reality headsets.

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A bot walks in front of the Data Center Chanel setup at Paris Fashion Week (Image via @SusieBubble)

The big focus was on hardware, but it was of course a greater nod to all things digital. On the one hand, the entire setup could have been a narrative on modern consumers’ lives – the idea we’re all ruled by data; an awareness of just how much we individually share, a tangible replication of the servers behind our connected worlds. As Robin Givhan, fashion critic at the Washington Post, tweeted: “We’re all just bits of data.”

Perhaps it was also a more conceptual thought about all of us operating like bots in the screen era too, or even that bots themselves are becoming more prevalent in our communications and beyond – the algorithms shaping our lives. It was a look to the future some might say, and indeed a reflection on current day.

But there seemed an even greater underlying reference, and that was around the idea that Chanel’s roadmap lies in becoming itself just a series of data. And this is where the future of luxury comes in.

Any brand thinking about long-term growth strategy knows that data is at the very heart of finding that success. But data must fundamentally come from e-commerce, for which many luxury brands are still a stranger – Chanel included.

For many of them, this has been because they could find growth elsewhere, notably in China. As Luca Solca, managing director of luxury goods at Exane BNP Paribas, told me for a story for the Business of Fashion last year: “[With a slowing China market] e-commerce is one of very few ways luxury goods companies can now grow.”

A video posted by CHANEL (@chanelofficial) on

The numbers make sense to do so: from 2009 to 2014, online sales of luxury goods grew four times faster than offline sales. In fact, in 2014, nearly all luxury market growth came from e-commerce, up 50% from 2013. And yet that figure is still only at 6% of total sales demonstrating how much space digital still has to grow. McKinsey expects it to triple to 18% by 2025.

Chanel has previously promised it will launch its e-commerce site by the end of 2016. For the same BoF story, Lindsay Nuttall, CDO at advertising agency BBH, which has worked with brands like Burberry, said going direct-to-consumer in a bid to have control over customers’ online data is essential. “The fact [many luxury brands have] given part of their supply chain away to third parties like Net-a-Porter could prove an increasing problem over time. It can affect really practical things, like their margins, and really huge things like their route to the customer. By not collecting data on them, you don’t understand how they’re evolving,” she explained.

In short then, the Chanel show really could be a precursor to the fact it’s finally about to go headfirst into e-commerce. It’s a true nod to the future of luxury and to a much more integrated, customer-first and data-led strategy, enabled by a final push into online transactions.

By Rachel Arthur

Rachel Arthur is Editor-in-Chief of Current Daily, the leading news source for fashion, retail and innovation, and the co-host of its weekly Innovators podcast. She otherwise serves as Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Current Global, a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion luxury and retail. By background she is an award-winning business journalist and consultant, contributing to titles including Wired, Forbes and Business of Fashion.

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