What Gabriela Hearst’s first show says about Chloé’s strategy
The new-look Chloé, under the creative direction of Gabriela Hearst, will focus on sustainability, accessories and cocooning outerwear, her first show for the Richemont-owned French brand indicates.
The highly anticipated show at Paris Fashion Week — a fully digital season due to the sanitary restrictions — was shot by night in the empty streets of Paris under curfew, outside Saint Germain-des-Prés staple Brasserie Lipp, where Chloé founder Gaby Aghion invited guests when presenting her earliest collections 70 years ago. Chloé has been through many incarnations since then, under creative direction from Karl Lagerfeld to Stella McCartney and Phoebe Philo.
The stakes are high, given that Chloé’s sales have been decreasing consistently even pre-pandemic. Morgan Stanley analyst Edouard Aubin estimates that Chloé generated €485 million in revenue the fiscal year ending March 2020, down from €510 million the year prior. Along with Montblanc and Alaïa, Chloé is part of Richemont’s “Other” division, which saw sales decrease by 13 per cent in the most recent quarter, following a 24 per cent drop in the previous quarter. (Richemont does not provide sales or profits of individual brands.) Chloé’s vulnerability lies largely in its exposure to wholesale, its reliance on ready-to-wear versus accessories and its limited offer in fast-growing segments such as sneakers, analysts say. Chloé chief executive Riccardo Bellini declined to respond to questions for this story.
“Like many other fashion brands, Chloé’s revenues have been hit hard by the Covid pandemic,” says Mario Ortelli, managing director of Ortelli & Co. “New creative leadership is the right first step to reboot the brand.”
The Autumn/Winter 2021 collection is a nod to the heritage of the French house, but the significant takeaway is the new sustainability focus, carried over from Hearst’s namesake brand. The company said in a press release that the collection is “four times more sustainable” compared to last year’s designs, attributing the progress to a shift to lower-impact raw materials. Hearst also reissued popular past products like the Edith handbag, repurposing 50 vintage bags with leftover materials, signalling an embrace of pre-made goods. “New isn’t always better,” said Hearst in a statement. Chloé is thus the latest luxury brand to dip its toes into the resale market.
The 30-piece collection also includes fringed and striped dresses, a poncho fused with a puffer coat called a “puffcho”, puffer coats assembled from Chloé fabrics and prints “in homage to previous designers” and a collaboration with Moonboots incorporating Chloé material and recycled cashmere.
“[Hearst’s] introduction of sustainably made pieces and overall general responsibility to the environment is sure to drive eyes and more business to the brand,” says Julie Gilhart, chief development officer of business accelerator Tomorrow and president of Tomorrow Projects says. She praised the “striped ponchos made of recycled cashmere” and “the embellished bags that had been rejuvenated from secondhand Chloé bags bought back from Ebay”.
Richemont has taken recent steps to reinvigorate its fashion division, which has been lagging behind for some years. Along with Hearst’s appointment, the group invested €25 million in the launch of AZ Factory, a new brand led by cult designer Alber Elbaz, and brought on Pieter Mulier as creative director of Alaïa. Chairman Johann Rupert is also committed to digital: Chloé started selling on Tmall in China in May 2020, several months before November’s Richemont-Alibaba-Farfetch mega-deal. The new collection’s handbags and focus on sustainability could win over the younger generation of Chinese consumers, an important market for luxury brands, says Shanghai-based creative consultant Leaf Greener.
“I believe Chloé is the brand with the most important potential in Richemont’s soft luxury portfolio,” says Bernstein analyst Luca Solca. “The most important challenge for Richemont in this division is to attract and retain the right talent. As the best — like Phoebe Philo at one point — are at risk to be poached by larger groups that can offer better prospects.”
Hearst’s first collection has been largely well-received. Natalie Kingham, global fashion officer at MatchesFashion praised the outerwear, ponchos, shearling and knitted dresses. “In such a short space of time you can see the codes of Gabriela Hearst for Chloé coming through.”
Accessories and footwear, both industry cash cows, were also a standout. “We love the new direction Gabriela is taking with Chloé’s accessories by reinventing and modernising iconic shapes from the archives,” says Roopal Patel, senior vice president, fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue. Brigitte Chartrand, vice president of womenswear buying for Ssense, called out the collection’s boots and sandals as a highlight.
Others have drawn comparisons to Philo, which could indicate a price hike, says fashion critic Pierre Alexandre M’Pelé, known online as Pam Boy. “It was a safe first collection, missing the lightheartedness and French attitude for which Chloé is known for,” he says, adding, “Gabriela Hearst’s sophistication is in tune with Chloé’s. She herself embodies the Chloé woman. In that regard, it was an appropriate choice and the garments reflect just that.”