Monsieur Chanel: Frédéric Grangié on the new Code Coco time piece
President of the marque's watch and jewellery division explains why Chanel stands for no compromise
He may be wearing a classic dark suit, but Frédéric Grangié knows a thing or two about luxury fashion innovation. Grangié was previously CEO of Louis Vuitton Japan for over six years, but he earned his stripes helping to turn Marc Jacobs from a kooky New York brand into the global powerhouse it is today.
"It was a front row experience!" laughs Grangié. "I did everything from [helping to] paint the store on Mercer Street to gradually opening up new product lines and finding the right licences. I helped with the first fragrance launch [in 2001], which was shot by the photographer Juergen Teller and featured Sofia Coppola. Marc is someone who has vision, skill and talent. It was a start-up, and everyone was there to make that vision happen."
Grangié is largely responsible for the expansion of the Marc Jacobs brand in Asia: "I spent a lot of time growing the distribution and cutting down all the licences that existed in Japan; they were not designed by him. I turned that into our products being distributed there, which was a major step for the company, and it became the number one on the [luxury fashion] market."
A cheerful and affable man, Grangié could be described as luxury fashion’s secret weapon, given his track record for getting under the skin of a brand and pushing the business to its full potential. Following his scaling-up mission at Marc Jacobs, he was appointed Vice President of Fendi Japan and remained in Tokyo for another three years before heading back to Paris to become Managing Director of family-owned leather goods brand Goyard. It was at this point that Louis Vuitton offered him a job he couldn’t refuse: the prestigious role of President and CEO of Louis Vuitton in Tokyo; he held the position from 2010 to 2016.
"It was a fantastic opportunity in terms of retail," says Grangié, making a high-pressure role sound like a walk in the park. "I loved working with all the designers, particularly Kim Jones [Artistic Director of Louis Vuitton menswear] on all his projects and collaborations. My Japanese is still very poor, but I manage a little," he laughs. Things changed when Chanel came calling in 2016 with a Paris-based role. "If you love luxury, Chanel is the ultimate!" he says. "It’s a family-owned business with a long-term vision, so it was an easy, obvious decision."
Grangié dislikes business spiel; he’s of the opinion that selling a dream has everything to do with emotion and little to do with the consumer landscape. "My job is to ensure we bring creation to everything we do; that we’re true to the initial idea. I’m the only one who has the full picture. I ensure all the pieces of the puzzle come together and make the experience look easy and enjoyable in the market. "
"Take the new Flying Cloud [high jewellery] collection. It was inspired by an image of Gabrielle Chanel standing on the deck of the Duke of Westminster’s yacht. From here, our designers went in parallel directions: one was everything you need when you’re at sea, so that’s the anchors and the ropes; the other [takes its lead] from sailors – the marinière tops, their coat buttons, their tattoos. I love the tattoo rings! I want to emphasise this, as you could never come up with these ideas through product management."
The Flying Cloud is, as Grangié describes, an exquisite collection that incorporates just a touch of Chanel whimsy: there are ‘knotted’ diamond earrings, brooches and gold cuffs, as well as long pearl necklaces punctuated by a ring of diamonds and lapis lazuli that look like miniature lifesavers or buoys.
Grangié’s take on Chanel’s fine watch division is similarly anchored in the experiential. "We bring a different feminine perspective to the market, because we’re not making women’s watches with smaller diamonds or pastel colours; it’s about creativity and we have no constraints," he explains. A case in point is Chanel’s all-new Code Coco timepiece, released to celebrate the house’s 30th anniversary in watchmaking. Taking its design cues from the iconic Chanel 2.55 handbag with its ‘quilted’ steel bracelet and case shaped like a turn-key clasp, the timepiece straddles the categories of watch and bracelet.
"Above everything, we are a women’s company," says Grangié. "There’s difficulty in the men’s market, but it doesn’t apply to us. More and more women are buying watches for themselves, particularly in China. No brand better exemplifies this attitude – strong, independent women – than Chanel. So I’m quite confident about that, as long as we bring new creativity to this terrain – and on that there will be zero compromise. And you know what? If it takes longer to do that, we’ll wait."