The ex–Chanel chairman talks about marketing, Drew Barrymore and what grandmothers want.
Former chairman of Chanel and avid historic preservationist Arie Kopelman was born and raised in Boston. He began his business career with Proctor & Gamble in the company’s brand management program and worked in the advertising business before joining Chanel in 1986. He was named vice-chairman in 2004. He’s a member of the board of managers of the East Side Settlement House, and for 16 years chaired the Winter Antiques Show, one of New York’s premiere charitable events. He is a past president of the Nantucket Historical Association, and a board member of numerous other organizations. He and his wife, Coco, live in New York and Nantucket.
Coincidence that your wife is named Coco?
It is. Her name is Corinne, but her parents always called her Coco.
Chanel is sort of a three-legged stool: there’s Europe, the U.S. and the Far East. The business in the Far East is booming. The U.S. is doing unusually well, and Europe continues to do well. The company’s cooking along, and that’s because the product is outstanding.
No. I don’t care if you’re making laundry detergent or high fashion. It starts and ends with the product. I remember Bill Bernbach, who was the guru back in the day, always said, “Never forget: Good advertising makes a bad product fail faster.” Because more people find out about it and find out it sucks. On the other hand, you can have a good product and it won’t succeed unless it’s well marketed, especially in a highly competitive field like fashion.
First you’d have to say the word classic, because the brand is. But the magic of Karl Lagerfeld has been to keep it fresh, young and modern. So classic and modern, which are not contradictory, and I guess the third adjective would be hot. The brand has never been hotter.
It’s one of the only fashion brands that appeals to three generations. Kids, teenagers and young women want it. Their moms want it. And their grandmothers want it.
No, I never really gave it much thought or cared about anybody’s sexuality. And there are plenty of straight men in fashion—arguably one of the dominant forces in the industry is Ralph Lauren, for example.
Chanel was a prime example of that. The perception was that it was very ladylike and sort of matronly, and then Karl Lagerfeld came along and, together with a genius design team, turned that around.
Of course. But for a big occasion, she wore Chanel, which was a nice part of the job. I was always one of those husbands who liked helping my wife pick out a dress. I thought it was fun. And she certainly benefited from the fact that I didn’t run a hardware company. “Look, honey! Here’s a screwdriver!”
We never did that. We would lend things, but we weren’t one of those design houses that sent dresses for free to celebrities. As for my own involvement in that world, I did get to spend a lot of time with Nicole Kidman when she became the face for our fragrance ads.
I don’t think there’s anything particularly strange unless it’s counterfeited. Every once in a while you’ll see it on dog collars or something like that.
Exactly. But the counterfeit things can cheapen the brand, which is not in its best interest. I’ve never seen the logo legitimately on anything too outlandish. The snowboards, for instance, were runway props, not really for sale. They happened to be terrific products, because top manufacturers made them, but they weren’t a business we planned to go into.
The Rock Star in Seat 3A
I haven’t, although her previous book, Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut, was her first non-fiction book and it is hysterical and brilliant. I reread it all the time. She’s so talented.
Well, the only thing that can drive you a little nuts is if you go out to dinner and the paparazzi’s waiting for you. That’s fine, and you learn to deal with it, but we’ve been in really nice restaurants when people come running over with iPhones, and it’s hard to believe. But it comes with the territory and Drew handles it beautifully and graciously.
I always dreamed of owning a historic home, and we do. It’s an 18th-century house on Nantucket, and it was a marvelous thing to restore. Of course, we wanted all the modern amenities, but using antiques gives it a sense of living with history. It wasn’t so much a passion for collecting but to bring the house back to life faithfully.
I went to Johns Hopkins as a pre-med student, but I ended up majoring in art history. I just love furniture and how people used these objects and the history of them. After that, I became just as interested in the decorative arts. I just love furniture and how people used these objects and the history of them. My favorite thing is to visit house museums.
Well, historic Deerfield has a number of houses and what’s exciting to me is to see them as a group. I’d say that Cogswell’s Grant is one of my all-time favorites. Historic New England really does an amazing job.
I haven’t. You could argue that someone might not look great in it if they were grossly overweight or something, because these are all designed in a way that flatters a more petite figure. But some people just look better than others in clothing.
Yes, because there used to be what was called head-to-toe dressing, and that becomes too much in my judgment. I think a pair of jeans with a Chanel jacket or mixing and matching is much more interesting, and you see much more of that these days.