The very fact that Chanel is now a company with two women in leadership positions makes Nair’s appointment all the more historic.
Leena Nair has been talked about this week. A graduate of Jamshedpur’s XLRI, Kolhapur-born Nair has been named Chanel’s new global CEO, a post that comes fresh after her 30 years at Unilever. This is news that is welcomed by those inside and outside the fashion industry, and the reasons are many.
Although she is not the first person to leave the FMCG (Patrice Louvet, for example, the president and CEO of Ralph Lauren since 2017 came from Procter and Gamble), what is interesting is that she comes from a human resources background. and was Director of Human Resources at Unilever.
Louvet held numerous leadership positions at P&G in North America, Europe and Northeast Asia, joining them in the marketing department and becoming group president of the company’s global beauty.
The human element in fashion has never been more important than it is today, and everyone who has worked with Nair tells how people-centric she is. As transparency becomes the buzzword, as we all become more aware of the need to be sustainable in our consumer choices, and as industry watchdogs are quick to speak out against any mistreatment of workers, a company’s approach to people and the planet has become as important as what they produce.
Historically, fashion has been an industry where the opacity of production methods was seen as normative. For a brand, giving away and disclosing manufacturing practices would be like a Michelin chef giving away his recipes.
However, as it became clear that fast fashion was not alone in committing crimes against the environment and its workers, luxury had to fight back. Whether it’s Burberry burning excess inventory, or revelations about how few Indian artisans – who work on the collections of top luxury houses – are getting paid, or the fact that creative directors have complained about exhausted from the number of collections they are now expected to produce, consumers are beginning to question luxury fashion houses and are demanding transparency.
In many ways, the appointment of Leena Nair is very much in line with the company’s heritage. When it comes to luxury, Chanel is a brand known for its craftsmanship – they hold an annual trade show called Métiers d’art, which involves showcasing the work of their artisans.
One of the best-known brands in the world, Chanel is still an independent brand – and not one of the two giants that dominate this multi-billion dollar industry (LVMH and the Kering Group). Owned by the Wertheimer family, Nair will succeed Alain Wertheimer, co-owner of Chanel with his brother Gerard, and now becomes the global executive chairman.
The only other fashion company in their place is Hermès. Both companies have always made choices that are a bit off the beaten track. For example, Chanel promoted Agathe Derain to chief human rights officer last year and was tasked with advising on social justice issues and identifying potential risks in the supply chain. .
This year, Chanel is posting double-digit growth. Even in the worst stages of the pandemic, it fared better than most of its competitors. It’s no surprise, considering Chanel has always been one step ahead of the game since Coco Chanel put women in jersey dresses.
Their choice of Nair hopefully signals that luxury now understands that we need to put people at the heart of the industry. Sure, profit matters (and anyone who’s worked in an FMCG understands the importance of that), but people are what makes a business.
On Instagram, Nair says, “I am inspired by what Chanel stands for. It’s a company that believes in creative freedom, cultivating human potential, and taking action to have a positive impact on the world.
A bonus is that Nair is a woman (and let’s not forget Chanel is a brand started by a woman that caters primarily to women) and also an Indian – so that plays a lot into the other big conversation than fashion has right now. .that of inclusivity and diversity.
Leena started her career at Unilever’s Indian subsidiary in 1992 and now becomes the second Indian-born woman to take over as global CEO after Indra Nooyi, who happens to be Nair’s mentor. If other women have held positions of responsibility at Chanel, including Maureen Chiquet, the timing of this appointment is interesting since the current artistic director of the brand is Virginie Viard. She succeeded the iconic Karl Lagerfeld and although she was his right-hand man for many years, she was not a household name in fashion until her appointment in 2019.
The very fact that Chanel is now a company with two women in leadership positions makes Nair’s appointment all the more historic. This is an indication of what post-pandemic luxury will be like, where profit will be as important as people and planet. And when fashion will finally become more inclusive and diverse.