No wonder why we love Chanel so much.   Their sense of fine detail, grand largesse and style have great appeal for 太太 's around the world.

Chanel’s show in China, featured a giant jacket as the centerpiece.    - 2008  wwd

What makes a Chanel girl?
She's smart, accomplished, well-travelled and very, very discreet

At the Chanel boutique on Toronto's tony  Bloor Street West, the couches are covered in café-au-lait ultra-suede, refreshments are served on an elegant silver trolley, and on a large-screen television the world's top models strut down a Paris catwalk in the season's latest offerings from the fabled couturier.

In this rarefied atmosphere, clothing is "an investment" and any reference to how much a garment costs is considered déclassé.

And there is no such thing as a salesgirl.

Rather, the women dressed in identical charcoal Chanel pantsuits and pale-pink knit T-shirts are "merchants of happiness" in Chanel corporate-speak. They are quietly elegant vendeuses, who show their clients to dressing rooms and conduct discreet financial transactions behind closed mirrored doors. And, while selling you an $8,000 bouclé suit, they can also recommend the city's best restaurants and chat knowledgeably about the opera and fine art.

"You have to be really well-rounded to work for Chanel," says Anny Kazanjian, executive director of public relations and fashion promotion at Chanel's Canadian head office in Montreal. "There is a certain image of a Chanel girl, but there is no cookie-cutter look."

Naruemol Panthong is a case in point. The 33-year-old jewellery designer from Thailand is the latest addition to the Toronto boutique. An accomplished pianist and equestrienne who has studied fashion design in Paris and lived in Tokyo and New York, Ms. Panthong is the kind of sales associate that Chanel is famous for recruiting.

"I have to say that I have always been inspired by the image of Coco Chanel," says Ms. Panthong, referring to the company's founder and one of France's most renowned fashion icons. "She had her own style and her own character, and inspired women around the world with her designs."

Studying the work and legacy of Coco Chanel is de rigueur for new sales associates hired for the company's four Canadian boutiques -- in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver -- and its enterprises worldwide. Knowledge of each season's line of fashion and cosmetics is also extremely important. But Chanel management also looks for a certain poise and refinement that cannot be learned from a manual.

"Our clients travel the globe and anyone who works for us has to be extremely well trained before they even arrive," says Ms. Kazanjian. "They have to have a good read on people."

How does the company find the perfect Chanel girl? Not, it seems, through anything so mundane as a newspaper classified ad.

"People gravitate to us, and we gravitate to people we have heard about," says Ms. Kazanjian. "We obviously look for well-rounded people who bring a real panache to the job."

Ms. Panthong, who says she had always dreamed of working in a Chanel boutique, approached the company when she arrived in Toronto a few months ago.

"I love being there, surrounded by so much beauty," says Ms. Panthong, who is thin and delicate and speaks in a soft and calming voice.

On a recent day off, Ms. Panthong was beautifully dressed in a black Issey Miyake pleated suit and black Gucci jacket. She took small, careful steps in her high-heeled mules, balancing a plate of French pastries and takeout café au laits in the conference room of her Yorkville condominium.

"This is a new experience for my life, to please the client," says Ms. Panthong, who is from an aristocratic Bangkok family and has spent most of her life surrounded by servants. Which is probably why she burst into tears her first day on the job at Chanel two months ago, when she had to bend down and help a client try on a pair of shoes.

"I never had to do that in Thailand because you don't touch people's feet," says Ms. Panthong, adding that she has now adjusted to her new job. "But it is a great learning experience for me, and a challenge."

Ms. Panthong does not seem to be the type of person who needs to work at all, but she says she is determined to learn about the fashion industry, and for her Chanel is a "great opportunity" to do so.

"It's not like a job," she says. "It's more like being in a special club where some clients come in daily and stop to say 'Hi.' "

Olina Moryoussef agrees. Ms. Moryoussef, 47, also works in the Toronto boutique and, like Ms. Panthong, is fluent in several languages. She too has lived around the world.

"Anyone who works here has to love beauty, and anyone who is buying Chanel has a truly artistic appeal," says Ms. Moryoussef, who has a degree in fine art. "There is no typical Chanel customer. They are all simply women who understand the beauty of detail, and who are very cosmopolitan."

Ms. Moryoussef says the boutique's clients range from high-powered executives to fundraisers and university students, who come into the store a few times a year to buy Chanel accessories.

"We are not aggressive," says Ms. Moryoussef. "Our aim is to have a truly satisfied customer and we treat everyone the same way, whether they are buying a suit or just accessories."

When asked how much her clients typically spend, Ms. Moryoussef politely declined to answer, which is in keeping with the company philosophy, carefully controlled from its headquarters in Paris.

"We find it rather crass to talk about money," says Ms. Kazanjian. "Paris has a vision and we follow that vision. We follow Karl's [Lagerfeld's] vision."

Chanel is a tightly controlled corporate entity, owned by the publicity-shy Wertheimer brothers, Alain and Gérard. The family never gives interviews, and keeps a low profile, preferring to shine the spotlight on long-time Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld and the company's cosmetics, fragrance and fashion line, which generates more than US$2-billion in annual sales around the world, according to a recent estimate by Women's Wear Daily.

The company's tight focus on Mr. Lagerfeld, who has been its designer for 19 years, and its rigorous control on publicity seems to extend down the corporate ladder to its sales associates, who are not allowed to speak to the press about company policy, the spending habits of their clients or about the type of training that is involved in creating the perfect Chanel girl.

"Let's just say that we have a lot invested in our sales staff and it can often take years to bring them up to speed," says Ms. Kazanjian.

Ms. Moryoussef, who is considered the very model of a Chanel sales associate by the Canadian Chanel executives, agrees.

"You have to understand that this is not just a job for us," she says. "It's a career, and a way of life." - by Isabel Vincent        National Post       23 May 2002


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