OVER 30 NEW MODELS ARE PRODUCED EACH YEAR, FORMING PART OF THE HOUSE’S SEVEN ANNUAL COLLECTIONS. 6 TO 15 PEOPLE ARE WORKING FOR UP TO 18 HOURS (DEPENDING ON THE MATERIAL) ON ONE CHANEL “2.55″. WHILE IN THE PAST, UP TO 80% OF ALL BAGS PRODUCED WERE BLACK, THEY REPRESENT ONLY 50% OF THE DIVERSE RANGE PROPOSED TODAY.
“We use a different shade of beige practically every time,” explains the responsible manager, “so things never get boring. Before any bag goes into production, the site’s development facility first finalizes the details of the designs sent by Karl Lagerfeld’s studio.
Working from sketches, a range of hand-made mock-ups are produced before selecting a final prototype and deciding on its exact proportions and stitching details. This whole development stage is shrouded in mystery and usually takes around a week to complete. Then out of the 200 to 300 prototypes produced for each collection, the studio selects around 30.
The site’s archives hold nearly 3,000 different bags; together they map out CHANEL’s history. Lined up like trophies, these different models serve to inspire the design teams of today, as well as helping them to resolve any problems they might be having with the ideal shape of a handle or detail on a strap. Once the bag has been approved for production, a team of leather craftsmen, engineers and cutters will work on more than 10 different models every week to meet the demand from boutiques.
However, before the bag can be assembled, the leather must first be prepared. It is cut from the skin either by hand, using a punch, or by computer, and is then machine-stitched, trimmed and finished. This is an extremely precise process, with all dimensions measured to within a fraction of a millimeter.
80% of the total production time is spent on the assembly table, where CHANEL’s master craftsmen use their expertise to produce an item of unmistakeable luxury. After the material has been prepared, the bag is given its structure by inserting heat-sealed leather-finished supports. Each bag is then turned inside out and back again, in keeping with Mademoiselle Chanel’s firm belief in the importance of hidden luxury: the inside should be as good as the outside. As a result, the same amount of care still goes into the lining of each bag as goes into its exterior.
The bags are then quilted using machines specially developed by Chanel’s engineers, and this stage, though technical, is often one of the most creative in the design process, as can be seen on the series of models inspired by the stained-glass windows of the abbey at Aubazine, where Coco Chanel grew up.