As Chaumet celebrates the reopening of its Paris boutique this year, CEO Jean-Marc Mansvelt speaks to Kenneth Goh about maintaining its connection to its storied past and plans to reach a new generation.
When you decided to renovate the flagship store at 12 Place Vendôme, what did you want the boutique to say about the House?
The first idea was to bring back the three components— the culture, the heritage and the workshop—from the original boutique. The second idea was to refresh, to bring modernity to 240 years of Chaumet. It was important to respect the history, respect the tradition, respect the longevity. Thirdly, it was to bring back luminosity. The previous boutique was very dark and the flow was poor. We worked hard to reopen many doors and bring back the transparency from the Place Vendôme to the interior.
What makes Place Vendôme so special that it’s like a mecca for jewellery and luxury?
Obviously, everybody is here, from the newcomers to the famous big names who have been here for centuries. Even foreign jewellers, like the Americans or Italians, want to be in the Place Vendôme. It is the centre of the jewellery world. When I joined Chaumet in 2015, I discovered that the light in Place Vendôme is incredible. I had the privilege, during the first four years, to have my office on the third floor of the building, which looked out to the square—it’s now been converted to the high jewellery workshop. It was probably one of the most beautiful offices in Paris. Regardless of the season, the light changes every day and every hour. When the sun is at a certain level in the morning, the shadow of Napoleon [on top of the column] “walks” across the facade of the Ministry of Justice building…it’s quite magical, I must say.
Are there parts of this renovation that you are particularly proud of or special to you?
Seeing a place that has been there for more than a century suddenly come back to life. I followed every step of the renovation, but even I was taken aback when everything was finished. What was very important was the mix of architecture and nature. Our architect has managed to create that balance between the monumental, grandiose elements and nature. It introduces a mix of different emotions and different narratives, so that it’s full of craftsmanship, it’s full of things to see, like a painting. Even if you come 20 times, you will discover new details. It is very spectacular, but it’s never intimidating. I quite like this balance, which I find is very Chaumet.
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What do you want a woman to feel when she enters the boutique?
Fundamentally, Chaumet is a Maison that exists to serve women. And this woman for me is very much the one inspired by Josephine (Napoleon’s consort). We usually use two words to describe the femininity of Chaumet: grace and character. It’s sensual, subtle, delicate and refined. It’s not girly, it’s not a caricature of women. She can push the limits, but she is never provocative or extravagant. It is the result of the House’s culture and the way you master its codes so that you know how to play with the different codes, you understand what you can play with in order to in uence your environment but without going too far.
Tell us about the commemorative jewellery collections created to celebrate the reopening.
During the brainstorming, we remembered a tradition in some cultures where the man proposing marriage o ers the lady a ring with the shape of a house, symbolising the creation of a new marital home. And the idea of love and weddings is very Chaumet. We thought: That’s a very interesting, multilayered symbol. But of course, we wanted to do it in high jewellery. We discussed it with the creative team and they came up with 40 to 50 drawings for the Trésors d’Ailleurs ring collection. But we didn’t want to do only architecture connected to Paris. Over the years, what has really enriched Chaumet is encountering clients from different cultures who bring their own vision and aesthetic. That’s why we have styles inspired not only by Parisian architecture, but also Japan, the Middle East and China.
A lot of your business is in China and Asia. What impact does the Covid-19 pandemic have on the brand?
Fundamentally, it will not change the target. It will probably change the timing, because we don’t know how long it’s going to last, we don’t know exactly how or when things are going to rebound. I’ve been in the business for 35 years, so I’ve already experienced difficult moments, including Sars. It won’t change what we expect for Chaumet in the mid to long term.
The virus outbreak came off the back of the political unrest in Hong Kong. Has this perhaps changed your focus to other regions such as Southeast Asia?
From Chaumet’s perspective, it sends a strong signal about the necessity, more than ever, to expand our presence around the world. Even though we’ve been around for 240 years, we are only in 12 countries, unlike other brands, which are in 30 to 40 countries. Everything that has happened recently just tells us we need to nd new ways to accelerate the presence of Chaumet in other countries.
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What is the rationale?
We went bankrupt in 1987 and since then, it’s a progressive recovery. Now, we are more confident about what we can do, we know what we want to say, we know where we are and what we offer. We want to capture more clients without growing too fast, because in jewellery, going fast does not work. But we also hope to launch in more countries as it will be a way to be less fragile in terms of business.
What is your take on using social media, influencers or celebrities to spread the word about Chaumet?
Regarding social media and in uencers, we see that the response is very positive, as long as there is a very real authenticity behind them. We need social media because that’s the way the new generation starts their journey, so if we want to reach them, we have to be there. Then there is the question of finding balance because we are not only about modernity; what people love about Chaumet is the sense of depth. Regarding celebrities, we need a gallery of people who can express the variety and richness of Chaumet. And we need people with whom we can create a close, long-lasting, family-like relationship, rather than a one-shot collaboration. We try to work with people who come from different cultures and different worlds. I want to try to find people with whom we can keep the link over the years, who can become part of Chaumet.
You can’t deny the power of celebrity, what they bring to a brand when they wear it on the red carpet.
Authenticity is important, when people can feel that it’s not only a one-time thing. For Chaumet, it’s not right if it is worn by a beautiful woman with 100 million followers on one day, and the same person wears another jewellery brand the next day. We are not aiming for a maximum level of exposure. We don’t want to reach 100 percent of the population. The goal of Chaumet has been to reach and please a certain type of customer who wants to wear something unique. It means a certain level of maturity, a certain cultural depth and meaning. I would prefer to select someone with 100,000 followers who makes audacious choices in terms of her cinematic career and brings something to the table, rather than just someone who does a blockbuster.
It’s interesting because everyone has explored celebrity and Chaumet has always been more low-key in that respect.
It’s more about finding the right person and the right way to work with them. Our second collaboration with [South Korean actress] Song Hye-kyo had a tremendous impact in Asia. Each time we consider doing something with her, it requires hours of discussion because she’s very involved. We are exploring working with people of a certain calibre. But we are not in a hurry—that’s the privilege of a Maison that has been around for 240 years. We have to think about doing something that seems right in relation to what our predecessors have done, and 10 years from now. I prefer to do less, but to do it right.
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