Chanel bags and creations on display in a window of a Chanel store in Paris, France, June 18 2020. Picture: REUTERS/CHARLES PLATIAU
Chanel bags and creations on display in a window of a Chanel store in Paris, France, June 18 2020. Picture: REUTERS/CHARLES PLATIAU

Milan/Paris  —  The luxury industry will feel the fallout from the coronavirus crisis for the next two years if not longer, Chanel's  chief financial officer said on Thursday, warning the French fashion label's 2020 profit would be significantly hit.

Privately owned Chanel — known for its tweed suit and No 5 perfume — is one of the biggest luxury brands in the world along with LVMH's Louis Vuitton.

It did not give details of the slide in sales so far in 2020 but the next 12 to 18 months would be particularly tough, CFO Philippe Blondiaux said. A strong recovery in countries where the group's shops have reopened could not make up for the lack of international travel.

“We anticipate that the external environment will continue to impact the luxury sector negatively for at least the next 18 to 24 months,” he said in a phone interview after the group reported 13% growth in comparable sales for 2019.

Similar to its rivals, Chanel had to shut shops across the globe and idle manufacturing sites as the virus first emerged in the sector's key market of China and then spread to the rest of the world.

About 85% of the group's stores have now reopened and Blondiaux said Chanel had seen sales surge in China in some weeks. Shoppers were returning in Paris, Milan and Berlin, he said.

“This very strong performance with the local clientele will be insufficient to compensate for the absence of international business, for the absence of international visitors and for the fact that our duty free business ... is still to a very large extent closed,” he said.

Consultancy Bain says the $310bn luxury goods sector is on course for a sales fall of up to 35% in 2020.

Chanel, which still expects a profit in 2020, is reducing advertising and promotions by more than a quarter, cutting production and has cancelled or transformed some events such as fashion shows this year, including by streaming them online.

Two catwalk shows scheduled for later in 2020 may still go ahead, Chanel said.

It has increased prices on some products as raw material costs shot up.

Chanel would forgo dividend payments in 2020, Blondiaux said. These payouts largely go to Chanel's billionaire owners, brothers Alain and Gerard Wertheimer, and almost doubled in 2019.

Blondiaux said there was no change planned in Chanel's ownership or leadership, adding that Alain Wertheimer, 71 and the group's global CEO was in “great shape”.

Online refusenik 

Chanel has been an outlier compared with rivals moving into online sales, arguing its clients preferred a more exclusive and personable approach. The label would stick to its strategy of selling mainly via its network of shops in spite of the pandemic, Blondiaux said.

“We don't intend, crisis or no crisis, to sell fashion, watches and fine jewellery online,” Blondiaux said.

The fashion house, which does sell cosmetics, perfumes and some small accessories online, said e-commerce sales in these areas had grown 60% from their 2019 levels so far in 2020.

Chanel's 2019 revenues rose to $12.3bn, while operating profit was up 16.6%.

Blondiaux said the results showed that the transition between veteran designer Karl Lagerfeld, who died in February 2019, and his discreet second-in-command Virginie Viard, had been “smooth and successful”. Viard's ready-to-wear collection saw top line growth of 28%.

The group, founded in 1910 by Coco Chanel, only began publishing results two years ago. It is focused on keeping a strong balance sheet and capital structure to guarantee its independence, Blondiaux said.

Reuters