First seen at the Chanel’ Spring/Summer show in 1990 by Karl Lagerfied, surfboards are part of the accessories that the French luxury Maison likes to reinvent. At the time, Karl Lagerfeld was the first artistic director to put surf culture right on the catwalk thanks to his surfboard matched with a sequined suit-jacket. Initially created solely for the fashion show, surfboards were then sold successively in the collections of 2002, 2010, 2018, and 2019.
The surfboards Chanel crafts correspond to the brand’s image through their very sober yet excessively elegant appearance, their high made-in-France quality and obviously their price. Indeed, the boards made of carbon fiber, polyurethane, and fiberglass bearing the iconic double C logo can be acquired for a price range going from 4’000 Euros to 20’000 Euros for the rarest pieces. On the other hand, professional surfboards produced by specialized companies such as RipCurl or Roxy are generally sold for less than 1000 Euros.
The brand performed rather well in terms of communication, in particular through their advertising for Chanel No. 5 perfume featuring Gisele Bündchen as a surfer mom. The top model who actually dated Kelly Slater, considered the best surfer in history, perfectly represents the modern woman: an athlete, a mother and a fashionista and successfully links the elegance of Chanel with the adventurous and freedom symbolic associated with this sport
However, there is a huge difference between using this accessory in a communication campaign and adding it to their product portfolio. By offering surfboards, Chanel took a high risk as we are very far from the parisian and chic image of the brand. While members of the fashion world saw this move as relevant to target the surf community, in reality, luxury and surf don’t really match. In fact, surfers tend to mock people exposing their wealth on the beach and even more particularly in the waves. Knowing that the proper of luxury is to sell products at way higher price than their functional value, we are actually miles away from the surfer mentality. Chanel surfboards end up lacking accuracy both from the brand perspective and the surf community’s point of view, which can truly jeopardize their credibility, a fundamental element of brand authenticity.
Moreover, when acquiring such an expensive item, you may think twice before waxing your board or risk damaging it in the waves. It feels like the brand simply tried to jump on the “surf trend” that had arisen in the 2000’s, which is a long way from luxury’s core pillars. The main problem is that when we think about Chanel, what pops up our mind is not a sporty woman with salty tangled hair and sunburnt skin but rather sophisticated citadine women with no hair out of place. We are here facing a lack of iconic cues and once again the surfboard, despite its elegant design doesn’t seem to fit neither to its functional utility nor does it truly target the loyal Chanel customers.
Finally, the extensive know-how required in Chanel’s creation of fashion pieces is not retrieved in the production of the surfboards, provoking a lack of indexical cues. The minimalist visual design of their bags for example hides numerous steps involving specialized craftsmen. Regarding the surfboards, it is hard to verify whether we are facing a real Chanel surfboard. The product seems easily counterfeitable due to the absence of a unique production process that can be directly linked to the Maison. Indeed, except for the logo, nothing truly differentiates their board.
Overall, we can undoubtedly identify several authenticity dilemmas in Chanel’s offering of surfboard products. Nevertheless, the brand could take on several actions to minimize the risk of jeopardizing their image. If Chanel decides to keep their board positioning as a luxurious yet functional item, they should fully go in this sense. For example, they could partner up with a specialized company from the surfing industry to bring more legitimity to their product. This is something other luxury brands have undertaken such as Dior through their partnership with Stussy. They could also use real professional surfers who often have experience in modelling in their communication to touch more deeply the surfer community. A last point to work on, which is probably the most important, would be to extensively communicate on the reason why they decided to offer such a product and the know-how lying behind it. If there is a truly relevant motivation in this action, this should be highlighted to increase iconic cues.
We can conclude by saying that producing surfboards is not a bad idea as such, Chanel simply has to perfectly execute their product communication and personalize the production in order not to damage brand image and keep their authenticity.
By Sara Da Silva Ferraz, Melissa Herve, Pauline Matringe, Gillian Seydoux, and Megane Nicolet @HEC Lausanne
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