Luxury is the balance between tradition and innovation
Co-founder of Chic At Work in 2012 with Jean-François Keit and Laure de Saint-Hippolyte, Catherine Jarrige is now the project director in this agency which has quickly emerged as an evidence for luxury hotel sector. For almost ten years, the biggest Palaces have requested the expertise of Chic at Work which creates clothes for le Ritz, le Crillon, la Mamounia, le Lutetia, le Palaza Athénée, la Réserve, le K2 in Courchevel…
“Uniform is the first visual contact with clients and shows a part of its identity, bringing value to both institutions and employees” argues Catherine Jarrige.
In a few words, Chic at Work is a part of a group of three brands, with Keit and Cabiola agency, structured as a fashion house composed of an artistic director (Jean-François Keit, who used to work for Yves Saint Laurent et Martine Leherpeur) and stylists ; a prototyping workshop ; support services (development of patterns, materials, fabrics, restocking, specific supports for openings).
Thanks to their styling agency that creates tailor-made projects, Chic At Work’s stylists did a really good job when it came to the creation of uniforms for La Mamounia, the collection is a mix of Moroccan culture and French touch. They also designed the uniforms for Sinner, innovating with the creation of half-skirt and half-trousers.
The strength of Chic At Work is to know how to understand the concerns of hotels on one side, and to be able to receive messages and concepts of the best designers on the other side. Recently, Chic At Work worked with Hugo Matha for Le Crillon, Gaspard Yurkievich for Le Lutétia and another big creator for the highly anticipated opening of the LVMH’s Cheval Blanc hotel.
After designing and creating uniforms, Chic At Work supports its collaborators for the appropriation of their new collection. “We support them for about ten days because it is crucial for us and for our clients that this new wardrobe brings value to both institutions and employees”.
In this institutions with high standards, an alchemy as emerged between Chic At Work and Bureau d’Image which have common projects. Bureau d’Image operates for the wearing of Chic at Work’s uniforms and supports Palaces’ collaborators, at Lutetia, Mamounia and Ritz.
Bureau d’Image: How do you define luxury?
Catherine Jarrige: The three E – Exception, Excellence, Emotion – perfectly illustrate what luxury is. Time and space also characterize the luxury hotel industry. To me, luxury has to adopt the right balance between tradition and innovation. The real challenge is to be able to reinvent traditions, with respect. It is particularly true for clothes. Recently, we have worked on certain services at the Ritz to make them evolve. We were lucky enough to be able to get the archives of old uniforms to get inspired by tradition, and bring a touch of modernity without copying.
BI: Does French luxury exist and what would be its characteristics?
CJ: French luxury find its origins in an outstanding savoir-faire, it comes from Louis XIV’s manufacture and fashion tradition in France. This expertise can be found in leatherwork, gastronomy, fashion… in opposite to what we can see abroad, French luxury is not ostentatious. In France, we do have a taste culture and know-how. This education has been transmitted for centuries.
BI: What have been the major developments in luxury industry in the past decades?
CJ: For about ten years, luxury is no more a private and aging field. This sector has opened itself to younger clients. This can be illustrated by the creation of “bistronomy” in the 90’s. Transforming luxury into something affordable, keeping its codes: once again, everything is a question of balance because the limit of this concept is vulgarization and the loss of rarity.
BI: How do luxury companies outstand?
CJ: They outstand by their ability to make people dream and desire. The emotional part of an object or a product makes all the difference. Brands do create this emotion. They make a shoe or a watch into something more. The brand’s image and know-how thrill people.
BI: What kind of leader are you? What principles guide your professional life and what requirements does the direction of a luxury institution need?
CJ: just like dance, which is a sport that I used to practice a lot, I am a rigorous person. Rigor gives the ability to reach excellence. As a leader, I am the guarantor of success, but so are my collaborators. I trust them and I listen to them, in order to guide and unblock situations. Agility is a major quality to get the best solutions.
BI: What major quality do your teams need?
CJ: They need to be involved and they need to get in the right mindset. As Voltaire used to say: “it is polite to be happy”. At Chic at Work, it is very important for each person to reveal their very own personality, with passion and enthusiasm. We have created a family spirit and, to us, balance and expertise, soft skills and personality are crucial. It encourages the emergence and the coexistence of personalities in a group of people. Reconsideration and humility are crucial to reach excellence.
BI: For what kind of mistake are you the most indulgent?
CR: When the mistake is shared to others in order to find a solution.
BI: Why is it essential to train your teams to give clients an excellent customer service?
CR: The quality of service is a priority. When you spend a day at the heart of hotel industry, for example, you never hear an employee saying “no”. It is inconceivable because the excellence of service implies right words, offering a solution or an alternative. At Chic at Work, we apply the same rule. The rigor we were speaking about before, which has to be applied by everyone does not have to be felt by the client.
BI: Even as a leader, do you keep learning every day about luxury industry, its codes?
CJ: Intelligence is also doubt. This doubt is essential to confront the world out there and the people we meet. Nonetheless, it has to disappear when it comes to action. But positive questioning, in order to move forward and innovate, accompanies me every day. In fashion industry, transformation and innovations are permanent, nothing is fixed.
BI: What advice could you give to young professionals?
CJ: In any field, people who start their career have to be totally involved. They do not must suffer from their work. Implication and passion offer freedom.
BI: What do you preconize for men: trimmed beard or clean shaven?
CJ: We don’t tell people anymore what they should or should not be doing. Today, people are encouraged to show what they truly are. Each person has to choose, it should not be imposed.
BI: For women: for or against red nail polish?
CJ: Elegance for a woman, is to know how to adapt to situations without being neither neglected nor too prepared. Good taste is to know how to choose the right moment. When we speak about luxury hotel industry, we have to find the right balance between elegance on one side, and discretion on the other side. And red nail polish does not seem to go with luxury hotel industry…
BI: If luxury was a color, what would it be?
CJ: Black. Like Yves Saint Laurent’s tuxedo and Chanel’s Petite Robe Noire.
BI: An animal?
CJ: A feline. Agile, elegant and independent.
BI: An adjective?
CJ: Timeless. In the luxury industry, newness instantly becomes a reference.
BI: An emotion?
CJ: Desire. Booking a room in a luxury hotel means thinking about it weeks before and waiting for this moment, which belongs to a dream.
BI: An object?
CJ: Le Mobile by Calder. Balance is an essential notion in luxury. Le Mobile by Calder illustrates that, it is broad but light.
BI: A motto?
CJ: A citation by Sonia Rykiel: “elegance is not a question of luxury, of wealth. It is a question of attitude”.
BI: A virtue?
CJ: Service, permanent adaptation.
BI: An historical figure?
CJ: Coco Chanel, to this day, the worldwide incarnation of French luxury.