Strategic Management of Chanel Clothing Line
Rediscovering Lessons from the “Little Black Dress”
Concept of “Little Black Dress” in Strategic Management
Strategic management is “that set of decisions and actions which lead to the development of an effective strategy or strategies to help achieve corporate objectives” (1996). A successful application of this concept was done by Gabrielle (Coco) Bonheur Chanel in 1926 by introducing the little black dress into the fashion arena making her one of the most influential and innovative designers during her time. The concept of the “little black dress” refers to a fashion trend, value representation, and business strategy. As a trend, the little black dress dwells in almost every woman’s closet around the world because it integrates comfort, practicality and fashion into a single dress. The little black dress also represents value because it stands for women’s freedom and assertion of women’s rights as a deviation from the previously restrictive corset. The “little black dress” evolved into a business strategy of introducing a clothing concept that would meet consumer demand. Coco Chanel was able to introduce an enduring concept that helped build the present Chanel clothing line.
One of the most important objectives of the business is to gain strategic competitiveness, which is “achieved when a firm successfully formulates and implements a value-creating strategy” ( 2003). The “little black dress” constitutes a value-creating strategy because it addresses women’s consumer demand for comfortable and practical dresses. The integration of these ideas into the little black dress made it highly valued by women.
Key to the success of a business strategy is the manner that the firm is able to achieve initial competitive advantage through the adoption of a value-creating strategy that competitor companies cannot imitate or find costly to duplicate ( 2003; 2005). Chanel was able to achieve competitive advantage through the little black dress concept but it failed to achieve sustainable competitive advantage. Chanel was initially successful by being the first to develop the concept. However, the increasing popularity of the dress attracted other designers to ride-on with the concept and imitate the dress. There have been innovations to the little black dress in terms of fabric, length and cut from different designers. At present, all the elite clothing lines have their own little black dresses.
One of the strengths of the little black dress is that it is a new and innovative concept during its initial introduction to the market. In 1926, the primary fashion trend for women is corset dresses that bind the stomach and abdomen up to the limit that the woman can endure and the skirt comprise of layers of fabric to make it stiff and retain its form. Any other kind of dress is considered as inappropriate women’s clothing. No other alternative was able to draw an overwhelming number of women out of the corset and into clothing that is more comfortable but the little black dress. Women liked the little black dress because it enabled them freedom from the corset and the heavy petticoats by allowing them comfort and movement through the light fabric and flowing cut. During this time, the little black dress was a new experience, and it was a pleasant experience.
Another of the strengths of the little black dress is both the material and non-material quality of the dress concept that transcends traditional perspectives. Material quality refers to the value attached to the fabric, length and cut of the dress while non-material value refers to the feeling of contentment, comfort and confidence that women wearing the little black dress experience, constituting added value to the price paid for the dress. The little black dress also represents the liberation of women. Women wearing the little black dress feel empowered to go beyond the traditional role of women as homemakers. The little black dress revolutionized women’s fashion sense and their role in society.
Still another of the strengths of the little black dress is its ability to unite women by offering something that they all want. The dress was able to address the fashion demands of women who are in the process of rediscovering their role in society as educated and working women. In marketing, this means an almost complete monopoly of the market because majority of women demand for practical and comfortable clothing. As a management decision, introducing the little black dress during this time was an effective market breakthrough strategy.
One of the weaknesses of the little black dress is its revolutionary characteristics that tend to draw criticisms from some sectors of society especially the more traditional sectors. This is because black was used exclusively as the colour of clothing for mourning and there are people repelled by constantly wearing black when they are still limited to the mindset of associating black with mourning and sadness. At present, black is the common colour used in formal or business attire. Conservative groups were also uncomfortable seeing women showing their legs, arms and neck compared to the traditional floor length, long-sleeved, high-neck dresses. During this time, short dresses and the showing of flesh were associated with women prostitutes. The little black dress was a radical idea and like every radical idea, became subject to as much criticisms as there were appreciations.
Another of the weaknesses of the little black dress is its representation repelling other segments of the population. The 1920s was part of the period of society’s struggle between maintaining tradition and embracing change. In relation to gender roles, women were increasingly getting into college and finding professional work even entering fields previously held as men’s work such as top management positions and physical jobs. These women were also enjoying the benefits of the little black dress and constituting the primary market segment for the dress. The dress became associated with liberal women. The entry of women into schools and the workplace caused some resistance from both traditional women and men resulting to this group’s general abhorrence of women in little black dresses because of the association of women who go to school and work with the dress.
Most of the strengths and weaknesses of the little black dress stems not from traditional, formal theories but from the less formal, social processes (2005) offering strategic advantages to the business depending upon how these concepts are actualized. Both the strengths and weaknesses of the little black dress revolves around the two aspects of a changing society, the environment upon which the little black dress was initially introduced, with the strength supported by the people receptive to change and the weaknesses created by people resistant to change. As a strategic concept, the little black dress was successful in establishing a fashion trend but it was also subjected to different criticisms coming from the traditional sectors of society. The attention that the little black dress received made it as not merely a product. It became a force, which influenced the fashion sense, lifestyle and new perspective of society.
One of the opportunities opened by the little black dress is the possibility of expanding the product into a clothing line through diversification ( 2004). Diversifying the concept of the little black dress involves creating different designs that would address the taste of different women depending upon the occasion and demographic considerations such as ability to pay, age, cultural background and even geographic location. Although the basic features of the little black dress is the kneeish length, black colour and light fabric there are different ways of varying the cut and design to fit different occasions and tastes. The concept of the “little black dress” can expand into lingerie, casual dress, party/cocktail dress, and formal/business attire. Product diversification may result to the creation of working clothes exclusively for men and women and casual or party dresses that caters to the different occasions where women participate. Different clothes may also be created to fit age by varying the fabric, cut, length and colour combination of clothes such as longer length, longer sleeves and higher neckline for more conservative dressing and shorter, sleeveless and lower neckline for a bolder mood.
Another of the opportunities available to the little black dress is the possibility of diversifying the concept into accessories that complement the little black dress and the entire clothing line and lifestyle such as belts and bags, jewellery, hair accessories, and cosmetics, toiletry and fragrance.
However, the eventual downside of these opportunities is that an increasing number of designers are following the move of Chanel. This means that Chanel needed to establish a lead in realizing these opportunities to maintain an advantage.
One of the threats faced by the little black dress introduced by Chanel is the rise of competitors ( 2004) in the market after the concept was proven successful. The popularity of the little black dress in different parts of the world created a favourable environment for different fashion designers and clothing manufacturers to venture into the “little black dress” concept. This constitutes a threat because the increase in fashion designers offering little black dresses to the market divides the market, which was previously almost entirely belongs to Chanel. A divided market means lesser customers affecting the profitability of Chanel.
Another related threat is the challenge that other designers pose to Chanel transforming the competition into a designers’ war. Designers selling their little black dresses were so numerous that the competition shifted from matching Chanel’s little black dress with the prevailing fashion to each designer trying to outperform other designers to develop the best little black dress.
Several years after the introduction of the little black dress and at the height of its popularity, the fashion industry was at frenzy over the contest of producing the most fashionable little black dress. At present, Chanel has become one of the prominent clothing lines but it has lost its previous exclusive hold of the concept of the little black dress. Coco Chanel and the Chanel clothing line only enjoy the recognition of being the pioneer of the little black dress.
The core strategic advantage of the little black dress concept, attributed to its success, is its enduring quality (Joyce & Wood 2002). Thus, the strategic advantage revolves around the quality of the concept of the little black dress but as a product, the little black dress has been imitated and reproduced. The concept is so undeniably grand that every designer incorporates the concept of the little black dress into their creations and every woman has or longs to have a little black dress in their wardrobe. The concept was so enduring that it became part of the fashion statement of women for decades. In the recently held little black dress competition, the winners come from different generations with the first place won by Audrey Hepburn through her little black dress in Breakfast at Tiffany’s followed by Princess Diana and Elizabeth Taylor. Part of the top ten included Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman and Cameron Diaz who wore little black dresses created by Valentino, Chanel and Roland Moret respectively. The little black dress is also a mainstay in decades of proms across the world.
Business Level Strategies
(1998) identifies several generic business level strategies, which are cost leadership, focus, and differentiation implemented in the business with the purpose of meeting the challenges posed by the five forces. According to the author the formation and implementation of these generic strategies involves the phases of policy formulation and then implementation. The policy formulation stage includes positioning the business relative to its rivals, anticipating the possible changes in demand and level of technology and integrating these changes in the plan, and influencing competition through strategic actions.
The best business level strategy that works for the little black dress is differentiation, during its initial debut and at present. During its introduction, the little black dress swept women off their feet because it was new, different and better than the current fashion. At present, differentiation is still the strategy with designers, including Chanel designers, trying to come out with features of the little black dress that they can claim as their signature since the concept of the little black dress has evolved into a generic fashion concept. Generally, Chanel succeeded in its competitive strategy of developing the concept of the little black dress but it failed to maintain an exclusive hold over the concept by its failure to retain even a particular feature of the little black dress as a Chanel signature after the concept evolved into an independent generic entity. Chanel should have come out with a signature feature of the little black dress distinguishable from the designs of other fashion lines. Despite Chanel’s failure to gain sustainable competitive advantage, the little black dress concept still serves as a great example of an effective competitive strategy.