Chanel, founded by Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel in 1913, has long been considered one of the most iconic haute couture houses. The brand came into prominence during the 1920s and embodies beautiful yet practical styles in its designs. Some of Chanel’s signature pieces include the classic cardigan and suit, the quilted handbag with a chain-link strap, and “the little black dress,” all of which continue to be highly relevant pieces in women’s wardrobes today1. Although Chanel passed away in 1971, the brand continues to innovate and create styles that embody Chanel’s legacy of elegant practicality. Chanel’s most recent innovation that has the beauty and fashion industry buzzing? A 3D printed mascara brush.
Since Iris van Herpen first debuted a 3D printed dress on the runway in 2011, the technology has been dubbed “the new disrupter” in the fashion industry2. The dress featured an “intricate white fabric scrunched-up into the shape of a Rorschach test,” and was considered one of the best inventions in 2011 by Time Magazine3. The fashion industry’s reaction to 3D printing has thus far been mixed, but Chanel has clearly taken a stance in favor of the technology. The brand announced its partnership with Epro 3D factory earlier this year to introduce the world’s first 3D printed mascara brush, Le Révolution Volume. The 3D printers at Epro are estimated to produce a total of 50,000 brushes per day, with a total of up to 1 million brushes each month5. Interestingly, this is not the first time Chanel has turned to additive manufacturing to drive innovation. In 2015, Karl Lagerfeld, the current head designer and creative director of Chanel, showcased a version of Chanel’s classic suit that embodied 3D printed technology. According to Lagerfield and his vision for Chanel, “what keeps couture alive, is to move with the times.4” Chanel’s foray into 3D printing has major implications for the brand, which has traditionally relied on its storied artisans for its innovation5. The use of additive manufacturing would not only propel the brand into the forefront of innovation among the old couture houses, but accelerate its initial prototyping and creation process at unprecedented speed. In addition, by utilizing 3D printing, the brand stands to save time and money by forgoing traditional injection-molding manufacturing processes, increasing the opportunity for flexibility and customization.
Chanel has clearly understood the potential 3D printing could have on the brand before other couture houses, and has invested resources into developing fluency with the technology since 2001 in the medium and short term. The brand filed to patent Le Révolution Volume back in 2007, with plans to roll out the mascara officially during Autumn of 20185. Chanel had gone through over 100 rounds of trials before the final shape for the mascara was created, but by utilizing 3D printing, the easily-customizable prototypes were created with low incremental cost6. In addition, Karl Lagerfeld’s experimentation with additive manufacturing on one of its most timeless pieces during the 2015 runway season attests to Chanel’s willingness to incorporate new technology and showcase them front and center. While Chanel’s investment in 3D printing have been dismissed as a short-term fad, the brand has always been comfortable playing the long game on bets in fashion, even if it stands alone.
While Chanel primarily focuses on medium-term investments, the brand should consider additional impactful actions in the short-term. Since 2015, Chanel has yet to debut 3D printing on its runways again after the initial buzz that was created. While uncommon among other couture houses, Chanel should take the risk and showcase additional couture and ready to wear Fall / Spring collections utilizing 3D printing with a focus on creating wearable, practical styles. The more Chanel develops its muscles on creating wearable pieces incorporating additive manufacturing, the more first-mover advantage it would enjoy, and realize a learning curve along with other additional efficiencies.
Looking forward, while the benefits of 3D printing are clear, Chanel also has reasons to remain wary. If Chanel makes the decision to incorporate 3D printed apparel regularly into its collections, can the brand sustain its exclusive image and timeless designs? While 3D technology has not advanced to the point of being able to produce high quality products on mixed textures for soft-lined goods, it likely is only a matter of time. In addition, there are concerns with intellectual property theft and counterfeit goods. Recently, MakerBot, a 3D printing firm, unveiled a digital desktop scanner that can scan an object and create a digital design file that can be replicated via 3D printing on the spot in record time. Would 3D printing contribute to the rise of counterfeit goods, already estimated at $500 billion a year globally7, that could be produced in the comfort of your own home? Chanel needs to be ready to address these challenges head on when the time comes. (Word Count: 798)
 Mukti Khaire and Kerry Herman. “Coco Chanel: Creating Fashion for the Modern Woman” HBS No. 9-812-001. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2016.
 Butler O’Neal, B. (2015, December 21). 3D Printing Will Disrupt Fast Fashion, Help Eliminate Sweatshops, Empower Consumers, 3D Printing.com. https://3dprint.com/111778/3d-printing-fast-fashion, accessed November 12, 2018.
 Logan, L. (2016, November 6). The Dutch Designer Who Is Pioneering the Use of 3D Printing in Fashion. Smithsonianmag.com. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/dutch-designer-who-pioneering-use-3d-printing-fashion-180957184, accessed November 12, 2018.
 Hipolite, W. (2015, July 15). Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld Stuns the Celebrities With 3D Printed Fashion Design. 3Dprint.com. https://3dprint.com/79654/chanel-lagerfeld-3d-printed, accessed November 12, 2018.
 Saunders, S. (2018, March 20). Chanel Turns to Industrial 3D Printing to Develop the First 3D Printed Mascara Brush. 3Dprint.com. https://3dprint.com/207267/chanel-3d-printed-mascara-brush, accessed November 12, 2018.
 Gallon, V. (2018, March 19). Chanel takes a major step with a 3D-printed mascara brush. Premium Beauty News. http://www.premiumbeautynews.com/en/chanel-takes-a-major-step-with-a,13110#, accessed November 12, 2018.
 Gallon, V. (2018, March 19). 3D Printing In Luxury Fashion: Revolution Or Evolution? Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/herbertrsim/2017/12/03/3d-printing-in-luxury-fashion-revolution-or-evolution/#b7fdac53f205, accessed November 12, 2018