Chanel CEO and Yale Corporation member Maureen Chiquet ’85 credits goat cheese for the start of her career in the beauty industry.
On Tuesday afternoon, at a Branford College Master’s Tea that drew roughly 100 students, Chiquet discussed her career path — from marketing intern at L’Oreal to executive vice president of Old Navy Brand to becoming the current head of Chanel. Chiquet also talked about choosing a career path, being a woman in the fashion industry and her time at Yale.
Chiquet said that the moment when she discovered goat cheese, while on a middle school international exchange program to France, was the first time she discovered her love for beauty through the senses. That love, she added, has driven her career choices.
“It’s not about a career, it’s about what makes you happy.” Chiquet said. “For me, I loved beauty and creating things that would make people feel more beautiful.”
Chiquet said that when she came right out of college, she initially wanted to be a lawyer because her father had been one, and she knew it would be a reliable profession. However, she said, she soon realized that becoming a lawyer didn’t fulfill her desire to create beauty.
When a student asked Chiquet how she summoned the courage to walk out of the LSAT, Chiquet said that although she knew she had to make money, she also knew she had time to figure out her career.
“I wanted to stay true to what I believed in,” Chiquet said.
When Chiquet started in the beauty industry as a marketing intern for L’Oreal, she said, there were not a lot of women at the top who could mentor her. Even over a decade later, when Chiquet first joined Chanel, she said she worked on the board with 10 other males and no additional females.
Chiquet said that in her position as CEO of Chanel she has made an effort to bring more women to position of leadership in the company. She added that in order for women to succeed, the right environment has to be fostered for them. Many characteristics that are considered “feminine,” she said — such as empathy and the willingness to listen — are actually important leadership skills.
At Yale, Chiquet said she studied film and literature because she was interested in how text, sounds and image could influence the senses. Throughout her career, Chiquet said that she has continued to use the aesthetic lessons she learned at Yale. For instance, at Chiquet’s first job out of college — a marketing internship at L’Oreal — she connected film techniques to L’Oreal ads.
“I didn’t even know what marketing was. But it was kind of like what I studied in college in that it dealt with how the viewers deconstruct an image,” said Chiquet.
Audience members interviewed said they found the talk helpful and inspiring.
Hillary Lutkus ’18 said she will remember Chiquet’s message to think less about planning and practicality and more about where interests and happiness can be found.
Andrew Thavychith ’18 said that as a freshman, he is very unsure about his future, and it is reassuring to hear someone whom he considered to be successful say they once felt the same way.
Erika Lynn-Green ’18 said she found Chiquet’s focus on her personal struggles as a woman in the fashion industry surprising.
“I wasn’t expecting her to speak so clearly about the challenges as a woman and not just as a CEO,” Lynn-Green said.
Chanel was founded in 1909 by designer Gabrielle Chanel, perhaps better known as Coco Chanel.