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"Chanel: Branding Secrets For Long-lasting Impact" — Ruth Yunker, Writer

Ruth Yunker (00:00): Well, hi, I'm Ruth Yunker and I'm a writer and an author. I've written two books about being in Paris on my own. Um, I go there for six weeks, several years, several years in a row. And, and also my latest book is called 'Baby, I'm the Boss of Me'. I'm a humourist and I'm now 73. And, you know, I found out that boy, you better have a sense of humour as you get older. And this my love letter to Chanel.

Sam Thorogood (00:40): Welcome to Branding Love Letters, exploring the emotions brands evoke and the journeys they take us on. I'm Sam Thorogood, a graphic designer and your host. In each episode, I invite a guest to pick their favourite brand and unpack why it means so much to them. This podcast is a celebration of the branding that informs, impacts and inspires us. So, without further ado...

Ruth Yunker (01:25): I was given a bottle. My first bottle of perfume was given me by my mother when I was 14. And she was very slow to give us grown-up gifts, but she chose Chanel No. 5. I was 14. We were living in Brussels, Belgium at the time. And Chanel has been emblazoned on my brain ever since.

Sam Thorogood (01:42): Yeah. You talk about, um, your, your, your mother and she, she had this kind of wonderfully casual elegance. Tell me more about her and kind of what your memories are of her going back.

Ruth Yunker (01:53): Well, my mother, um, my mother is Southern and in the United States, the Southern, well, we're all such a mishmash, but Southerners are a breed apart. They're considered much more polite and you know, old-fashioned and white gloves and we are Catholic. I was raised Catholic. I don't practice anything right now. I'm kind of a spiritual thing, you know, but you know, mass every Sunday, the hats, the just doing it the right way. But I was born in New England and my father was a very successful corporate exec and we moved a lot. And my Southern mother and my father was Southern, um, managed to somehow give her east coast, west coast, European children. We, all of us kind of have that innate politeness. It's one of the first things people say about us, now at home, we're argumentative and loud and obnoxious, especially when we're younger, but my mother just, uh, she just, as well as being strong and pulled together about it all, she just kind of kept this Southern thing going.

(02:53): I, I think she probably didn't know anything about Gabrielle Chanel herself when she got me the perfume. Cause I was back like in 1960, whenever, 63. And, um, but she picked that because it was, it's a classic, a classic scent. And even then it was a classic scent and that's how it got that, that opened my eyes to well perfume growing up, the Chanel product, the Chanel design. But my mother was always casually elegant. Like I said, you know, she wore a hat flying for years, used to get dressed up to go flying. Remember those days? Oh no, you wouldn't remember those days now. Now it's a really nice jogging suit.

Sam Thorogood (03:39): Yeah. A onesie. Wow. Okay. So, and, and, and tell me more about that experience of receiving that bottle of Chanel No. 5. What did it, what did it feel like in your hand? Why was it so exciting?

Ruth Yunker (03:52): Well, it was exciting, not so much that what it felt like in my hand, I have to admit it was just, it was exciting because my, I was the oldest daughter. I have an older brother and then I have there's three younger sisters and a younger brother. So I paved the way for my sisters, all being able to, allowed to shave their legs, wear stockings, you know, all of that stuff. She was wait until you're older, you know, but, uh, when I got that bottle of perfume, that's that just made me love my mother so much because I realised she was looking at me finally, she was sort of saying, all right, alright. With her Southern accent, you can grow up a little bit now, you know? And so that's what it meant to me. I, I actually don't even wear perfume anymore. I, you know, I don't like the smell of it leftover on my clothes and things like that once in a while kind of an oil, but not, not often, but I have a bottle of Chanel No. 5, always.

Sam Thorogood (04:45): Fascinating. So that was the initial encounter. What kind of kept you interested with this brand as you, as you grew up?

Ruth Yunker (04:51): Well, oh, as I've grown up. Well, I just adore the fashion. The style, her... Gabrielle Chanel was as everyone knows way ahead of her time. I mean, she blew open the world for the way women dressed in the early 20th century. And, uh, you know, brought in the bathing suits. She brought the casual but slacks, the short hair, the tan, I regret, the tans I've gotten in the past, but, uh, what they do your skin, but she, and she was, you know, alone. I mean, she had, she always had a man sort of having to help her because, but in that day and age, you know, she was poor and an orphan basically. And, but she was described, she also happens to be a Leo and I'm a Leo and I'm always drawn to people who are Leos and, uh, but I was just, you know, she was gritty and she kept going and, and she was impressive in her day as she went along.

(05:48): And of course at both world wars, she benefited from in ways that maybe weren't the best. But again, and I, I, I say, cuz I haven't had to deal with that kind of situation where I'm all alone and this is the only way I can survive that. I understand, you know, other people could get out, take their families and move out of the country and she was alone. So I mean, she did always think she needed a man to save her and maybe in the times that's what she needed. But, um, she, you know, she was nefarious during both wars and I don't, I don't like that. I don't presume to hold it against her because again, I didn't have to experience it. But then she survived and then came back in about 1952 or 54 with a, a whole new collection. And she was still alive when I began seriously looking at 'Vogue' and reading 'Vogue' magazine and 'Harper's Bazaar' and all that.

(06:43): And I was again about 14 and she gotten gaunt and, but you know, she held her shows where she wanted, then what impressed me most after that was then she died and there was a long silence and then they hired Karl Lagerfeld to resurrect her, her, her brand. And I remember thinking, oh no, because in those days, any time a brand got a new designer, they just sort of went their own way. There's a certain arrogance in the fashion world that just, you know, my way is and the new and just some of it, I, I mean they, they okay. But, but I'm getting back to Karl Lagerfeld with his own brilliance kept Chanel's look with his new designs in a way that I remember the time thinking, oh, thank God. And, and how amazing. And then I went and looked at his own... Karl Lagerfeld...

(07:36): So I transferred all my love from Gabrielle Chanel, to Lagerfeld who had the nerve to die a few years ago. Uh, but he kept it going. He kept the knits, he kept the little black dress and it wasn't the same. It was different. It was modernised. And I think Chanel has the brand has done a fantastic job with that all through the years and everything with their perfume, with everything else they're involved in, but I'm really pay attention to the perfume and the fashion. I don't own any Chanel. Can't afford it, refuse to afford it. I loved her costume jewelry. She, she made that fashionable too. So now of course she had very expensive costume jewelry, but here's a, a ring, a pardon the finger on there. I'm glad you can't see that this isn't a video now. Anyway, look at those big old fake.

Sam Thorogood (08:29): Yeah, beautiful. Look at those.

Ruth Yunker (08:31): Fantastic. You know, you actually can pull it off. I mean, and I love it. And everybody knows I've got these big old, you know, pearls that are, and she love pearls. Pearls have always been my favourite and it probably started with her and my mother because she also gave me my first strand of pearls or my parents, you know, whatever. So it's just, it's, it's a lovely style. And, and they show these, their fashion shows. They show these, you know, the models are so young and they come out wearing these. They just own it. And every age of women can wear those styles. Maybe you wanna lengthen the skirt a little, I don't know it's up to you, but, um, it just has made its way into, well, what are we now? So she was designing a hundred years ago and she's, the brand is still beautifully current.

(09:14): Very cool. They did a few years ago, have Brad Pitt do their first perfume, a male perfume you know, with the, one of the perfumes. It was so bad. And I, um, you know, unfortunately I'm a Brad Pitt fan, you know, you gimme a, but it wasn't, I don't know how well it did, but that didn't, but they tried it, you know? I mean, they just, there's something, they kept the elegance and yet the flare for the modern, with respecting what she got started. And I feel that part of that is somehow from wherever she is, she's saying, yeah, you do it. You okay? I like that one. No the Brad Pitt, no, I'll get a different maybe Gregory Peck a bit better.

Sam Thorogood (10:00): Yes. And I know that, um, you, you're a Francophile aren't you you've spent some time in France and, and I wonder whether does, does Chanel for some, in some way kind of represent France to you. And does, is that linked in your story, do you think?

Ruth Yunker (10:16): Uh, no. The only reason I went to France in the first place, when I, I was back here in the states and it was a period of my life. I suddenly cracked up and thought, I've gotta get out of town and then go for a year. I wanna go back to Europe. Cause I, I lived in Europe for three years when I was a teenager and then barely got back. I, I didn't wanna, I was so over travelling and travelled all my life and moved a lot and so on. But at this point I wanted to go over to Europe for six weeks and I wanted to go someplace exotic Morocco, or I don't know where, you know, but certainly not France. First time I went to Paris, I was 12. I was not impressed. I was living in Brussels upset about it. I wanted to be a teenager back in the States, not in Brussels, Belgium.

(10:58): At the end of that time, I will be forever grateful because living in Europe as a young American was the best thing that ever happened to me. It's best all of us in our family say that, that it just gave us, uh, an awareness of the world because the United States is a huge country. You never have to leave it, you know? And you you're in whole different places. So I went, I chose, but I ended up saying, look, you're gonna to myself, you're gonna be there for six weeks. You're I'm staying in an apartment. I'm gonna need to go to the grocery store, the dry cleaner. It would be good to go to a place where you have a smattering of the language. And I had learned French in Belgium with a Belgian accent. Apparently according to Parisians, I speak it with a Belgian accent.

(11:39): And I'm thinking, well, I'm speaking it, aren't I? So I said, all right, go to Paris. I was almost embarrassed that I was going to Paris, but I went to Paris, you know, cuz it's such a cliche. And I went to Paris and by the end of that six weeks, I thought, okay, I see what people like about this place. Even the challenge of it. My second book is titled 'Paris I've Grown Accustomed to Your Ways', which is a play on the, you know, 'My Fair Lady' song 'I've Grown Accustomed to Your Face', doing things, the Parisian way, making a Parisian actually smile at you, you know, or laugh at your joke and you're broken Belgian, accented, French, you know, and once I got over that, you know, having lived so many places in my life, I always am adapting to where the new, I've almost got a PTSD about meeting new, going into a room and immediately assessing it. You know, cuz even as a kid being the new kid in the school all the time. So that's why I went to France. It had nothing to do with Chanel. I have to admit

Sam Thorogood (12:44): We'll be back with today's guest in a short moment. I wanted to just jump in to say thank you. Thank you for, for listening, for choosing to listen to this podcast, um, above all of the other ones that you could be listening to right now. And also wanted to say that the podcast is released on the 14th of every month. There's a new episode that goes out on the 14th of the month. And normally it's just one episode, but this month there is more than one episode. So do check out what else has been released today, um, if you're enjoying this one, listen to the others and um, and, and do share the podcast with, with friends, with family, with colleagues, with cats and dogs and people in the street that you wander past, just, you know, spread the word about Branding Love Letters. Okay. Let's get back to the conversation.

(13:41): And when you think about Chanel now, both the person and the brand, what, what emotions does it bring up?

Ruth Yunker (13:48): I think Gabrielle Chanel herself for all her toughness has still got a little of a say in it and they just continue to do a good job. And it's a clean logo. It's the two Cs, you know, I don't know why it's two Cs, not a G they probably tried the GC, but figured that would confuse the issue, you know?

Sam Thorogood (14:05): Is it cause is it cause her nickname was Coco, Coco Chanel? Is that

Ruth Yunker (14:09): Well, that's it Coco? I was thinking about the Coco part. Did she even let people call her Coco? That's sort of surprises me unless it was the man she was sleeping with

Sam Thorogood (14:17): Maybe I, well, I think she, she designed that logo didn't she?

Ruth Yunker (14:21): Oh, I don't that I don't know. I did look up on, you know, like, but

Sam Thorogood (14:25): What does that, that logo do for you? What does it kind of represent? How do you, how do you perceive it?

Ruth Yunker (14:30): Well, the two Cs besides the fact that I'm a writer and I'll get into the whole, you know, one C is backwards and stuff like that, I'm sure you don't want me to go there with it. And it's not quite the infinity thing cuz they're not. And now that I know it's Coco, I just think it's very pretty. I think it's a very, pretty easy classic thing to look at you, you know what it is immediately. And some of them, some of them now I, I keep track of the ones I really like, but I like Armani. And uh, I love Carolina Herrera and you know, people like that or some that have stopped when they're, uh, people or they haven't kept going as well, like a Calvin Klein or a that I don't want anybody messing with Coco Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld, baby, keep it going on their way of thinking. Cuz they had gorgeous, gorgeous designs and intelligence behind their designs. And they designed for the whole woman every age group, while always being showed on the younger models, on the baby models. You know, it, it works it's I don't know. It's just, it's great. Yeah.

Sam Thorogood (15:35): It's kind of timeless. Isn't it in a way. I mean like the, I don't think the logo's changed at all and it's, there's, you know, there's certain things that are just have remained the same and that's the sign of a really, really strong brand. I think if you're able to just appeal to different generations.

Ruth Yunker (15:51): Exactly. I mean, well, my daughter is now 42. She's no child. I, I, I didn't get her Chanel No. 5. Cause I asked her because I knew at 14 she was, she had much more what she wanted and you know, it wasn't, she wasn't waiting around for me to acknowledge that she was older, generational difference, you know, but she certainly knows Chanel and, and then her own daughter when she turned 16, but perfume is a wonderful. And when you think of it, see perfume is something that, again, I think a fewer and fewer people are wearing. I, I, I wanna one day look into it cuz people keep coming out with new brands. But I was in Oslo three years ago just before the pandemic. And um, well anyway, and I was there before I went to Paris and I was surprised that the women in, in Oslo were still really wearing perfume. You'd get in an elevator and you could smell the perfume. I kind of miss it. I remember when my mother would come home from a party, she smelled like bourbon cigarettes and hers was Joy. She wore, her perfume was Joy. And I loved that scent. But the other day, some, one of my sisters gave me something of hers that she knows. I like, and she was moving. So she gave it to me, but it smells of her perfume.

Sam Thorogood (17:02): Yeah. So I, and it's such, it brings back such strong memories. Doesn't it smell just really your well yes. You're there straight away.

Ruth Yunker (17:08): Yes. Like when my mother used to travel and my daughter said she did the same thing when I used to travel, I'd go bury my face in her bathrobe, in her bathroom until she got home, you know, or you know, or your dog or your cat, you know, I find a hair of my grand dog who I adore, but doesn't live here on my yoga mat when I open it up. Cuz he does yoga with me when I'm visiting up in Oregon. So it's yeah. It's it, it Coco Chanel, I think, you know, now that I'm think, I think the Chanel thing, maybe I love it so much because it brings up memories of my mother. Mm. So that, that's what she chose to give me this. She grew up fairly poor in Louisville, Kentucky. My father was the well to-do one. She was the poor one.

(17:47): They had to get married in 1943. Oh my God, my mother's, my father's mother had a fit, you know, but they did it. And then he went off to World War II. I mean, when you think about it in those days and they survived to become world travellers, raise six kids. And you know, she, she took it on and gave her oldest daughter Chanel No 5 for her first perfume, which she probably never heard of when she was living on a farm in Louisville, Kentucky in 1930s. You know? So I, yeah, maybe it's my mother. Maybe I should start crying now. I won't do that. Don't worry. I'm a mother too. So see my mother saying Ruth, for God's sake. She always said, you say things to people that you don't even mean when I'm trying to be funny or not trying succeeding with being funny.

Sam Thorogood (18:38): Absolutely. Oh, you, you, you talked about, um, you know, the Brad Pitt thing, have there been any times when it's been quite hard to, to love the brand when it's, when it's they've they've done something, they've put something out and you just disagree with it. You think that was the wrong direction. That, that didn't quite land.

Ruth Yunker (18:55): I always feel personally affronted, you know, I always, and that's just me and I'm sitting here in Los Angeles, California, you know, going through I've had get my subscription to 'Vogue' magazine since I was 14. In fact, when we moved back from Europe, my father continued to subscribe to the European magazines that I'd left behind, you know? So I've been an addict of the magazine part of it and I'm I'm so, you know, in my own little sort of way, I feel like I know it all. And um, how could they, you know, be so blind who are the, the 18 to 20 year olds who are actually buying, this is what I'm thinking, you know, and Chanel never does that. Even Brad Pitt was older when he did. And he did it with a little bit of like, in fact he says, I just was game.

(19:44): You know, he had to say these kind of pointless under not understandable, supposedly poetic thing about either lost love or new love. You really can't tell, you know, so I, I wish they wouldn't do that, but it's like when, say Instagram or Facebook changes its algorithm and you and I at 73 and like I I'm in the hands of a 17 year old to 25 year old, who's got that mindset of just poke these buttons and this'll make it better. Here's 15 options when you only need one, you know, or I only wanna choose one, I'm in a hurry. Don't give me, you know, but I'm, you know, try to stay abreast with that. Chanel never lets me down.

Sam Thorogood (20:35): How, how would you describe Chanel to someone if they, if they'd never heard of the brand and I, you know, I imagine there's not many people who have never heard of

Ruth Yunker (20:43): I was going to say!

Sam Thorogood (20:43): But if, if there was someone, um, who, who had never heard of Chanel, how would you describe the brand to them?

Ruth Yunker (20:54): I'd first start off with saying, I'd say think stars and gold and pink and think femininity, but think power. The woman who started this brand, I would be saying this earnestly maybe to my 10 year-old niece, you know, uh, was a strong woman who went right and wrong, made big mistakes, made big pluses. And somehow she put femininity into femininity and I'm a huge feminist. So don't get me wrong there. And I don't even bring up my country right now, but, um, but femininity is, can be so powerful. And Chanel always is that way you may be, you're wearing a suit. You may be, it may be pink, but it's a suit it's got brass and chain or it's got trousers. She brought trousers into women's lives. She brought bathing suits into our lives where we could finally go into the water too, not just the men. So I think when I think of Chanel, I always go back to Gabrielle Chanel. And if, if anyone I would say, and if you're curious, if the sign read up on her, there's gonna be parts where no, she did not do the right thing, but she was a survivor. And she's a great example to women.

Sam Thorogood (22:15): Ruth, where can people connect with what you are doing and find out more about you?

Ruth Yunker (22:20): Um, you can get all my, my three books. I have three books. 'Baby, I'm the Boss of Me' is my latest about ageing with the sense of humor and, um, power and curiosity, personal, you know, and by curious, I mean, keeping yourself curious and open to who other people are, not what your own inner child is telling you, although that's very important too. And then the first two books are about traveling solo and I travel to Paris and I stay for long nights of time by now. I have a huge social life there when I go, you know, so I don't, so you can get my books on Amazon and I, I really enjoy Instagram. I only post three or four times a week, not every day, like you're supposed to. And I used to do a lot of Facebook. I'm still on Facebook, but not, not as much. And I have a YouTube channel that's been dormant since the beginning. It's called Ruth, it's about ageing. And, but it went dormant during the, the, um, pandemic. And I am still playing around with how I'm going to come back with it, you know, so, but I'm, I'm on the, on social media.

Sam Thorogood (23:28): Fantastic. And finally, um, if you were to just write a, a love letter to Chanel the brand, how would, how would you, how would you sort of share that letter?

Ruth Yunker (23:40): Dear Chanel brand. I want to thank you for being such an important part of my life, all my life. By when I started off getting my first bottle of Chanel No. 5 perfume in 1963, 64, and that first wiff of it... Such a beautiful clean scent that you can, that doesn't offend anyone, but just brings you in. And, um, by that, that, that opened the door to paying attention to your fashion, your founder, way back, Chanel herself through Karl Lagerfeld. And now the current team. I want to thank you for remaining true to the, your, the original designers' visions and strength and sense of beauty and sense of forward-thinking. Thank you, sincerely, Ruth Yunker

Sam Thorogood (24:38): Well, Ruth, thank you very much for letting us hear your branding love letter.

Ruth Yunker (24:43): Well, thank you. Thank you for having me and thank you for coming up with this concept. It's very interesting.

Sam Thorogood (24:50): You've been listening to Branding Love Letters and I've been Sam Thorogood. I'm on a mission: equip pioneers like you to bring others onto your journey. Come and find out more at Thanks for listening. Oh, and big thanks to Thomas Thorogood for the music. Take it away, Tommy boy.

Sam Thorogood | Pilgrimage Design