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Two proudly distinct cultures collided on Thursday as Chanel’s highest-spending international clients came face to face with The Mancunian.
It began on Wednesday as guests arrived for a whirlwind tour of Manchester’s cultural and historical high points, culminating in Thursday night’s Chanel Métiers d’Art fashion show.
Cue mutual curiosity, wonderment and a degree of humour from all parties. Chanel’s high-net worth groupies are used to floating at 35,000 feet in private jets for shows in Miami, St Tropez or Dubai. Finding themselves waiting in the “First” Class Lounge at Euston Station for an overcrowded and delayed train to Manchester Piccadilly was a whole new level of exotic.
Top-spending, head-to-toe-in-Chanel clients generally have brains that cannot compute the words low-key. Ginormous quilted bags embellished with the famous CCs and shaggy Chanel moon boots swished their way past the coffee-stained counters to these weird contraptions called ticket barriers.
Although there’s no shortage of cash in Manchester thanks to its football clubs, numerous memes have played to the city’s gritty side, among them: “Will Chanel wine and dine the billionaires at Greggs?”, “Is Kim Kardashian doing karaoke at The Millstone?” (a trad pub in Manchester’s northern quarter). And “How can we crash the show?”
Answers as follows: thus far, Kim Kardashian is not a Chanel ambassador. Nor is Greggs on the official menu, although some American press were gagging to visit Manchester’s flagship M&S, the biggest in the world. Wednesday’s game between Man U and Chelsea at Old Trafford was another highlight.
“What are they saying?’’ the French journalists, who were part of the 160 or so guests Chanel hosted at the match, enquired repeatedly as one section of the crowd chanted “you Scouse b******d” at the ref.
In their hotel rooms, nestled between the usual Chanel toiletries that the brand gifts, guests found complimentary boxes of PG Tips and Man U strips with Number 5 (after a certain perfume) on the back.
Meanwhile, if you could access one of the flats above the shops and cafes in Thomas Street, you’d have had a bird’s eye view of the catwalk. Chanel took over the entire street, covering it with a glass awning and bringing its own catering to some of the food emporia.
“It’s been amazing working with Chanel on this,” says Jobe Ferguson, co-founder of the bougie Bay Horse Tavern, where Hugh Grant mingled with Kristen Stewart, Sofia Coppola and Alexa Chung before the show started. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,’’ grinned Ferguson.
As well as its glorious rain (spawning, inevitably, a mass shortage of umbrellas), Manchester has been awash with black limos herding mystified-looking groups of Americans and south-east Asians from one newly revamped Victorian warehouse to the next, as local tour guides regaled them with tales of Cottonopolis (as Manchester was known at the peak of its textile industry) and its fabled musical heritage - while plying them with Vimto.
These days when brands swoop into foreign cities to stage events, they’re honour-bound to contribute not just to the local economy but its culture. Chanel has sponsored a (booked out) free exhibition entitled ManchesterModern: Past Future and Present.
The Manchester/Chanel take-over has been eight months in the planning, in close collaboration with Manchester’s council and various Mancunian celebrities such as Jeanette Winterson, the poet John Cooper Clarke and Peter Saville, the graphic designer and co-founder of Manchester’s Factory Records for whom he designed many album covers.
“I think the first person we called was Mayor Andy Burnham,” says Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s president of fashion. Burnham couldn’t make the show itself because of a work trip to Japan, but a host of other officials could.
A teaser video on the brand’s social media accounts, directed by Sofia Coppola, celebrates the city’s suffragette, music, football and social justice movements — and so the city’s reputation is further burnished.
Anyone who thought Manchester would be a cheap date for Chanel underestimated the scope of the brand’s vision. Some shops on Thomas Street are rumoured to have been paid £40 to £50,000 each to compensate for lost earnings while the temporary roof was constructed, window displays were restyled with Chanel-related merchandise and rehearsals took place. Factor in 69 models (17 Brits including Mancunian Karen Elson) – this will have cost millions.
Staging the show in Manchester isn’t as left-field as it might seem. During her 10-year affair with the Duke of Westminster in the 1920s, Coco Chanel spent a good deal of time at Eaton Hall in Cheshire and often drove the 36 miles to Manchester to do business with its then-thriving cotton and velvet mills.
But no show location is chosen purely for nostalgia or romance. Manchester’s diminutive Chanel boutique in Manchester’s Selfridges is said to be one of the busiest per square foot in the world. A standalone Chanel shoe boutique (prices starting at around £800 a pair) is scheduled to open here next year.
The pictures are going global as you read this and the Chanel Manchester collection will soon debut in 50 countries. Sadly there are no longer Manchester fabrics to use – although plenty of colourful short-skirted suits in tweed from Carlisle and cashmere woven with the word Manchester from Hawico featured in this collection. Some models had short boyish hair with a sweep of fringe like Ian Curtis from New Order and caps with flaps over the ears. These were clothes built for the cold although most wore flat Mary Janes with bare legs.
An exercise in levelling up indeed. But whether for Chanel or Mancunians who would like to say?