Hit the North! Chanel took its travelling Metier d’Art show to Manchester, transforming a street in the city’s Northern Quarter into a runway that combined grit, glamour, music, club culture and plenty of delirious, “I can’t believe my eyes” moments.
Was that really Hugh Grant in the front row sipping a mug of tea? Yes, and he was joined by Tilda Swinton and a tweed clad Kristen Stewart. They took their seats with, several hundred guests, on Thomas Street under a glass canopy specially built to shield them from the inevitable Manchester rain.
When Chanel announced its decision to show in Manchester, the first question was, why? The working-class Northern city is as far away from the gilded salons of Paris as it possibly gets. But Manchester has an urgent and defiant energy. A powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution, it was once the cotton capital of the world. The city is home to the most famous football team in the world (Man U), birthed the era-defining Haçienda nightclub and gave us bands like Joy Division, New Order, The Smiths, The Happy Mondays and Oasis.
Virginie Viard believes Manchester’s music culture changed the world and sees the city as a beacon for creative spirits. Add to that a historic Chanel connection. Coco was a regular visitor to the North. The country estate of her lover, the Duke of Westminster, was nearby and there, he introduced her to tweed from Northern mills. She went on to use it in her own collections, creating an enduring Chanel icon.
The show started with a Joy Division track and a slew of colourful short tweed suits in utter defiance of city’s grey backdrop. “Tweed is central to this collection. I thought a lot about Gabrielle Chanel but I didn’t want to recreate Coco’s look, when she was wearing the Duke of Westminster’s jackets,” said Viard. “I took my cue from the Coco who brought colour to her tweeds. I added a vibrant, pop spirit to them.”
Grim up north? Not a bit of it. Suits, bags and even strings of pearls came in a shimmering pop palette of salmon pink, pumpkin, apple green, mustard, sky blue, red and rust. Silhouettes ran from the short gamine miniskirts of the Sixties through to Eighties new wave leather looks, bodycon knits and abbreviated beaded cocktail dresses (worn without coats as is the tradition up North). Short knitted sets added to the sense of ease and movement that coursed though a collection which wore its exquisitely crafted credentials lightly, brightly and with a dose of Northern humour (teapot embroideries, knits emblazoned with club flyer graphics and a mini-bag shaped like a vinyl record).
It was all crafted by the Métiers d’Art, the specialist craft ateliers resident at Chanel’s le19M complex in Paris. The brand hosted international visitors for three days in Manchester and leaned-in to the Northerness of it all. From the hilarious Hey Reilly memes which superimposed Coronation Street icons Deirdre Barlow and Bet Lynch onto classic Chanel campaigns to tours of a Lowry exhibition, a poetry reading by John Cooper Clark and a visit to Old Trafford to see Man U beat Chelsea. They even served mini Lancashire hotpots at the after party. The next day, a hungover fashion pack headed back down south, drenched in Northern delights.
Photography courtesy of Chanel.