There was general agreement that Manchester was a surprising choice for a Chanel show. A street catwalk in the northern quarter of the city was braced for a meeting of two very different vibes. Chanel is pearls, Manchester is all grit. Chanel is the mecca of status handbags, Manchester the city described by the historian AJP Taylor as “the only place in England which escapes our characteristic vice of snobbery”.
It was fair to assume that the Oscar-nominated actor Kristen Stewart was not a regular at the Salford Lads Club before this week, when she visited for a Chanel pre-show party.
On Thomas Street, in the northern quarter, the bar of the Bay Horse Tavern was doing a brisk trade in (free) champagne. Clients in bespoke gowns posed for selfies outside a tattoo parlour as New Order took their front-row seats.
Chanel and Manchester, however, have more in common than might be thought: both enjoy a good night out. Manchester, after all, invented the weekend, when in 1843 trade unions won the right for workers to have two days of rest. Chanel stages spectacular fashion shows, and the home of the Hacienda loves to party.
Under a Perspex roof protecting the models and 600 guests from any rain on this outdoor runway, Chanel and Manchester met, wearing pastel tweed suits that told the story of Chanel’s longstanding connection with Britain.
It was in the boot rooms of Eaton Hall, in Cheshire, the family seat of Coco’s lover, the Duke of Westminster, that the designer borrowed tweed jackets for walks on the estate. Smitten, Coco Chanel took the fabric back to Paris and put it at the heart of the company.
Worn on the catwalk with baker boy caps, flat Mary Jane’s, practical cross-body bags and stout scarves, these tweeds looked as fit for Manchester as for Paris.
Chanel once bought cotton and velvet here, but music and football have headlined Manchester culture since the demise of the once thriving textile trade.
“For me, Manchester is the city of music,” Virginie Viard , the French designer and creative director of Chanel, said before the show. Peter Saville, the graphic designer known for his record sleeves for the Manchester-based Factory Records, designed the show’s branding.
Bruno Pavlovsky, president of fashion at Chanel, said. “Like most big cities in the post-industrial world, Manchester has not always had an easy time. But there is an energy you feel here, in the football stadiums, in arts and in music. Being here is not about Chanel wanting to be populist, but it is about finding inspiration in that energy.”
Not everyone was impressed. Some local residents felt that the multimillion-pound spectacle was tone-deaf in a city where much of the population is feeling the bite of the cost of living crisis. The carbon footprint of flying an audience from all over the world for a 15-minute show also shone a spotlight on the environmental damage wrought by the fashion industry.
Sacha Lord, night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, called the show “very exciting” and said he was satisfied with compensation paid by Chanel to businesses in the area, many of which had been shuttered for days. Non-disclosure agreements have prevented financial details of the compensation being shared. The city’s top hotels and restaurants have been booked all week with Chanel-sponsored events.
Pavlovsky said the lengthy setup for the show was due to a policy of using local suppliers and experts where possible, rather than flying in teams from Paris. But Manchester will not reap long-term benefits in employment from the collection, now that Britain no longer has a manufacturing fashion industry of any scale. “We would love to have more local suppliers here, but they don’t exist,” said Pavlovsky.