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Chanel embraces Britain, and Manchester, in Métiers d’Art collection

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Two weeks ago, Paris panned the premier of Ridley Scott’s biopic Napoleon. On Thursday night, Manchester embraced a street chic show by Chanel, Virginie Viard’s best so far for the house.
 
Rarely has the Entente Cordiale seemed happier in this collection which managed to blend Manchester’s gritty street culture with exuberant royal elan and sassy French chic.

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Staged in the dark at 6.30 p.m,, the collection’s hues played on the late Queen Elizabeth’s palette – light lilac, bright aubergine, burnt orange and yards of strawberry and raspberry. Anything that would make it easier to stand out at 100 yards. Forget quiet luxury, even if this was a collection of great poise.
 
Chanel’s couturier opted to present the collection outside, in the open air on Thomas Street, historically the cotton trading street of Manchester, lined with three-story redbrick houses dating back to the late 19the century. The street covered with a transparent tent to protect the audience, whose front row include Chanel ambassadors, Kirsten Stewart and Sofia Coppola, the latter the director of a punchy video that blended street graphics, art house illustrations by Peter Saville and the city’s rich music tradition from New Order to Oasis.

The silhouette was fresh – lean, body-hugging, a little décolleté and starring skirts cut two inches above the knee. In Viard’s half decade in charge of Chanel, we have never seen a cast happier to wear one of her collections.
 
“Fun, fresh, young,” said Viard after the show inside the Bay Horse Tavern, a great wee pub packed with the likes of Caroline Casiraghi, Tilda Swinton, Laura Bailey and Hugh Grant. 
 
A kicky collection that featured sexy new suits, impeccable redingotes, dashing coat dresses and bravura sequined party frocks.
 
Follwing a torrential downpour and Bladerunner like traffic jam, the rain stopped, and the cast marched out in the iodine-scented air backed up by a great soundtrack. Ace DJ Michel Gaubert’s post-punk blend included Soft Cell and The Fall. Climaxing with Anyone Who Had A Heart by Cilla Black, ironically the best-known female singer from Liverpool, Manchester’s rival city in art, music sports.
 
The night before, Chanel invited around 100 guests to Old Trafford to see a Premiership match between Manchester United and Chelsea, a gutsy battle won by the locals 2-1.  And throughout Chanel’s three-day jaunt in Manchester, Man United iconography was ever present – notably images by Saville and Coppola starring George Best, Man U’s Northern Irish winger who is still regarded as Britain’s coolest player.

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Chanel also referenced founder Coco Chanel’s passage through the region in Chaos 69, a special glossy magazine. As the lover of the Duke of Westminster, Coco had often stayed in the aristocratic family’s stately mansion Eaton Hall. Which made Viard’s choice of location doubly cool – sending out the models before decrypted Victoria buildings, funky second-hand stores and even empty lots. The city was the target of two brutal nights of Luftwaffe bombing in December 1940 known as the Christmas Blitz, and remarkably evidence of those attacks can still be seen today.
 
A morning stroll around Manchester reveals a battered cosmos of glassy skyscrapers, Edwardian sandstone corporate palaces, faded Victoria grandeur, decayed canals and scores of dance and music venues. But that very mix of polish and putrefaction is what inspires the great music, art and political culture of this unique city. At the very time Coco was building her fledgling fashion house the great Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst – who was born in Greater Manchester – was winning the right to vote for women in Britain, the first country to do so. Her stature stands nearby today’s Chanel show, and her pleated shoulder blouses were evident in Viard’s collection.
 
A show anchored by a brilliant series of flats – with Chanel pearl bracket straps and grids, or pink silk ribbon knots – in a great display by the house’s footwear designer Laurence Dacade.
 
The house of Chanel even got the great punk-poet John Cooper Clarke to give a private recital to guests and to introduce Bobby Gillespie and Primal Scream when they staged a rip-roaring concert post-show in Victoria Baths.
 
During the gig, Benjamin Ward, the smiling nightclub owner of hipster club White Hotel, walked around in a Napoleonic cockade hat, clutching an LP featuring Charles and Diana on the cover. Entente Cordiale at its hippest.

But, above all, this was great expression of cool Gallic luxury, and the unique ability of French luxury marques – with the right designer and management- to embrace a foreign culture, herald and trumpet it, and then use those ideas to renew and irrigate the DNA of the brand.

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