Chanel Challenged

Not in anyone’s wildest dreams could this be imagined of the house associated with tweeds and camellias, and refinement


Chanel Soho 2Chanel in Soho, New York, on Sunday night. Screen grab: Bedford+Bowery/Twitter  

Chanel, for many, is a temple of high fashion and the unattainable, and a brand with probably the most “house codes” that not only are the symbols of exclusivity and badges of honour, but also the tangibles with which the label can leverage to protect and grow its wealth. Regardless of what Chanel means to individuals, it is the epitome of supreme elegance, and its stores are where many women go through the shopping rites of passage that signify financial freedom and adulthood, leading to the clubby feeling that one has arrived. It is, therefore, shocking to see images and video footage of the Chanel Spring Street store in Soho, New York, smashed and looted.

According to press reports, “looters seized Soho” (a shopping district in Manhattan known for its expensive restaurants and luxury stores) on Sunday night, shortly after 11pm. At Chanel, some, having laid their hands on the merchandise, “distributed the goods to groups” to the soundtrack of raging sirens. It isn’t clear why the store’s security features were so easily compromised and why there was no police presence. In one news broadcast by News 12 Brooklyn, the mostly male perpetrators, hooded and masked, were seen entering and leaving the store as if it was a normal day’s activity, all in the presence of seemingly unconcerned onlookers. The reporter noted “looters breaking windows and running out with bags of stuff.”

Chanel SohoChanel in Soho yesterday morning. Photo: Today News Post

The next day, Soho is, according to a Tweet by New Yorker Kevin Rincon, “just block after block of graffiti, broken glass and boarded up shops”. The visual of Chanel ransacked—even when boarded up—is going to be hard to forget. While it’s not Rue Cambon (heaven forbid there should ever come such a day), a Chanel store so terribly wrecked is, as one marketing exec said to us, “like the classic flap bag hurled into an incinerator”. More than that, it boggles the mind because, as the actions were played out online for all the world to see, other than greed and entitlement, there is no comprehensible reason for the attackers to target usually apolitical fashion businesses.

It has been said recently that “there is never a right way to protest”. Is that ditto for the wrong way too? Does freedom in the American context, including freedom to live and freedom from police brutality, include the freedom to exercise free-for-all? Can it be said with certainty that when protesting one can take anything one pleases, even by breaking in, in the exact same way that the police in Minneapolis can take the lives of men? Does that mean that the homeless who protest can just walk into anyone’s home and stake it as his own? Isn’t violence in all its guises still violence?

Chanel SS 2015The protest-march-as-finale at Chanel spring/summer 2015. Photo: Getty Images

There is, in all this destruction, a cruel irony. Back in September of 2014, the late Karl Lagerfeld showed the Chanel spring/summer 2015 collection with a finale that mimicks a protest—in this case, to further feminism. The Chanel-clad paid-models-as-protestors, led by Cara Delevingne wielding a megaphone, chanted for freedom down the street-scene runway, complete with crowd-control barriers. Despite the authenticity, it isn’t clear how seriously the guests at the show took to the staged protest, but some were questioning Mr Lagerfeld seriousness since the designer was known to fan off concerns, such as that over size-zero models by suggesting that there were instigated by “fat mommies with bags of crisps”.

Chanel’s single-show urging for change and, as seen on the placards, freedom and rights, did not lead to further actionable plans. Looking back, we wonder if Mr Lagerfeld, regardless of the show’s tinge of frivolity (“Tweed is better than Tweet”!), was prophetic. Did he know that protests will be characteristic of the next decade’s social/political strife? That his model demonstrators would pave the way for others across the Atlantic in their quest for justice and equality? One thing’s different and vivid: at his show, the protestors had no need to loot a Chanel store.

Nike Next

Although Nike clearly stands on the side of those demanding justice for the death of George Floyd, their stores, too, were targets of protesting looters


Happy lootingA delighted looter running out of a Nike in Chicago. Screen grab: Ben Pope/Twitter 

By now, looting has spread through many American cities. In Chicago, they struck at Nike. One video, posted on Twitter yesterday, showed a Nike store on Michigan Avenue, where the upscale shopping stretch The Magnificent Mile lies, completely swarmed with people determined to take whatever is inside without paying for them. One black woman, running out and hands filled with what she could carry, was shrieking with delight. Her face showed the satisfaction of perpetrating a crime, not seeing justice served. All around her, the happy looters were black—as much as we could see. Their willfulness and total disregard for damage to property and business is difficult to watch.

Is this protest or rampage?

Nike isn’t a luxury brand (although some products are priced as such), yet it is attracting looters as if there’s the equivalent of the Speedy or Capucines in its stores. In another shocking video—also posted on Twitter—looting was in full swing in Rochester, NY, at the Villa, described as “a lifestyle chain featuring brand-name shoes, clothes and sporting goods”. Amid people rushing out of the store, a black woman emerged with two Nike shoe boxes and other packaged merchandise and moved quickly towards a parked vehicle, left in the middle of the street. The person who shot the video asked her, “Sweetheart, is this your car? Did you leave your car to go get some sneakers?” She got into her automobile, said something not audible to the man, and left. About two minutes into the video, the same woman is seen running back to the store, presumably, to swipe more stuff!

Nike smashedCleared out: Nike in Chicago after looters had their haul. Photo: Ben Pope

We are not generalising here. The video posts of looting we have seen so far mainly involved people of the black community. This is perplexing and, for those of us from the other side of the world, incomprehensible. Part of the black issue—and experience—is how they are perceived. Or how they are easily the subject of racial profiling, which is clearly unacceptable. But by purloining while protesting, what are they hoping the world to see? Sure, this reflects the economic divide of the society that they live in, but how will breaking into stores to outright steal put the spotlight on their plight? How will the videos of their act—unimaginable in our part of the world, not even in riot-now-the-norm Hong Kong—widely posted and shared, make more people want to champion their cause?

America’s race issues are complicated and are not the discussion we want to take up here. But Nike has been a brand highly supportive of the black community. It has supported black athletes, named lines of shoes after black sportsmen, and even stood on the side of black NFL stars who stuck to what they believed in, even if doing so would incur the wrath of the White House. If Nike is, to this extent, with African-Americans, and is still the brand that the latter enjoys buying, why are those looters, both the black and their allies, creating such indelible damage to the Swoosh? Or, are we being naive?

20-06-01-17-37-15-287_decoNike’s video message. Screen grab: Nike/Twitter

Ironically, Nike came out just a few days ago to state that it is not sitting on the fence, urging its customers and loyalists to do the right thing. In a simple video message than made no mention of the brand, except a tweak on its 30-year-old slogan “Just Do It”, it adjures viewers to “For once, Don’t Do It”. And at the end, a fade-in of the Swoosh. There’s something poignant about the message, enough to prompt rival Adidas to support the post and share it. If Nike could be moved to sending out something this moving, why are its supposed fans responding by looting its stores, and gleefully so?

Nike is, of course, not the only target of the sneaker-raiders. Reports have emerged to say that other brands, including more luxury stores such as Gucci and Alexander McQueen, have been attacked and ransacked. Los Angeles, we hear, is badly affected, with shopping districts such as Melrose and Fairfax vandalised and marauded. Fashion, as it’s been repeatedly said these past months, is in a difficult place. What’s been videoed, Tweeted, and shared in just one weekend could point to something far more dire.