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.

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