Their marketing drive via an advent calendar is drumming up even more news, for the wrong reason. Sadly, the their latest métiers d’art collection won’t take the heat off quickly enough
Who would have guessed that a seasonal calendar could create so much noise. Chanel’s certainly did. A week ago, not too long after the release of the brand’s highly commercial and expensive—and sold out(!)—advent calendar (above), also labelled on the front as Le Calendrier, social media was abuzz with chatter that the said object, in the shape of a Chanel No. 5 bottle, is not worth the asking price. It was really a ringing complain, and it started with one beauty influencer Elise Harmon in the US, who TikToked her disappointment with the item, for which she paid an eye-watering USD825 (approximately SGD1,110). Her post was not a single entry, but at least half a dozen of them! Although she did not really slam Chanel, it was clear she did not find her purchase a best buy. “When you try to get festive by buying a (sic) advent calendar but are left with shattered hopes and dreams,” went one post, showing her clutching her pillow-sized calendar in bed, crestfallen.
This is Chanel’s first advent calendar (usually issued by brands at this time of the year to amp up their standard offering of festive beauty coffret), which was created to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Chanel No. 5 this year. It is not clear why Chanel, always touted as a premium luxury brand, would want to partake in such a mass marketing exercise, but it could have been a good opportunity to boost the grand standing of the French house. Rather, many of the products found in those 26 individually-boxed items, marked 5 to 31, inside the calendar are not quite the stuff as desirable as Chanel camelias. To be sure, we’ve only seen them online—the non-standard Chanel items looked like they were sourced from Taobao. As Ms Harmon said, when she found some stickers in one of the boxes, “this is a joke”. Or, the all-plastic snow globe: “this mess (sic) me up because it looks like it came out of a gumball machine”. Or, the temp tattoos: “I’m done”.
Miss Harmon is not the only shopper to be disappointed with the festive purchase. In China, Netizens have been complaining about the Chanel advent calendar since last month when, on 2 November, one Weibo user, @淦诗岐 (Gan Shiqi) shared a 开箱视频 (kaixiang shipin, unboxing video) and said that some of the item were “ridiculous (太扯了吧!)”. A voiceover even countered, utterly deadpan, “14 无价之宝 (wujia zhibao, priceless treasures)”. But Ms Gan was rather jovial about her bad luck. Over in Hong Kong, just five days ago, a TikToker with the handle @ideservecouture, went all ballistic and WTF-cursed (and in Cantonese expletives too) her way through the video post when she found those things that she, like so many others, did not consider worthy of occupying a Chanel advent calendar (known in China as a 盲盒 (manghe or blind box). With Ms Harmon’s videos going viral and global, Chanel offered a media statement, saying that they are “sorry that this calendar may have disappointed some people” (clearly not those who received them from Chanel as a gift). They described what’s inside as “original content” and the calendar “a true collector’s item whose value cannot be summed up by the products it contains alone”. Is Chanel really listening to the very vocal disapproval?
But Chanel was not only dismaying followers with the debut advent calendar. The statement came just a day before their Métiers D’art collection in Paris. The show left some observers wondering what was happening with the metiers, now housed in their own headquarters, Le19M, a purpose-built, seven-story complex in the 19th arrondissement, where the craftspeople would be less fournisseurs (suppliers) and more the employees of a formidable employer. Conceived to “celebrate craftsmanship”, as it’s oft-repeated, Métiers D’art straddles the gap between Chanel’s pret-a-porter and haute couture. But the latest, staged at Le19M, seemed veered towards the former. Designer Virginie Viard has ditched the (sometimes kitschy) thematic approach of the past, telling the New York Times that working with the mains in Le19M, “there are no rules.”
And indeed there were not. Anything goes seemed to be the guiding ethos. A sum that Chanel calls “a metropolitan attitude”. Striving to modernise the work of these craftspeople (which probably went beyond the French official 35-hour work week), Ms Viard chose what seniors in the creative field often associate with modernity—and youth: sweatshirts and graffiti! Yes, a tweed bomber now featured “sweatshirt pockets with graffiti-embroidered sequins” (really sequinned graffiti) that form the name Chanel! But one proper noun is not enough. Logos, still de rigueur, must appear too, so she really got the embroiderers working by making them sew sequinned double-Cs on cardigans! Perhaps even such overkill could be overlooked. At odds with the believe that exquisite clothes by the métiers should be elegance sans vulgarity are the over-washed denim pants with, gasp, elasticised waists! Ang Mo Kio Central hack?
Sure, Chanel is repositioning itself for a new era. Even Métiers D’art—in its 20th year—has to be reimagined and reset to distance itself from the explicit refinement of the Karl Lagerfeld years. Perhaps the street invasion at other luxury houses legitimises Chanel’s willingness to go with petrifying “graffiti-embroidered sequins” and the like. And an advent calendar that contained what could be a fridge magnet. One editor told us that in the past Chanel was very strict about what extraneous items were bundled with their famous products. “They would never pass of flimsy Christmas tree hangings as exclusive.” The inevitable: even Chanel has to squeeze within the confinement of modern apparel conception and the conundrum of monoculture. If fake news is very real, is mock modernisation just as existent?
Screen grab and photos: Chanel