'Don't get distracted by the glitz': Why Chanel's A-list invasion didn't mean much to the average Manc

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Now that the Hugh Grant, Tilda Swinton, Kristen Stewart and co have left, here's a look at what the Chanel show means for Manchester.

Less than 24 hours after the big Chanel fashion show, life is almost back to normal in the Northern Quarter. The A-list celebrity guests are jetting back home, there are dismantled clothes rails on the street and teams of workers are busy removing any trace of the runway. 

The past week has been a whirlwind for Manchester, host of the Chanel 2023/24 Metiers d’Art show. The fashion house had seemingly taken over the whole city, with entire streets in the Northern Quarter closed off, and after and pre-parties held in iconic buildings, including Victoria Baths and Salford Lads Club. 

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Only 600 people, mainly celebs and the fashion elite, were invited to the show but that did not stop the crowds, who gathered at vantage points like the Tib Street multi-storey car park to catch a glimpse of the 15-minute spectacle. 

The Chanel Metiers D'Art Fashion Show in ManchesterThe Chanel Metiers D'Art Fashion Show in Manchester
The Chanel Metiers D'Art Fashion Show in Manchester

'A huge boost for the city'

Manchester has held internationally prestigious events in the past, but this was the first time a heritage fashion brand had come to the city. When Chanel announced our fine city as the host of the event, it was lauded as a huge boost, both economically and culturally, the perfect opportunity to showcase what we have to offer and what we have the potential to become. 

The excitement grew when it also became clear that Manchester was the inspiration behind the collection itself. Chanel’s promotional material featured everything from Joy Division to Elsie Tanner. The captions even described the city as “one of the most effervescent cities of pop culture and an avant-garde one, whose bands, spanning all genres, have changed the history of music.”

Some of the city’s most prominent figures have also been singing Chanel’s praises, highlighting, in particular, what it all means for the hospitality industry. In his comments to The Mirror, Warehouse Project boss and Manchester’s night time economy advisor Sacha Lord, who is a vocal supporter of the hospitality sector, noted that major hotels and restaurants had been fully booked for the event, meaning more hours for service industry workers. Taxis, pubs and bars were all also set to benefit from the buzz Chanel had created in the city centre. 

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'There's more to Manchester than the Hacienda'

This may have given the service industry and its workers a much needed lift this week, but it’s hard to see how the average Mancunian really benefits from all this. The fashion world moves fast, and while Manchester may have been in the spotlight this week, this kind of attention is fleeting. 

The Northern Quarter the day after the Chanel fashion show.The Northern Quarter the day after the Chanel fashion show.
The Northern Quarter the day after the Chanel fashion show.

The real winners, financially at least, are the luxury hotels and high-end restaurants, of which there are more and more in Manchester by the year. The A-listers travelled to the city in blacked-out limos, not Bee Network buses. They weren’t popping into the nearby Millstone for a pint, they were whisked off to an exclusive after party. While the VIPs were sheltered under the giant runway canopy, all we could do was watch from the pavement in the rain.

But nothing sums up this divide more than seeing photos of the likes of Kristen Stewart outside the Salford Lads Club in Ordsall, one of the most deprived areas in Greater Manchester. Chanel had chosen Manchester for its gritty aesthetic, but what is it really trying to say by that? Luxury fashion has form when it comes to fetishising working-class culture –  take Burberry’s takeover of a greasy spoon café during this year’s London Fashion Week. Thursday’s show did not reflect the real Manchester, but a commercial, pop-culture version of Manchester people will recognise from 24 Hour Party People. 

Hollywood actress Kristen Stewart Hollywood actress Kristen Stewart
Hollywood actress Kristen Stewart

You just have to look at Chanel’s Instagram posts in the days leading up to the show. The slick montage by Sofia Coppola (was Bury-born Danny Boyle not available?) featured loads of Manchester references, but they were superficial and lazy – Joy Division, Factory Records, Manchester United. Any Mancunian will tell you that there is more to this city than the Hacienda and football. And the clothes on display –  tweed and pearls – were arguably out of place on the Northern Quarter cobbles.

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'We won't get distracted by the glitz'

Some people in Manchester see the Chanel show as a milestone event, others see it as a farce. But it is important to remember that this is just one of the city’s cultural achievements for 2023. This was the year Aviva Studios opened, the year the English National Opera confirmed its move to Manchester, the year Manchester was announced as the next host of both WOMEX and the Michelin awards ceremony.

All these events are helping turn Manchester into a global city and cultural destination, which is the way it should be. I just hope that as the city grows, so do the opportunities for the people who live here. The luxury hotels and restaurants cannot be the only ones who benefit. 

Councillor Bev Craig summarised this well in a city council statement posted after the Chanel event.  The council leader said: "These are not just exciting accolades or sources of Mancunian pride and bragging rights. They project the reputation of the city, support jobs and help attract further investment.

“As a city we know how to have fun but we won’t get distracted by the glitz. We know that there’s still a lot to do to ensure the benefits of the city’s growth are more inclusive and that’s what our economic strategy and other plans are all focused on: Making sure everyone in the city can share in its success.” 

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