Manchester is a city of glory and grit. Set among the damp northwest hills of England, it’s the rain-spattered home of Northern soul and legendary bands like Joy Division, New Order and Oasis; two world famous soccer clubs; the cradle of the industrial revolution; and one of the most vibrant nightlife scenes on the planet. Style and swagger? This proud city has them in spades. But most people would not consider it a capital of high fashion.
That all changed this week when Chanel took over the town for its Métiers d’Art runway show, an annual presentation of the intricate craftsmanship of its specialist ateliers. Since 2002, the show has been held in Salzburg, Austria; Rome; and Dakar, Senegal, among other cities. On Thursday, 600 guests, braving icy winds and lashing rain, descended on the Northern Quarter neighborhood of Manchester for a runway show held on Thomas Street, lined with empty tattoo parlors, pubs, vintage clothing stores and record shops. (Their owners had been paid off handsomely to vacate them for the week.) As guests took their seats by candlelight on the street among A-listers like Kristen Stewart, Tilda Swinton and Hugh Grant — under a giant purpose-built Perspex roof — many sipped hot toddies to fortify themselves against the elements.
The show may not have had the glamour and grandeur of those at past Chanel sites. (Some eyebrows were raised when the location was announced earlier this year.) But the beauty of Manchester is not to be found in its gloomy buildings, many of which housed a once thriving textile and cotton trade. Rather, it is in the electric spirit and creativity that pulsates through the narrow streets of the city.
“We wanted this show to take place in England, but not in London, which felt too expected,” the Chanel president, Bruno Pavlovsky, said before the show. Twenty-four hours earlier, guests had been treated to a raucous night in the stands at Old Trafford as they watched Manchester United beat Chelsea or to a recital at a local working men’s club by the punk-rock-era poet John Cooper Clarke.
“Manchester has an incredible energy to its arts scene, its music and football culture, and ideas have been born here that have changed the world,” Mr. Pavlovsky said. “That energy was incredibly inspiring to our creative director, Virginie Viard, and her vision for this collection.”
Chanel loves to go to parts of the world that have ties to its founder, Coco Chanel. The family estate of the Duke of Westminster, her lover in the 1920s, was Eaton Hall in nearby Cheshire. Chanel worked on her designs there and would often drive to nearby factories to source cotton and velvet for her collections. The tweed jackets English aristocrats wore for outdoor pursuits, like shoots at Eaton Hall, would become a cornerstone of her fashion empire.
Tweed was also at the heart of the Chanel show that took place in Manchester this week, to a thumping soundtrack from the likes of Soft Cell, New Order and Cilla Black. (Someone should probably tell the organizers that Ms. Black is famous for being from Liverpool.)
The collection began with a modish hat tip to the 1960s and a series of smart tweed skirt suits in acid green, fuchsia, orange and yellow, some with matching baker boy caps and paired with Mary Janes. Then hemlines got shorter and out came the knitwear, all in coordinating intarsia patterns and prints and with chunky scarves tightly wound around the models’ necks.
Since taking the creative helm of Chanel in 2019, Ms. Viard has been keen to bring a youthful verve to the house, often via a 1980s slant. That was here in outfits that paid tribute to New Wave club girls, with black denim and patent leather looks and sheer baby-doll dresses with bodices made from interlocking C’s and graphic flourishes inspired by logos from the soccer stands.
A final series of more timeless sparkly minidresses closed the show — a fitting tribute to the generations of barelegged Northern girls who have braved wintry streets in search of a good night out.
Any guests of that mindset were then taken in a fleet of limousines to an after-party at the Victoria Baths, home to Britain’s finest historic swimming pool surrounded by stained glass windows and original Edwardian tiles. Inside, the band Primal Scream played a private set from the deep end of the pool (thankfully emptied of water) with music that went on until late, while scores of amused locals watched on from railings outside.
All of it was bags of fun, far more tongue-in-cheek than the usual fare from a French fashion house, and a spotlight on one of Britain’s best-loved cities, which thoroughly deserves the attention and investment it reaped by the global fashion industry circus rolling into town. The designer Henry Holland summed it up best with his bold black and white poster commissioned for the event (most effective when imagined in a thick Northern accent): “Well well well — if it isn’t Manchester does Chanel.”