Hugh Grant, Tilda Swinton and Kristen Stewart join Chanel in ode to Manchester

The brand's Metiers d’Art collection pays tribute to both Mancunian and Parisian artisans

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Manchester may, at first glance, seem a strange choice of venue for a Chanel show.

However, the city was once the beating heart of the British textile industry and there is a method behind the madness as the French house unveiled its latest Metiers d’Art collection, which shows off the work of its expert ateliers.

As a rota of celebrities, including Tilda Swinton, Kristen Stewart and Hugh Grant, took their seats under a vast glass canopy in Northern Quarter built to shield off the evening's drizzle, the collection was based around the city itself. In recent years Chanel's Metiers d’Art collections have been staged in Dakar, Paris, New York, Rome and Salzburg. The last time it was held in the UK was in 2012, at Linlithgow Castle, Scotland.

Show notes described Manchester as “one of the most effervescent cities of pop culture”, while the collection is a celebration of the “creative dialogue between Great Britain and the house, so dear to Gabrielle Chanel and today to artistic director of the fashion collections, Virginie Viard”. As such, the collection drew in various elements of Manchester life, from its music to its history.

Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel had close links to the UK via her partner, the Duke of Westminster, who introduced her to both tweed and the English countryside. Viard in turn has fleshed this link out further. She presented the Scottish cloth in Manchester, though mixed it with baker boy flat caps and prim Mary Jane shoes, in the sort of everyday fabulous that the designer has made her own. It suited the unfussiness of Manchester itself.

The Metiers d'Art show itself is a celebration of Chanel and the numerous ateliers that inhabit its 19M site in Paris that create its surface decoration, buttons and tweeds. A testimony to the priceless skill each studio possesses, the collection was launched in 1984 to show off their handiwork, with the name itself meaning “art professionals”.

In Manchester, this was showcased across a silk T-shirt dress embroidered with the famous interlocking C logo, and as a top with words such as "Pins & needles", "Quilted", "Chanel and "Manchester" woven into it. It appeared as rows of intricate bows running down the front of sheer tops and as delicate loops of pearl beading decorating the top of an otherwise simple tweed mini dress in grey.

Elsewhere, tiny white blossoms covered a grey wool vest, itself worn over a tweed jacket, while other jackets arrived with discreet frills around the collars and pockets, such as the green-on-green version worn by Mancunian model Karen Elson.

The amount of tweed on show felt natural, both as a hard-wearing material that once dressed much of Britain and as a favourite of Coco Chanel. The material was already known for being warm and sturdy, but it was Chanel who saw the endless possibilities of the cloth, weaving ribbons, sequins and even leather into it.

Viard delivered classic, elegant jackets and skirts of all lengths, from 1960s-style short, to knee-length and lady-like, with wide patch pockets; and as a twinset in black trimmed with a flourish of feathers around hem and cuffs; plus a hunting jacket stretched into a dress, belted low on the hips.

In between, she cut it into a boxy V-necked jacket in sky blue, a rustic cape and a strapless, sequinned mini dress for the evening. Seemingly unfazed by this complex fabric, Viard pivoted it into youthful, chic and elegant iterations with an equally light touch.

The palette, meanwhile, drifted from tones of inner-city grey through to autumnal reds, oranges and browns, with unexpected pops of vert de gris, lilac, fuchsia and turquoise for a kick of energy.

Other codes of the house arrived in unusual ways, such as a quilted cross-hatching normally seen on its bags now covering a leather coat and skirt, and as delicate metal belts in the colours of costume jewellery.

To keep with the Manchester tone, a pre-show party was held at Salford Lads Club, which starred on the cover of the Smith's album The Queen is Dead, while poet John Cooper Clarke gave a live performance of his work I Want to be Yours.

Guests who arrived well in advance of the event were, it is rumoured, even treated to a visit to the set of the long-running soap opera Coronation Street, which is set and filmed in Manchester. Thomas Street, meanwhile, was chosen as the location for the show because of its links to the textile trade, with an original 18th-century workshop building recently saved from destruction. It was briefly renamed Chanel Street for the occasion.

While a few Mancunians have railed against the closure of roads for more than two weeks and the loss of business for some shops (the compensation for which from Chanel is under wraps thanks to non-disclosure agreements), few can deny that the event has shone a Parisian spotlight on the city.

Manchester is inextricably linked to the Industrial Revolution – it was producing half of Europe's cotton by the 1860s. Then the factories arrived and put Manchester on the map, setting the stage for success from the likes of bands Oasis, Joy Division and Happy Mondays as well as the ongoing football rivalry by two of the sport's biggest names Manchester United and City.

During the period of growth and wealth in the 19th century, it was also home to countless cottage industries where women worked to create white-on-white embroidery that was coveted across Europe. Known for their intricate, dense stitching, while working in poor lighting, generations of Mancunian women went blind creating these tiny masterpieces, their suffering now almost lost to history.

With the media circus that surrounds Chanel having rolled into Manchester, for a show that turns a high-watt spotlight on the countless people needed to create just one of Chanel's impeccable collections, it is nice to feel that things, in fashion at least, have come full circle. And that those hard-working Mancunian women are now rightfully being remembered as the highly skilled artisans they undoubtedly were.

Updated: December 08, 2023, 10:45 AM