Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Chanel: Or how a brand owns up to a (disputed) past

If there is any place the Chanel brand should have avoided in the world, it's the Ritz in Paris. Chanel (Coco, the woman, that is) lived there for 35 years and has a suite named after her at the hotel. So far, nothing exceptional. Except that, at one point, she remained a guest at the hotel during World War II, a fact that throws a major shade at her connections with the nazi-backed Vichy regime, and in extenso with the IIIrd Reich at large.
Reports about her connections to the Ritz during the war, are always a dark point for "Mademoiselle" (again, the woman not the perfume) that one either reads about it in specialized scandalous books, or simply sees it brushed aside in official brand bios.
So when the Ritz reopened in France (with a tea room named after none other than the incredible Marcel Proust and a bar named after Hemingway), it was Chanel (the brand, not the woman) that took center stage to do its fashion show "Cafe Society" there.
Frankly, I have to give it out to Karl Lagefeld for the guts to do it. The only place in Paris (which, as a city, is associated in terms of culture with the brand Chanel) that he could have avoided due to a past with contentions is the one he took over - and boldly, elegantly at that bringing in the "big guns" (fine even if top models are anything but "big" - in the words of Lagerfeld himself when asked about why he chose thin models, "clothes look best on a hanger"), which included current French culture minister, music-star-cum-fashion-icon Pharrell Williams, and not to mention the who's who of the fashion world including former Lagerfeld muse Ines de la Fressange.
Once more, any venue in Paris (or worldwide for that matter) could have died for the chance to have a Chanel show staged at its premises, yet, Lagerfeld chose the place which has the shadiest of links to the brand, a proof that beauty will always triumph over anything ugly.
Oh and if that boucle tweed vest Pharrell was wearing exists in size small, I'd like one please!
Chanel, as a brand, made the genius move of owning up to its past, looking at it in the mirror and triumphing over it with beauty. As far branding goes, this is pure genius.