A road in Manchester is being transformed into a catwalk for one of the fashion world’s most prestigious events, with a host of A-list stars expected to attend.
Thomas Street is the type of place that could be described as fashionable in a hip, historic, down-to-earth, Mancunian kind of way.
There are bars and boutiques alongside an old-fashioned jeweller’s, a Thai massage salon and a tattoo parlour. There are some half-demolished workshops, and the whole Northern Quarter has a layer of grit and graffiti.
It may not exactly be chic, but for Paris luxury fashion house Chanel, this road has a certain je ne sais quoi.
The company has chosen it as the setting for several hundred celebrities and fashionistas to watch its Metiers d’Art show on Thursday.
One of the highlights of the fashion calendar, the starry event has previously been held in Paris, New York and Rome. Last year, it took place in Dakar in Senegal.
Now, Manchester is being added to that list.
Manchester has been chosen because it is “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”, Chanel has said.
According to a video posted by Manchester’s Finest, the invitation comes with a 12in vinyl record, a Manchester-themed Chanel scarf, and a magazine in which the iconic road sign from TV soap opera Coronation Street sign has been redesigned to say Chanel St.
The invitation also uses imagery from the legendary Hacienda nightclub and Factory Records, and a photo of Manchester-born suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst.
The city’s also famous for its rain. A long, high glass canopy has been erected over a 115m stretch of the street to protect the models and guests, and the forecast suggests they will avoid the recent sub-zero temperatures.
“December in Manchester! Good idea!” one onlooker says sarcastically while inspecting the preparations.
Besides the weather, all the talk is about which celebrities will turn up.
The likes of Pharrell Williams, Lily-Rose Depp and Kristen Stewart have been regulars at the Metiers d’Art in recent years, while Timothee Chalamet and Riley Keough are new Chanel brand ambassadors.
Former Manchester residents David and Victoria Beckham are popular tips, while other speculative suggestions range from Beyonce and Kim Kardashian to local heroes Liam Gallagher and Gail from Corrie.
“The most fun part of it is hearing rumours of who’s going to be there – which Hollywood bigwigs are coming down,” says Alistair Shipman between mixing cocktails at Luck Lust Liquor & Burn, on the corner of Thomas St.
Half of the bar has been covered by barriers and Shipman isn’t especially impressed by the activity outside.
“It’s been a bit of a hassle trying to get in and out of work and moving bins and things like that,” he says. “Personally, I’m a little bit indifferent to it.”
Outside, people stop to take photos as workmen paint the Chanel logo on the side of a convenience store that offers “discount beer, wine & hard liquor”.
“I think it’s brilliant,” says one passer-by. “I’ve seen it through social media on a lot of the Manchester sites and Instagram pages.
“You read that all the hotels are going to be full. All the nice hotels, anyway. It can only be a good thing because of the money it will bring in.”
In another nearby shop, a worker points out the disparity between the wealth that will be on show and the poverty in the area.
“There are going to be A-list celebrities there, but they’re probably going to clean up the city and make it look like there’s no homeless people in this area. But there’s plenty,” he says.
Indeed, the edginess that Chanel has bought into inevitably indicates that there are problems, which you wouldn’t have to walk too far in the Northern Quarter to see signs of.
Chanel’s choice of location is presumably also connected to Manchester’s history at the heart of the textiles trade.
One of the derelict buildings on Thomas St was saved from demolition because it’s a rare example of weavers’ small-scale workshop dwellings that were built as the industrial revolution took off in the city in the 18th Century.
Manchester has retained its place in the industry, but is normally associated with fast fashion brands like Boohoo and Missguided, which have their headquarters there, rather than luxury labels.
It also has the largest concentration of fashion students and undergraduates in the UK outside London, as well as smaller-scale designers, says Miles Lambert, curator of the new fashion gallery at Manchester Art Gallery.
“It’s certainly not known as an uber-fashionable town in the high-end way,” he says.
“But it has a very vibrant street fashion, and it has lots of amazing little creative enclaves where people make things. It’s not big scale but I guess it does feed into high-end fashion.”
There is currently a major exhibition about Coco Chanel at the V&A Museum in London, while the Manchester fashion gallery has an exhibition called Unpicking Couture, featuring a 1983 Chanel boucle suit from Karl Lagerfeld’s first runway show for the house.
Manchester is “very different from Paris”, Lambert says. “So maybe they are also tempted by that.
“You are in an area that’s edgy and it’s full of creativity. And I think it is seen as a city that is going places and has been for a while.”