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Chanel: The Luxury Icon Struggling to Embrace Ethical Fashion

HBO’s latest drama for teens and young adults, The Idol, hit televisions across the country earlier this month with Lily Rose Depp and K-pop star Jennie Kim from BLACKPINK cast in key roles of the drama. The series tells the story of the lavish, drama-filled lifestyles of the rich and famous. Off-screen, Depp and Kim are also ambassadors for the legendary luxury brand, Chanel.

Casting pop culture’s it-girls in televised dramas isn’t a new phenomenon – think Zendaya in Euphoria – as the worlds of fashion, fame and the entertainment industry have long been intertwined. The clothing industry and pop culture feed off one another, generating a never-ending flow of micro-trends with huge revenue potential for fashion brands and celebrities alike.



Primed as a headliner show in the run-up to its release, the The Idol’s anticipated debut has been met with scathing reviews for its X-rated scenes and weak script – Rotten Tomatoes has given it an abysmal score of 26%. While the show isn’t living up to the critical success director Sam Levinson saw with Euphoria, its cast is donning some highly fashionable looks on screen, further solidifying TV as a second runway for fashion.

The impact of Euphoria on fashion has been immense: it introduced high-end brands Miu Miu and Prada to its Gen Z audience

The impact of Euphoria on fashion has been immense: it introduced high-end brands Miu Miu and Prada to its Gen Z audience; lesser-known brands such as I.AM.GIA rose to viral popularity; and the show even managed to elevate blue eye shadow to an acceptable look once again. The likes of Dynasty and Sex in the City demonstrate that fashion and TV’s mutually beneficial relationship isn’t new, but in today’s world of social media and ultra-fast fashion machines such as SHEIN, on-screen trends can be catapulted into virality and recreated at record speed. The Idol is no exception—already we see articles pointing consumers towards dupes of the main protagonist’s Chanel sunglasses.

 

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A post shared by Lily-Rose Depp (@lilyrose_depp)

Apart from being a source of trend inspiration, luxury fashion and TV collaborations have enormous profit generating potential: Euphoria’s Hunter Schafer’s Spring 2022 Prada campaign, for example, generated $3.4 million in media impact value, which is comparable to a fashion week runway show, according to Launchmetrics. Chanel’s product placement on The Idol and Depp and Kim’s Chanel outfits at The Idol premiere at Cannes shows us that the powerful fashion maison won’t let this revenue-generating opportunity go past.

Euphoria’s Hunter Schafer’s Spring 2022 Prada campaign, for example, generated $3.4 million in media impact value, which is comparable to a fashion week runway show

Clearly fashion and television is a match made in corporate heaven, but it comes at a cost. As a society, we value newness, and fashion consumers are in a never-ending race to be the first to catch the latest trend. Thanks to the birth of fast-fashion, we are consuming fashion at a faster rate than ever: between 2000 and 2014, the number of garments purchased each year by the average consumer increased by around 60%, to 100 billion garments per year.  The industry, meanwhile, is overproducing garments at an alarming rate, so much so that the EU has agreed to ban the destruction of unsold clothing in an attempt to curb waste.

between 2000 and 2014, the number of garments purchased each year by the average consumer increased by around 60%, to 100 billion garments per year…

Is Luxury Fashion Sustainable?

The assumption that luxury is more sustainable because of its higher price point should be questioned as we musn’t distil assessments of a brand’s ethics to such simple equations as “luxury = good, fast fashion = bad.” Luxury fashion is no exception to the overproduction problem: the industry has doubled its collection rhythm to keep pace with the churn of fast fashion in the last 15 years. In 2018, Burberry made headlines for the wrong reasons when it was reported that the British luxury brand destroyed $36.8 million worth of its own merchandise in an attempt to preserve the exclusivity of the brand, and it’s since been reported that this wasteful practice is widespread in the industry. We need to hold luxury to the same standards as fast fashion and reflect on our obsession with brand names. On top of this, big luxury names don’t always equal durability. As consumers, learning how to spot high quality products will go a long way to reducing consumption.

Burberry made headlines for the wrong reasons when it was reported that the British luxury brand destroyed $36.8 million worth of its own merchandise

Remake’s 2022 Fashion Accountability Report highlights the variability of luxury’s sustainability credentials: of all brands assessed, Burberry scored highest with 38 points out of a possible 150, with Ralph Lauren, Hermes and Kering scoring between 20-25 points. Chanel trailed behind all of these, scoring only 8 points, putting it on par with SHEIN and just behind Boo Hoo Group and Misguided. As the report states, the French atelier offered “little insight into the environmental and social impacts of its supply chain beyond the disclosure of carbon emissions and a general description of its supplier auditing process.”

Chanel trailed behind [luxury brands] scoring only 8 points, putting it on par with SHEIN and just behind Boo Hoo Group and Misguided

Diving deeper into Chanel’s accountability scorecard, we see its total carbon footprint has increased over the years despite claiming to be committed to reaching net zero by 2030. Unfortunately, we see no clear strategy or disclosures regarding its water or chemical footprints. While the brand mentions the use of eco-responsible tweeds and offers tailoring services and programs to its clientele to extend the life and value of its products, this pales in comparison to the material innovations seen by competitors such as Stella McCartney.

 

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As The Idol is reminding us all, luxury brands such as Chanel have influenced not only fashion, but pop culture, for the last century. These brands should be taking a lead in fashion’s transition to a more just and transparent future. Luxury brands exist to shape consumer needs and priorities, they have the potential to play a major role in influencing their competitors and fast fashion brands to adopt more ethical practices. To quote Karl Lagerfield, a name synonymous with Chanel as creative director of the maison from 1983 until his death in 2019, “I am a fashion person, and fashion is not only about clothes—it’s about all kinds of change.” Fashion can, and should be, a driver of social change. With healthy balance sheets (The net worth of the Wertheimers, the brothers who own Chanel, soared 37% to $90 billion in 2022, according to Bloomberg), luxury brands can innovate and take risks in finding new solutions to fashion’s greatest sustainability challenges.

Chanel’s ability to recruit some of the most influential celebrities as brand ambassadors is testament to its social capital. With both cultural and economic capital in abundance, it’s prime time for the brand to make ethical fashion chic.

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