However, none of the women acknowledge the reason for these restrictions on their luxury purchases: the war in Ukraine. And none of them mention the nationality-based discrimination underlying the Russian attack on Ukrainians. As millions of Ukrainian women flee with barely any clothes on their backs, mourning the loss of their homes, their lands and their deceased loved ones, these Russian fashionistas rage against a luxury company’s attempts to restrict the carrying of chic handbags.
There is irony in the particular brand that sparked all this Instagram outrage. While the house of Chanel was born in France, it has come to represent a generalized European luxury and elegance. And so, destroying a Chanel bag in the name of Mother Russia is, in a sense, a symbol of destroying Europe itself.
Chanel also has a particularly deep but little-known connection to Russia, especially pre-revolutionary, imperial Russia. Coco Chanel’s collaboration with an exiled Romanov king, Grand Duke Dmitri, a cousin of Tsar Nicholas II, had a profound influence on her aesthetic during the early 1920s. Chanel No. 5, the cornerstone of the entire brand, was created by Ernst Beaux, former perfumer of the Tsars (to whom Dmitri introduced Chanel). Her famous costume jewelry – the ropes of pearls, the Byzantine crosses – were inspired by Russian imperial jewels.
Chanel even hired Duke Dmitri’s sister, Grand Duchess Marie, to create Russian embroidery patterns for textiles. To this day, many design elements considered quintessential Chanel descend from Imperial Russian motifs. Attacking Chanel’s house as anti-Russian is ignoring the company’s longstanding Russian connections, just as Russians attacking Ukrainians as traitors ignore the deep, often familial connections between the two groups.
The final ironic twist is that Vladimir Putin’s war seems to have sprung from his fantasy to restore Russia’s imperial past — and in recent days become the czar of an expanded empire — but few luxury brands contain as much Russian imperial nostalgia as Chanel. .
Perhaps for rich and glamorous Russian women like these influencers, not being able to fully use their handbags is discrimination. Maybe that was just what drove them to make these angry videos. But consciously or not, their performances capitalized on many of the deepest issues at stake in the current war started by their country.
Fashion cannot be separated from the grim realities and serious politics of the world. On the contrary, fashion and the events it evokes function as a kind of symptomatic dreamscape, a screen on which society projects and plays its greatest fears and unrest. When you see these members of the Russian elite tearing apart their precious handbags and straining to drive sharp knives through thick leather – which, after all, is the skin of once-living creatures – it’s hard to miss the analogy with the catastrophe that unfolding in Ukraine. And it’s hard not to wince.