Byline: Alexandra Waldman

TOKYO — Chanel took Japan’s capital city by storm last week, unleashing a series of spectacles designed to give the famous French brand a more youthful zing.
Thousands attended Friday’s events, which culminated in the Chanel Mega Show runway event, which featured fall ready-to-wear and summer couture and was broadcast live on the Internet.
“My goal was to show the widest possible audience that Chanel is open and friendly — something that anyone could wear — while doing things that no other brand can do,” said Richard Collasse, president of Chanel Japan.
Although Chanel puts on as many as 60 fashion shows a year in its 27 boutiques in Japan, the brand has an image here of catering to older, wealthy clients. Young Japanese women have been increasingly captivated by hot Italian brands like Gucci and Prada.
Collasse said his goal was to prove that Chanel is young and inventive enough to hold its own. That’s why he flew in Karl Lagerfeld, organized a series of events and invited the city to attend.
“Here in Japan, Chanel is known as the foremost brand that one could dream about, but a bit aloof, a bit remote,” he said. “I think that Chanel has always been a fairly young brand for consumers in Japan for certain categories of products — as far as bags were concerned, as far as accessories were concerned. But when it came to ready-to-wear, we were getting an older customer.
“What we’ve been trying to do over a year now is to become more friendly and to talk more to the consumers, not one-on-one, of course, but to reintroduce our brand in a more friendly, more open, modern way. And it is paying off because in 1999, we had the same sales in units as we did in 1996, which was the best year ever for Chanel in Japan.”
No newcomer to Tokyo, Lagerfeld breezed into town with an entourage of fashion luminaries, including Francoise Montenay, president of Chanel SA in France; his muse, Lady Amanda Harlech; Virginie Viard, head of his studio, and a bevy of top models, including Alec Wek and Devon Aoki.
“Japan has changed a lot recently,” he said. “It’s a lot easier for [foreigners] now. It’s more open. The Japanese have fun with themselves. They have no complexes. I admire that.”
Friday morning, Tokyo woke up to find 10 mysterious room-size boxes in public squares all over the city. Each was covered in Chanel’s telltale chocolate-bar quilting, with electronic countdown clocks on top.
As the clocks reached zero, crowds gathered to watch the boxes open and reveal a group of young women clad in Chanel’s summer colors of fuchsia, red and yellow. Buses bearing the Chanel logo picked up the models and converged on Ebisu, where two runway shows were held for an audience of international media, Chanel customers, socialites, celebrities and thousands of awestruck Tokyoites.
Following the runway show, 1,000 guests where ushered into an invitation-only party hosted by Lagerfeld. Princess Hisako attended, as did fashion luminaries Yohji Yamamoto and Kenzo Takada.
What was Lagerfeld hoping to say with this event?
“It’s very pretentious to say that I want to make a statement,” he said. “I just want to show the collection.”