The maison has become a scapegoat for Russian celebrities to protest luxury fashion’s ‘discriminating’ economic sanctions

Droves of Russian influencers have taken to social media to call out the alleged rise of Russophobia within luxury fashion, positioning the economic sanctions carried out by Europe as evidence of their own victimisation in Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

This week, Anna Kalashnikova, a singer and actor with 2.4 million followers on Instagram, posted about her own experience with “discrimination”, when she walked into a Chanel store in Dubai, discovering that the brand no longer sold its bags to Russians. So too did DJ Katya Guseva, TV presenter Marina Ermoshkina, and model Victoria Bonya, who have made a symbolic gesture to the French fashion house by cutting up their handbags with kitchen scissors and garden shears.

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The videos are grotesque. “I have to say that Chanel does not respect its clients, so why do we have to respect Chanel?” Bonya said to her 9.3 million followers, standing in a sun-dappled balcony before slicing a black leather purse in half and flinging it emphatically out of frame. Much of this rhetoric has been parroted by Putin himself, claiming penalties were being put in place irregardless of the war in Ukraine, with the sole purpose of suffocating “the development of Russia… just because we exist”. 

That kind of inflammatory conjecture has been reflected back by the likes of Kalashnikova, who said Chanel’s actions were “supporting fascism” and Elvina Borovkova, a 24-year-old social media star, who said it was impossible that Russian soldiers could be raping Ukrainian women because “Russian women are the most beautiful women in the world”. “Do you really think they need Ukrainian women? It’s scary to even touch them, full of venereal diseases,” she said in a now-viral video.

As a French company, Chanel has agreed to comply with the European Union’s export ban on luxury goods. But beyond closing its Russian boutiques and complying with EU-regulated trade sanction laws, Chanel is also one of many luxury brands that have been screening shoppers, with some customers reporting that they have been asked to sign a document stating that they will not take their purchases to Russia. Given the atrocities that the Kremlin continues to inflict onto Ukrainian citizens, the “protest” and “plight” of these influencers rings dissonant.

This kind of act has been employed as protest before, like when people removed the Swoosh from their Nike clothes and destroyed sneakers in reaction to Colin Kaepernick’s Nike campaign. As journalist Tim Blanks noted, these individuals seem “too busy chopping up her handbag to protest the chopping up of innocent men, women and children in Ukraine. The Putinistas, both in Russia and in the West (that’s you, fucking Tucker), coughing up their fur balls of faux rage from their pinnacles of privilege, are truly the most execrable examples of the species.”