An unidentified woman from the audience joins the models for the final walk of Chanel Spring/Summer 2020 women's ready-to-wear collection show during the Paris Fashion Week in Paris, France, October 1, 2019. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes Image Credit: REUTERS

For the fashion commentariat, the front row used to be everything. But these days, if you have something to say, you’re better off infiltrating the runway itself.

That was the thought of Marie Benoliel, a 28-year-old professional gate-crasher who clambered onto the catwalk at the Chanel show in Paris on Monday only to find herself in a confrontation with model Gigi Hadid. In an interview, Benoliel, who prefers to go by her stage name Marie S’Infiltre, explained her intention: to have fun.

“It goes too far to take seriously something that is not serious,” she said of the fashion world. “We’re talking about clothing. It has to be joyful; it has to be funny; it has to make people happy. And I think nowadays fashion doesn’t make people happy. It makes people ridiculous and pretentious.”

(Chanel was the second show she crashed over the course of this fashion week. Etam, a French lingerie brand, was first.)

For the stunt, Benoliel borrowed a Chanel suit that her mother had purchased in 1986 “with her first salary, because she’s a fashion addict,” she said.

Lacking an invitation, which unknown guests are typically compelled to produce at the entrance, she waited until it was as busy as possible. Three times, she was turned away. She almost gave up but decided to try one more gatekeeper and acted as stressed out as she possibly could. She was let in, along with a friend, Elena, who just wanted to watch the show.

“I’m really used to lying,” Benoliel said. “It’s part of my work.”

Once close to the catwalk, surrounded by fashion editors and a smattering of famous people including Cardi B, Sting and Anna Wintour, she hesitated. Then, as the end of the show appeared imminent, she thought “why not.” Benoliel walked as slowly as possible to the front, then made a dash and climbed up to the catwalk. There was a momentary disruption, but she soon fell in line. Her houndstooth suit fit seamlessly enough into the show’s aesthetic that apparently even security guards had trouble identifying her as an impostor. (Tweed suits have long been a Chanel runway staple.)

Her intention was to take out a cigarette and smoke it, until Hadid stepped in and pulled her aside, leading her offstage.

“She was rude,” the prankster said. “Then, after, there were three models that wanted to fight. I didn’t understand why she was like this, so aggressive. Of course she doesn’t know me. I can understand that she wanted to protect her friends.”

She added: “I think it’s really funny, and I love Gigi, and I think now we can be close friends. She thought I was a crazy girl. But she’s right. She’s right actually.”

Chanel offered a statement: “This person is a comedian known for this type of prank. She had crashed another runway recently. Her presence on the catwalk was not planned.”

Benoliel was not the first person this fashion season to use the runway as a metaphorical platform. During Milan Fashion Week, model Ayesha Tan Jones, who identifies as nonbinary, staged a silent protest while walking for Gucci, holding their palms up with the phrase “mental health is not fashion” scrawled in marker. (The show featured several models wearing straitjackets.)

It is not easy to sneak into a fashion show, said Dan Mathews, senior vice president of PETA.

“We’ve crashed dozens of shows; there’s a whole routine,” he said. “We decide in advance, like ‘Are we going to hit the runway after the seventh model?’ It’s very planned out.”

Mathews, who once dressed as a priest to get into a fashion show, said sneaking in usually involves planning a week in advance and compared it to “a 007 operation.”

He noted that PETA’s motivation in crashing the runway is to publicise animal rights, while runway crashers today seemed more intent on drawing attention to themselves.

Benoliel, who studied at the The Paris Institute of Political Studies and who in 2017 infiltrated a rally for far-right leader Marine Le Pen, said she is not a moralist.

“I hate people who say ‘you’re good; you’re bad,’” she said. “I don’t care about this.”

With a following of 231,000 subscribers on YouTube and 219,000 followers on Instagram, Marie S’Infiltre is moderately well-known. She gained a surge of attention after the stunt but seemed most excited about the act itself.

“I’m not going to tell you it’s something that makes me more powerful,” she said. “Chanel is of course the most prestigious brand. I wanted to get inside the show to put my little touch to say ‘Yeah this is important; this is art, but we can be joyful.’”

She added, “I look like a grandma with the suit, but I don’t care, it’s Chanel,” addressing her outfit. “Bye bye, Lily Rose. Bye bye, Cara Delevingne. I’m here.”