Chanel Joan Elkayam presents her 2017 Autumn/Winter collection at London Fashion Week.
See below for the full article by James Underdown.
Showing at Hoxton Arches in East London, Chanel Joan Elkayam embraced a brutally urbanised runway. Harsh flood lighting illuminated the small space from above and floor lights mapped out the runway on the grey concrete floor. The whole set-up was very industrial, definitely a departure from the traditional – more conservative – look and feel of Chanel Joan Elkayam’s previous runways. The audience was varied, including fashion students begrudgingly moving from the front row when asked by security, a range of journalists scribbling notes from the moment they sat down, and supporters of the designer. From the moment everyone stepped inside, music filled the Hoxton Arch, starting off with what can only be described as a forgotten and out dated Eurovision number. As time progressed, however, the general vibe of the music shifted. As the beginning of the show was fast approaching, it was heralded by a beat reminiscent of a sweaty basement in Dalston rather than the Euro-pop barely ten minutes ago.
The show, titled La Sola Rosa began with a single petite ballet dancer, walking the runway on pointe, a red rose held in her hands. This, almost gratuitous display, was complete with arabesques, chassé and an impressive jeté to travel the length of the runway. Certainly an artistic and unique choice to open a show while also giving the photographers, journalists and fashion students ample time to prepare. Cameras were focused with an electric buzz, like a swarm of insects, while notebooks were opened and pens tested for the umpteenth time.
At only 19 years old Chanel Joan Elkayam, initialised as CJE for the brand’s monogram, has already showcased at several international Fashion Weeks; ranging from Manchester to New York last season – where she was the youngest designer to have ever shown – continuing with her most recent collection in London for AW17. It is not only her tender age that makes these achievements exceptionally impressive, but also the fact that she is also juggling the commitments of studying at Central Saint Martins – a college which has produced such prestige as Alexander McQueen and John Galliano.
Chanel cites poet Vera Brittain and her experiences of loss during World War I as her inspiration. Specifically focusing on the single rose that was given to Brittain by her fiancé Roland on the final day they saw each other. It is a token theme that is continuously visible throughout the whole collection, with each model walking out with a singular red rose. It is this understanding of thematics and a competent understanding of both fashion and cultural history that sets apart CJE from other young designer striving for success in the industry.
Serval days after the show, I spoke to Chanel to gain a deeper insight into the creative process. She perched opposite me on benches that looked across the imposing mass of grey concrete that makes up the majority of the Saint Martins building at Kings Cross, she seemed grounded and unpretentious. Especially when compared to her uber-hipster trendsetting peers. She is dressed modestly but in no way unfashionable in all black with a fleece jacket to ward off the bitter chill still lingering in the February air. John Lennon’s Imagine is being played on the grand piano on the ground floor.
Discussing her AW17 show, she talks about her many influences from various periods. The first look that she sent down the runway that day was traditional and safe, a clean cut black two piece paired with a white blouse, reminiscent of Balenciaga’s white and blue affair recently featured. The cropped jacket and the high-waisted skirt, could almost be considered formal workwear. However, small details such as the buttoned slit on the back of the skirt reminded us that while CJE may produce elegance, she can incorporate the edge that is necessary to set her apart from her peers. While also being equally reminiscent of many of Chanel’s Saint Martins alumni.
Almost medieval in construction, an exaggerated leather whale bone corset quite literally tied together the second outfit. Not only did it shape the waist but also extend from the model beneath her arms and on her hips, creating a daring silhouette that invokes images of Renaissance notoriety wearing panniers under opulent dresses. It is apparent that, although not even out of her teenage years, Chanel has a keen eye for fashion and the correct application of such trends. The corset and waist trainer has been a staple accessory for many seasons now, favoured by the Kardashian family for its ability to give curves and an hourglass figure. It has gone from a taboo subject, something that remained hidden, to a celebrated accessory. The corset entered high fashion through international fashion weeks, cropping up in recent shows by Prada, Moschino and Isabel Marant.
The corset itself had its own challenges associated with it. “I needed a special pattern of course. It was actually really difficult to get the corset to actually stand so the pattern was quite complicated. As simple as it looks, it was difficult to make it go in the way I wanted it to. It took a few tries! It came out really well in the end, exactly how I wanted,” Chanel said. There was a sense of pride and accomplishment in the way she spoke.
Next, she revisits a series of dresses that came out onto the runway during her show. A sleeved black lace number with delicate detailing on the scoop neckline, the hem hit a few inches above the knee to create a look that was both sophisticated and alluring, without being vulgar. In the same colour scheme, a below the knee body-con dress was paired with impressive six inch heels and a sleeveless patterned bolero. The jacket in question was rounded on the shoulders and extended out over the model’s arms. The result of this was an incredibly strong and powerful silhouette. This empowerment of the female form sets Chanel apart from industry colleagues and fellow aspiring designers.
“I love the female form! I think it’s so important when dressing a woman to actually understand the body,” she announced smiling with glee. “I try to add little details that emphasize the female body and how beautiful it is, for example, the black strapless dress that was very simple but it had a red asymmetric line going from the top to bottom.”
The show continued in much the zest as before, elegant, sophisticated and tasteful. All the models carried a single rose, adorned in clothing that continued with the same momentum as before, dressed in fashionable, edgy and empowering looks. It is becoming ever more clear that Chanel understands the female figure, garment shaping, but also what women want to wear. A trait that is fundamental when the consumer is your main critic.
A backless evening gown, with a floor length, almost sheer skirt and lace panel, held up by thin straps on the reverse, covering the model’s chest hit the runway. Her hair was in a tight chignon, creating a look not dissimilar to the styling seen during Paris’ Haute Couture Fashion Week. This was followed by a Grecian-esque dress, in draped red chiffon. Dropped sleeves opened up the shoulders, while a choker around the model’s neck held the garment up. The movement and flow of this particular dress most definitely concreted the belief that Chanel cannot only produce outfits on a dress form, but also looks that a visually dynamic while being worn. When discussing what makes the young designer stand out from the hoards of others, she even cites this wearability as a factor.
“They’re still wearable, but they have a bit of CSM in them. Wearable but with that bit of imagination, it’s not just a shirt, it’s not just a jacket, it’s got something special to it. At the end of the day clothes are made to be worn,” she said while feeling the texture my notebooks ribbon page marker. She later told me she loves holding and touching almost all and any fabric within her reach.
This collection also included the debut of leatherwear accessories to the CJE consortium. When asked about the concept behind it, Chanel mentioned her family as the source. Describing her grandmother’s shopping bag and the reusable nature of such an item. “It was this idea of my grandma having her shopping bag and how nice it would be to have this really nice bag, that you can take to Waitrose or Tesco and just put stuff in and go home.”
Continuing on to talk about the range of leather featured, she mentioned using crocodile leather, cow leather and lamb’s leather. Also stating that one of the objectives of featuring the bags was to bring leather back. “I feel now, leather isn’t used as much, people are going off it,” she said.
La Sola Rosa closed the show in silence, punctuated only by the final look, nothing more than a conservative white dress. It signalled a separation from the previous attire featured, all of which were very on trend: chokers, corsetry high waisted trousers and oversized tops alike. I enquired about the choice to close the show in this way.
“The reason why that was the finale dress was because Vera Brittain never got married. It’s the story of the heart broken bride to be. She never became a bride because on her wedding day she got a phone call – while waiting to get married to Roland – saying he’d died in the battle. When the music stopped, and the model walked in complete silence, it was about creating that wow impactful moment. Then the music only started when she went back. I tried to build it up, the rest of the collection was more ready to wear, but then, the finale was the conceptual side. It was the separation I wanted, to capture the emotion of the moment.”
Chanel herself proceeded to reveal herself from back stage. The audience applauded as she posed for a brief moment, the photographers snapped up their shots of the young designer. It would be easy to forget that the creative direction behind CJE is someone who isn’t even out of her heady teenage years. The maturity of her designs far exceeds what one would expect from a first year fashion student, and it is this proficiency and determination that should propel Chanel to success.
“In a year, I hope to show in Milan,” she tells me. Further in the future, Chanel has set her sights on concessions and her own boutiques, “I hope to be soon selling in Bergdorf Goodman or Harrods. In ten years, I would like to have my own stores across the world.”
Although we all consume fashion in one way or another, it is still one of the most brutal practices of the arts. Only the people who have it in their blood can make it to the top.
When asked to describe what fashion meant to her in one word, she simply said, with a glint in her eye, “life – I could not see the world without fashion, what would we do, I’d be like a plumber!”