Fashion

Interview With Chanel Joan Elkayam

Chanel Joan Elkayamimg-Photography by Klara Landrat.2_whyttcrop
Photography by Klara Landrat. All clothing and hats by Chanel Joan Elkayam. Earrings by Lovelock jewels.

Chanel Joan Elkayam exudes confidence and humility. She embodies the sophisticated and glamorous style her brand is known for with, an endearing, yet commanding confidence.

Named after the icon Coco Chanel and currently studying BA Womenswear at Central Saint Martins, 22-year-old  showing her first collection at the age of 16 in Manchester. Since then, she has become the youngest designer to show collections at the big four fashion weeks (London, Paris, Milan and New York), all by the age of 20.

Chanel Joan Elkayam’s down to earth disposition and the fact that she makes her own garments, contrasts wonderfully with the fact that she works in such high-end circles, hand embellishing her work with “Swarovski crystals”. The designer made it clear that “it’s not in [her] to be a show-off”, she is “not a different person because of the success”.

Photography by Frank DenisClothing by Chanel Joan Elkayam_whyttmagazine

Photography by Frank Denis, Clothing by Chanel Joan Elkayam, Models Cole woods, Emma sengstock, Danya sarussi, ylfa ros, klara Landrat, Armani Jones, ana peneleva, harriett Russell, zhane jewelle. Hair by Andrew smith salons, Makeup by Charlotte cardwell, Nails by Sarah Poulton team, Styling by leighanne mroczka, Earrings by lovelocks jewels, sarara couture & CM jewellery designs.

Having started her “clothing line before [starting] university”, I wanted to know how Central Saint Martins has impacted her work. Describing the fashion school as “a hub of creativity”, expressing that she has “wanted to go to Central Saint Martins forever” to “absorb the creativity”, whilst not allowing herself to get lost in it.

Chanel Joan Elkayam has a grounded focus on the wearability and relatability of her fashion. She has learned to “take the creativity and make it wearable”. When discussing fashion and its position in relation to art, Chanel Joan Elkayam comments that there’s a “point where art…can be taken a little bit too far, where it’s not fashion anymore it’s art”.

In her words, Chanel Joan Elkayam stated that the brand is about ‘concept’: “I feel like when I’m designing a piece of clothing, I’m designing a character”. Her work centres around the energy and personality of the clothing and what that can do to enhance the person or character the woman wants to be.

CHANEL JOAN ELKAYAM_Chris Chinnock photography

Photography by Chris Chinnock, Clothing and hats by Chanel Joan Elkayam Jewellery by Fair Portia.

Her passion for relatability goes beyond her beautiful clothing. Diversity and inclusion are clear motifs in Chanel Joan Elkayam’s work. She explained that in her first show, she “used her friends as models” so the diversity of the models “happened by accident”. Since then “every single show” has included “diverse models”, most recently Native American Indian models Braydee and Jaylee Cardinal and in 2019 Chanel Joan Elkayam’s show was led by transgender model and activist, Munroe Bergdorf. Whilst discussing the importance of diversity to the fashion industry, Chanel Joan Elkayam explained: “as a designer, I’m showing a collection that I want every single person in the audience to relate to”. To this designer, “diversity is about real women” and people seeing themselves in the clothes, rather than clothing worn by models “that all look exactly the same” and this is something she will continue to champion.

As we discussed Chanel Joan Elkayam’s most recent collection for London Fashion Week, ‘The Thrill of the Forbidden’, the recurring element uncovered was the fact that “it’s a powerful woman that inspired” this collection and her previous work. Most recently Chanel Joan Elkayam has been inspired by the Dutch spy Mata Hari. Chanel explained Hari was “working for three countries and they all didn’t know about each other”, working as “an exotic dancer” and also pretending to be an Indonesian princess. “Her whole life was a character”, playing into Chanel Joan Elkayam’s creative process.

Chanel Joan Elkayam’s most recent collection also has some gender blurring elements. This is influenced by Mata Hari’s dancing and penchant for men in uniform, bringing a “military side” to the collection. So why the study womenswear specifically? Although she feels “you can be more creative with womenswear”, she did add that she’s “getting orders from men” who have been drawn to “the tailored pieces” and the use of “a man’s cut but with a woman’s fabric” in ‘The Thrill of Forbidden’. With this surging interest from male clients the designer has not discounted designing for men in the future.

Photography by Frank DenisClothing by Chanel Joan Elkayam3 _whyttmaga

Photography by Frank Denis, Clothing by Chanel Joan Elkayam, Models Cole woods, Emma sengstock, Danya sarussi, ylfa ros, klara Landrat, Armani Jones, ana peneleva, harriett Russell, zhane jewelle. Hair by Andrew smith salons, Makeup by Charlotte cardwell, Nails by Sarah Poulton team, Styling by leighanne mroczka. Earrings by lovelocks jewels, sarara couture & CM jewellery designs. 

On the issue of sustainability in fashion, the designer expressed that currently “people are pretending to be sustainable but they’re not” instead they’re “playing on the marketing of it”. Whilst Chanel Joan Elkayam believes the world can be sustainable, everyone needs to be genuinely invested to achieve this. For her part, she tries “to make use of every little piece of fabric”, leftovers from The Thrill of the Forbidden are being used “to create shoes for her next collection”.

Beyond fashion, Chanel Joan Elkayam has been involved in charity work from a young age and continues to help charities through her fashion. Three garments she donated in aid of Caudwell Children raised over £15,000 and two tickets to her most recent show raised £10,000 for Child’s i Foundation (all the events were live auctions).

Looking to the future, Chanel Joan Elkayam graduate collection and show have been put on hold due to the current Covid-19 pandemic. Despite this, the designer is “using this time to be creative” and “develop as an artist”. Chanel Joan Elkayam continues to put herself “into every single design” and has confirmed she’s working on her next collection!