– As spoken to James Underdown
Chanel Joan Elkayam, the young fashion designer who conducted a show titled as ‘Nonna‘ at Milan Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2018 is not just notable because she is the mere age of 20. Normally in an industry it usually requires years of unpaid internships and endless shadowing to achieve in the half of the position where Chanel is now. She is the youngest person to show at the four major fashion weeks. A remarkable feat for anyone, let alone someone who is barely out of their heady teenage years and is still studying Womenswear at Central Saint Martins.
Although her achievements are remarkable, there was certainly nothing remarkable about this late February day in Milan. Overcast and persistently drizzling. Milan has a reputation for being a scenic city, however just like the fashion hubs of Paris and London it struggles to fulfill this when the sun is not shining down on the city’s spider web of avenues and renaissance architecture.
The show in Milan Fashion Week, which is entitled Nonna (“grandmother” in Italian), was inspired by Elkayam’s grandmother who passed away in May of last year. She was forced to flee Tripoli in the 1940s due to the fear of fascism and the antisemitism imposed by Mussolini and Hitler during the Second World War.
There was a big crowd of press, fashion bloggers and photographers in the conference room, which was molded into an area that fit for a fashion show in the Enterprise Hotel. Four sets of three rows of chairs had arranged which seemed to be two runways. The overall theme of this design was completely clinical; regardless, the audience had doubled since her last show over a year ago at London Fashion Week. A beautiful music was the signal of the starting of the show and the first look came out from backstage.
Chanel said about her showcase in the city and to have been on the official schedule, “It was crazy, it still hasn’t sunk in, I literally cried, when the guy emailed and said I’d been put on the schedule. I couldn’t believe that my first independent show got put on the official schedule, I looked and then saw my name next to the huge designers; Prada, Gucci and Moschino.”
Chanel explained about her tailored business wear – simple white shirts and pleated flared trousers. She said, “I really enjoyed tailoring this collection. We had a tailoring project at university that I got really into. I like couture, but I also enjoy business wear. I want to experiment with it a little bit more, you can do anything with it.”
She spoke about a skirt on one outfit and a jacket on the next made from the same spiral print fabric, “In some way this fabric reminded me of my grandmother’s house. The rugs.” There was a personable glimmer of emotion as she spoke. “The fabric was not a fabric though; It was a sofa fabric, it was so thick, my sewing machine needle broke about 15 times!”
“I still focus on the female form as it’s part of my aesthetic, but there were a lot of trousers with wide legs and some drapery in this collection, quite complicated drapes. More experimenting this season, but again still highlighting the female form.”
Chanel mentioned the inspiration was intrigued by the trousers. “When my grandmother was growing up, the men had quite baggy trousers that they would have to tuck into their knee high boots, it made a quite interesting shape. I looked at it and thought it would be interesting to take that shape but make it into a women’s wear trouser. I ended up making three different styles.”
Two of the looks that followed were deconstructed in their design. Elkayam informed about her creation. “It’s a collar and a lapel, so it’s more like a front of a jacket but I have done it as a sleeve and on the legs. Using the collars and lapels in places that they wouldn’t usually be used. I was experimenting with the cuts a lot to make the collection really unique.”
The show Nonna had 30 different and unique looks in total. The general atmosphere of the show stepped up a gear in the second half. The music, titled Jerusalem of Gold, entered a crescendo. The designs switched from business wear to elegant dresses, in all manner of shapes, many of which audiences had never seen the like of from Elkayam.
The main attraction of the show was a wedding dress in white satin, with tulle straps covering the models chest, tied in a bow at the back. It wasn’t the first wedding dress we have seen from the young designer, her show in London featured one as a finale look. She opened about that, “In every collection I tell a story. This collection was based on my grandmother’s life story and the years she lived in, so inevitably there would be some bridal there. What kept the Jewish people going through these tough times was actually their belief. So there is also this sense of purity and spirituality throughout the collection whilst in my London collection it was more because Vera Brittain was never married due to losing her fiancé in the war.”
Religion was a recognisable theme through the closing stages of Nonna. A decidedly papal oversized dress with gold trim on the back that she was inspired by a Jewish Kapota coat.
The couture floor length navy dress signaled the end of this year’s collection. As nuance is a forte of Elkayam it should have come as little surprise that, as the model walked passed audience members leaned out of their seats to see what was on the back of the dress, some gasping in shock.
In Elkayam’s Israeli heritage, the straps on the back of the dress were in the shape of the Star of David which was something that she has never shied away from. “It is really important to me. In this collection especially, because I wouldn’t be alive right now if my grandmother had not ran away to Israel. In this collection it was very important to show all these symbolic things.”
Chanel spoke about her models, “It is really important, also from a point of view of my brand, I want to show that it is suitable for everyone. There was a bald girl, black, Asian, mixed race, white, Polish, Latvian, South African; literally they flew from everywhere for this show. It is really important; I do that every show and I will continue to do that. I make sure of it. Other designers only have white girls that all look the same with no variety what so ever.”
It would seem cliché to label Chanel Joan Elkayam as a rising star in the world of fashion, but after becoming the youngest designer to show at the four largest fashion weeks, one cliché can be forgiven and all can watch this young talent flourish.
More unique collections are below:
– As spoken to James Underdown.