Julia Ferrar profiles Chanel Joan Elkayam, the young dynamo who recently showed her latest collection at London Fashion Week.
Chanel Joan Elkayam has known that she wanted to be a designer since childhood – an upbringing spent leafing through fashion books and dreaming of an education at Central Saint Martins from the rural refuge of the Peak District. Now in her first year at this renowned catalyst of creativity, Central Saint Martins, she credits the challenges of her course, the guidance of her tutors and the inspiration of her friends with her growth as a designer.
First attending the CSM open day aged just 12, she launched her own line a short four years later. At age 18 she had already shown collections at PFW and NYFW and became the youngest yet to do so. An unstoppable tour-de-force it seems, she counts The John Carter Award, Young Designer of the Year and International Designer of the Year among her recent accolades. As she prepares to add an accessories collection to her repertoire, the timeless silhouettes and hand-embellished detailing of her eponymous collections continue to define the sophisticated simplicity of her wearable couture.
We caught up with Chanel to talk about her first year at CSM, her much anticipated AW17 show and how her mother’s support helped make it all happen.
The Fashion Conversation: You launched your first collection at 16, what did this involve? And what were your motivations for doing so?
Chanel Joan Elkayam: When I was 16, I recall asking my mum if I had to do a degree before starting my own clothing line. She told me that if I felt that I was ready for it then I should do it – so I did! I had made all the garments for the collection myself (I still do). The first collection consisted of 35 outfits – I organised the show myself and received such positive feedback from the press, media and bloggers invited. At the time I only knew only three makeup artists and two hair stylists – their daughters and my friends modelled for the show! Since then, I have connected with so many people in the fashion industry and now my network is global. Launching a collection at 16, whilst studying for my A levels, was not that easy. But I knew that the hard work and focus on what I am doing is the key to fulfilling my dream.
TFC: You’ve mentioned your mum is a huge support to you and very encouraging of your dreams, can you tell us more about your amazing mum?
CJE: Of course she is a great support! I couldn’t have done all this without her. She is always there to guide me and encourage me to believe in myself. She says, ‘If you believe in yourself then others will believe in you’ and reminds me that I can do anything I want to do, as long as I put my mind to it. My mum likes fashion; She knows what’s right and what’s not. I think you could call her a critic! She gives me an honest opinion and good advice to follow. Her own life also inspires me in a way – she’s done everything she wanted to do in life. She studied law, used to be a journalist in the Middle East and also used to be a Detective. She was never bothered with what people thought of her choices or actions.
TFC: Can you please share your experiences of your first year at Central Saint Martins? What are some of the highlights? What are some of the most important things you have learnt so far?
CJE: My experiences in my first year at CSM have been very interesting! I have enjoyed mixing with people from different cultures and backgrounds. During my time at Saint Martins these people have even been one of my on-going sources of inspiration for my own work. The most important thing that I have learnt at Saint Martin’s is to not ‘think outside the box’, but to think that ‘there is no box’.
TFC: Who are your teachers and how are they challenging your design practice? Are they changing the way you work in any way?
CJE: My teacher is Sue Foulston and Marcus is my pattern-cutting teacher. We also have the most amazing technicians – my favourite is Arli! My teachers are open-minded, which has allowed me to develop my work to a much greater level. Of course I would expect challenges while I am studying in such a prestigious university and I am up for it! I like the challenge. It makes me a better designer.
TFC: Can you please tell us more about CSM’s The White Show and your white cotton and organza creation that created the illusion of a monster? What was the inspiration behind your piece?
CJE: I chose ‘traditional borderlines’ from the project brief and focused on a subtheme of my subconscious. My idea began when I was researching the meaning of the word ‘tradition’ – ‘something which is passed down from generation to generation’. This made me think about fear as something passed down from generation to generation in a psychological way. As babies we don’t really know what fear is, until our parents react to something and show us fear. I started going deeper into my idea of fear in my subconscious mind and how, when I was little, I was afraid of shadows and thought that they were monsters. I took photographs of my own shadows, experimenting to create different silhouettes; they all seemed to have this odd fuzzed texture around the shadow which I found quite interesting. I created a simple silhouette that perfectly encapsulated my idea – a vision of ‘my monster’. The front of the garment was cotton and the back was a transparent white organza with a fuzzed texture; I also frayed organza together with white chiffon to place around the silhouette. I wanted to give the impression that there was a ‘monster’ coming towards the audience and then, as my model passed, you could see her entire body from the back and realise, ‘Oh, it’s only a person’ and nothing to be afraid of.
TFC: You’ve recently shown your latest AW17 collection at London Fashion Week (we loved the show!), can you tell us more about the inspiration behind your latest collection?
CJE: For this season’s AW17 collection, ‘La Sola Rosa’, I was inspired by the British writer and poet Vera Britain and her experiences of heart-breaking love and loss during the time of World War One. Her fiancé, Roland who was called to war, gave her a single rose at the train station on the last day they had seen each other. My concept comes from the idea of lost love in the midst of war and the emotions portrayed during this time. Emotion and power is something that is very important throughout all my concepts. I will also be launching ‘Saftah Gamilah’ – my first line of bags and belts – inspired by my grandmother.
TFC: You’ve achieved so much in your first two decades! What are you goals for the future?
CJE: I am very keen to do an MA and as well as a PHD. My goals for the future are to sell in high-end shops such as Harrods and Bergdorf Goodmans and to one day dress the world’s most iconic women.
Photoshoot name: Down-town
Photography: Robert John Pearson
Clothing: Chanel Joan Elkayam SS17 collection
Makeup: Jeremy Gatzert
Model: Lisa Rumbalski
About Julia Ferrar
After studying literature at UCL, Julia spent an all-too-fleeting few months savouring the je ne sais quoi of Paris before returning to London where she now works with MATCHESFASHION.COM and indulges her propensities for Virginia Woolf, Jacquemus and the colour navy.