Double C’s: Black Women & Their Connection To Chanel
“Now here’s a little story I gots to tell, ‘Bout the first rap b***h to rock Chanel” — Lil’ Kim. The famed French house was established by Coco Chanel in 1910 and has since had a very recognizable brand ethos. Karl Lagerfeld became the house’s Creative Director in 1983, helming the brand until his passing. With this year’s Met Gala & exhibition centering on the work of Lagerfeld, we’re sure to see a lot of archival Chanel both on the red carpet and included in the exhibition. The brand has never really been synonymous with diversity and inclusion. Just in December 2022, the luxury brand held its Métiers d’art collection in Dakar, Senegal, for the first time ever and In 2018, Alton Mason made history as the first Black male model to walk a Chanel runway show.
And even with all of that, there’s a rich connection to Chanel, with Black women, in particular. Many women can recall their first experience seeing those interlocking c’s. Walking into a store with their mothers, watching an auntie put on a double C earring or brooch, or maybe seeing Lil’ Kim’s paparazzi photos in full Chanel looks and that infamous Dionne Alexander-designed Chanel monogram wig — all these experiences have built the majority of Black women’s love and connection to the Maison.PARIS, FRANCE – MARCH 04:Singer Rihanna attends the Chanel show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Fall/Winter 2014-2015 on March 4, 2014 in Paris, France.(Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images)
22-year-old photographer Sophia Wilson‘s first experience with Chanel was through her mom’s slight obsession with the brand, from scarves to bags and other accessories. “My first Chanel piece was my mom’s scarf she got many years ago. I still wear it a lot as a bandana, she gave it to me when I was maybe in the 8th grade.”PARIS, FRANCE – MARCH 05: Janelle Monae attends the Chanel show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Fall/Winter 2019/2020on March 05, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
This past week Chanel was also at the center of one of the most talked about weddings of the year; Sophia Richie’s glamourous South of France fête. The model/socialite donned three costume couture dresses designed by the Atelier. Not too far from the south of France, In Milan, studying abroad back in 2019 (around the time of Lagerfeld’s passing), fashion journalist India Espy reflected on his creative direction for the brand, which moved her. “I feel like the memory of sorrow at his final show with these icicle cold coats was really important to view. The first time I really paid close attention to Chanel was their Haute Couture shows from the ’90s; however, the most impactful memory of Chanel would be Karl Lagerfeld’s final show presented after his death.”
Fashion historian Channél Jordan learned of the fashion house at a very young age in tandem with her name. “I fell in love with the French language, fashion, and fashion history after learning that my mom named me after Chanel No.5, her favorite perfume.” Channél’s story is one we all can somehow relate to. We all have a Chanel story, connection, or obsession. Model Arielle Van-Mballa remembers her grandmother’s comforting smell of Chanel No.5, “My grandmother and Aunt Balbine wore Chanel No.5 exclusively growing up. The smell still makes me tear up.”
My own experience was seeing Chanel fragrances and makeup in our local Macy’s. You could tell these things were definitely really expensive because my mom told me not to touch them. I, of course, did anyway and, luckily, never broke anything. I also saw the bottle and smelled the soft sweetness of Chanel No.5. Then I’d grow up a bit in adolescence and start frivolously shopping online, and I would come across Chanel quilted bags and covet one for years.PARIS, FRANCE – OCTOBER: A model walks the runway during the Chanel Ready to Wear show as part of Paris Fashion Week Spring/Summer 1990-1991 in October, 1990 in Paris, France. (Photo by Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
TikToker and vintage Chanel collector Phia Dennis says, “I would watch Karl Lagerfeld runway shows from the 90s and scour the internet to find vintage Chanel pieces. I mainly started with their costume jewelry and accessories. Now I’m constantly looking for just about anything.” Today Chanel accessoriesand leather goods are just as coveatable (even with the ridicolous price increase).@phialikesophia ♬ original sound – Nelly Dior
Many Black women who loved Lil’ Kim saw her love of the brand and began to fall in love themselves. She doesn’t get the flowers she deserves in terms of crafting and influencing the way we wear luxury. Going even further than that, she showed that Black women deserve luxury. We saw her in Chanel gowns, two-piece ensembles, and jewelry on many red carpets. All these looks were created by iconic stylist Misa Hylton. Lil’ Kim introduced many Black women to Chanel, and I am forever grateful that someone showed us we deserve it.UNITED STATES – CIRCA 2000:A ski-suited Li’l Kim is on hand for the party at opening of the Chanel SoHo store on Spring St.(Photo by Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
When Willow Smith’s ad and ambassadorship for Chanel came out in 2016, it was a real shifting moment, and for it to happen pre-2020 is something to note. A Black girl, an alternative Black girl at that, with locs as the face of a French fashion house, was unheard of. She was only 15 then, and even she knew this moment’s weight and impact. She said to Harper’s Bazaar, “I know a lot of girls that look like me feel that they’re not beautiful and feel like they don’t have a place in the media or a place in the world,” she continued. “I want them to know that’s not true, and if you’re confident and you love yourself, then everything you see, your perception, will start to change, and you’ll see things differently. I want to show those girls that might not think they’re beautiful, but they are.”TOPICS: #fashionnews Chanel
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