DECEMBER 9, 2022
Chanel in Dakar: A RELEVANT Oxymoron
My Sentiments as a Senegalese Woman on this Bold Initiative
I landed in Dakar last week to showcase our Resort 23 collection for Dakar Fashion Week and attend the historic Chanel 2023/23 Métiers d’Art show.
A Cultural Dichotomy
When I heard last Spring that Chanel would present its 2022/23 Metiers d’Arts collection in Africa for the very first time, I was excited but also very skeptical. I questioned the intentionality behind this work and was very curious about how it would be executed in a culturally sensitive and respectful manner given the heavy historic power structures between France and Senegal.
My Initial Sentiment as a Senegalese yet Global Citizen
To better explain my initial conflicted feelings about this show, I need to step back and share the life experiences that shaped my eclectic identity as a proud Senegalese and global citizen. I was born and raised in Dakar, Senegal. My dad is Wolof, from the Baol, a region known for farming and craftsmanship and my mom is half Serere and grew up in Medina, the city’s fashion neighborhood. I went to a private French catholic school and learned very early on the importance of code switching between a muslim, wolof household and a catholic, french schooling system. I did ballet for 7 years while also learning traditional Senegalese dance styles like Sabaar. I was raised to not just exist as a Senegalese woman, but to thrive and celebrate this rich identity while being curious about the world. I have now been living in Silicon Valley since I completed my Master’s in Math Education at Stanford in 2018 and I travel back and forth between my native Dakar and San Francisco while aiming to carefully merge tradition and technology to propel my artisan identity through the ethical design and manufacturing of our collections in Dakar. My mom manages the Dakar studio and themes around celebrating our African identity and culture are paramount in my work.
As soon as I saw Maman when I landed in Dakar last week, she asked ‘Wa Diarra, collection bi foumou toll’ ? Wolof for what’s the status of the next collection. As I pulled samples from my suitcase, she rushed to grab 6 different pairs of high heels and matching purses, started a Youssou Ndour playlist and went on a 2 hour-long fit session while asking us to document it all with photos and videos so she could celebrate herself. She is 60 and this is totally normal because she is Senegalese! Here, Design and style is not what we do, it is who we are!
The Significance of Fashion Identity in Senegal
The following day, I presented my Resort collection im historic Goree island for the 20th anniversary of Dakar Fashion Week. This incredible initiative started by Adama Paris has been gathering the best designers on the continent and was a major catalyst for a global interest in the Senegalese fashion scene.
So as the Chanel show approached, I really wondered how they could capture our already existing rich fashion spirit. How would they enter Dakar with grace, respect, tact and curiosity and not impose or attempt to erase like Europe did to us over and over through history.
A Thoughtful Invitation
I started to feel fuzzy and warm inside when I received my invitation. I always watched influencers and celebrities share theirs online and expected something similar, but this was different. Chanel included thoughtful elements that sparked my curiosity about my own Dakar, notably a thoughtfully written Dakar book, a beautiful gold necklace with their iconic logo and a map of Africa and a printed Chanel scarf.
I dived right into the book and that’s when I started to understand the scale of this project. Chanel did not come to Dakar to showcase a collection and rack up some sales. The average price of a single Chanel bag is over 5x our GDP per capita! They came here to tell a story, to collaborate, to learn, to share and to celebrate and it was executed so beautifully!
As I flipped through the pages of the Dakar book, I learned about Chanel’s work with l’ecole des sables, a dance institute in Senegal where French choreographer Dimitri Chamblas spent time to learn about the depth of our dance culture. I discovered Chanel’s voyage in the Thies region where they learned about Senegal’s traditional tapestry and shared the story of our craftsmanship from the asset based lens it deserves. I marveled at the Dakar editorial, shot on Senegalese models in the middle of marche Sandaga, wearing Chanel tweed jackets and typical Senegalese moussors (headwraps) bought at the street market. The images, styled by Jenke Ahmed Tailly and photographed by Malick Bodian were a beautiful marriage of two cultures where respect and celebration is the basis before any beauty can emanate. I teared up, remembering the troubled history of Senegal, french colonialisation, slavery and complicated dynamics of power and this book gave me hope that we can in fact write a different future, where we are enough, worthy, valid and respected in just who we are. The moussor on the tweed jacket, elevated the look, and that’s how I see Dakar, Senegal and Africa! Our culture elevates everything. In a conscious, magical way, that requires a certain understanding of our past to grasp.
Dakar Street Style Made a Statement
After better understanding the intention behind this show, my heart felt ease and peace and walking into the Palais de la Justice to watch the show on Dec 6 felt like an epic moment. For the 2-day event, I wore black and white pieces from our Filun and Luna collections with a jumbo Chanel purse, their gifted blue Chanel scarf and pearl accessories. My looks were pure fire and I felt so good! Dakar’s fashion scene came through with beautiful colors, textures and the raddest energy. The street style photography from this show seriously needs its own event!
The show started with a beautiful musical and dance performance by Senegalese artist Obree Daman. Chants of the words “Salamaleikum Africa”, wolof for “Hello Africa” illuminated a star-studded audience including Naomi Campbell, Pharrell Williams and Edward Enningful among others.
Chanel Weaving Dakar into the Metiers d’Arts Collection
The Chanel Metiers d’Art collection was beautiful, rich, colorful and felt like a natural synergy of maison Chanel and its signature elements such as the iconic tweed, rich embroideries and detailed beaded work with Dakar’s free spirit, vibrant colors and fierce elegance. Over 60 looks were shown and the styling reminded me of Maman’s outfits from the 70s; platform shoes, bell pants, long tops, and iconic turbans usually worn by my aunties.
Ph: Vogue Runway
The most magical moment for me was when in the middle of the show, the amapiano music dropped! I felt goosebumps and started crying as I could no longer contain all the beautiful emotions I was feeling. Here we were, seating in Dakar’s ancien palais de la Justice, a historic monument where black men used to be chained to a dark future and today we were in those very seats, watching the light shine through the beautiful open ceilings, as Chanel muses walked down the runway wearing Dakar as the world watched with pride. What a time to be alive!
Ph: Vogue Business
This show is the beginning of an ongoing dialogue between Senegal and France in terms of training, educational exchanges around craftsmanship between Dakar and Paris and a long term plan to partner with Senegal in responsible, high-quality cotton production for the house.
The following day I attended the presentation of the collection and got to learn even more about the intricate details of every single look.
A Beautiful Approach to Destination Shows
Chanel just paved the way for a new approach to destination shows; one that humanizes the destination and emphasizes the house’s social responsibility in writing a narrative that thoughtfully centers the history, culture and know-how of the places they step into. I hope the industry can learn from this beautiful story.
I shared with French magazine Le Monde my feelings about this event: "Ultimately, Chanel beautifully weaved Dakar into the fabric of this collection while managing the balance between staying true to its design codes Made in France and centering our rich culture, music, and heritage. Out of the 62 models, 19 were Black and 12 were Senegalese. I felt infinite love and so much pride to be Senegalese, African and Black!"