Chanel’s Métiers d’Art 2022/23 Show Makes History in Senegal

The French maison’s inaugural runway show in Africa spotlights the rare talents of its specialist artisans and kicks off a major partnership to mentor Senegalese craftspeople.

Photography by Malick Bodian with Ibrahim Kamara, courtesy of Chanel

Though it exists outside the typical fashion calendar, Chanel’s Métiers d’Art is always a highlight of the sartorial circuit. The annual event transcends the typical runway show by recognizing the craftspeople taken under the French label’s wings at Paris’s new Le19M building, the residence of Chanel’s artisans, putting the rare manufacturing skills involved in embroidery, shoe-making, millinery, featherwork, and pleating on full display in an ultra-exclusive setting. Invites are rare, and Chanel ambassador Kristen Stewart was the only guest during the 2020 show at the 16th-century Château de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley, in accordance with France’s social distancing rules. 

The itinerant show has traveled to Shanghai, Tokyo, and Monte Carlo in the past, but this year touched down in Dakar fresh off the heels of the Senegalese capital’s 20th annual fashion week. It marks both Chanel’s inaugural runway outing on African soil and a headlining moment for the country’s thriving fashion industry, which has produced labels like Tongoro, Diarrablu, and Adama Paris, helmed by Dakar Fashion Week founder Adama Ndiaye. In an announcement, Chanel explained how the savoir-faire of its Métiers d’Art aims to “resonate with the artistic and cultural energy of the city.” So it’s fitting the house staged the show in the former Palais de Justice—a historic backdrop that hosted this year’s Dakar Biennale—and opened with a Dmitri Chamblas–choreographed dance from the local Ecole des Sables.

Images courtesy of Chanel

For those who couldn’t attend, the campaign more than does the collection justice. Shot by Senegalese photographer Malick Bodian and Sierra Leone–born editor Ibrahim Kamara, it sees models Alaato Jazyper and Loli Bahia flaunting the garments near the River Seine in Paris. Among the highlights: a floral-embroidered jacket by Montex, a Lesage tweed sweatshirt festooned with camellias by flower-maker Lemarié, and a pleated skirt by Lognon. Creative director Virginie Viard drew inspiration from the unbound energy and jubilant femininity of the “pop-soul-funk-disco-punk” of the 1970s, according to the show notes. “It’s this human and warm dimension that motivates my work and that I try to re-transcribe,” she says. “I put all my soul into it. These marvelous encounters from which artistic adventures like this one are born—that’s what drives me.”

Chanel had been contemplating its entry into Africa for years, according to the brand’s president of fashion Bruno Pavlovsky. He recalls a conversation in Japan where brand ambassador Pharrell Williams urged then-creative director Karl Lagerfeld to consider the idea. “I was intimidated to ask because I don’t think a fashion house had been to that part of Africa before,” Williams said during a Chanel “master class” this past month after the brand’s Cruise 2023 Replica show in Miami. The pandemic delayed those plans, as did Lagerfeld’s passing, but it seems worth the wait. Métiers d’Art anchored a three-day culture festival uniting local talent across music, film, and art. In January, Chanel will return to Dakar for a program focusing on collaborations with local embroiderers and craftspeople, which will inform an exhibition hosted by the brand back in Paris.

The elephant in the room, of course, is how to reckon with France’s former occupation of Senegal—and with the reality that Chanel has no stores, meaningful business, or individual history on the continent. The fashion industry’s recent diversity missteps could also make for tricky optics if the show went awry, but Chanel seems to have pulled it off without a hitch. “This Chanel passage will not be a one-hit wonder or an opportunistic project to feed the Western fashion houses with Africa’s massive aesthetic capital,” Oumy Diaw, a curator who attended the show, told the New York Times.

Pharrell seems to agree. “It’s not lost on them that this was once a French colony,” he said. “To come there and do the exact opposite of colonization was interesting. Because it’s not just coming there to do a show. It’s actually providing so many partnerships. That’s unprecedented.”

All Stories