Nine months ago, Chanel Alorsan was working full time at an investment firm, suit-stifled and creatively drained. “It was one of the most miserable times of my life”, she admits – a reality no doubt exacerbated by the alien terms of life under the new normal. Fortunately for Chanel however, there was to be a saving grace; a moonlight project, started just months before, designing a range of hand-dyed tights from the confines of a makeshift home studio. Since then, the Chanel Alorsan brand has gone from strength to strength, and its creator is just getting started. Following the launch of her products on AIME Store, Chanel discusses side hustles, the legacies of immigration and the importance of failure.

For someone as interested in the muddy transactions between pigments on fabric as Chanel is, it is hardly surprising to note that her journey in design started not with fashion, but with art. In the grips of lockdown inertia, she explains, “I took the opportunity to play around with different art mediums. I made a few pieces using oil pastels and some drawings using charcoal, before progressing onto oil paint.” Soon after, Chanel began to learn some home truths. “I noticed that I used to always start pieces and never complete them out of fear of failing, so I decided I needed to challenge myself and spent about 60 hours painting “Blue Boy” – a piece inspired by a photograph taken by the Dutch photographer / artist Viviane Sassen.” It was in the work of Sassen – who has received commissions from the likes of Bottega Veneta – that Chanel’s latent interests in the worlds of fine art and fashion collided. “I decided to try that route as well,” Chanel explains – “that’s when I started experimenting with fabrics and dye”.

Blue Boy, 2020

It’s clear from the way that Chanel discusses the arts that they are her daily bread. But her relationship with creativity has not always been a straightforward one. The daughter of two Palestinian immigrants, who came to America seeking refuge from the financial and systemic hardships they had faced under the occupation, Chanel’s lifelong interest in the arts became a bone of contention at home. “They firmly believed that any sort of creative expression was useless, because they thought it wasn’t something you could make a good living from.” In spite of this however, Chanel is quick to note her debt of gratitude to the sacrifice her parents made for their family: “Since my parents didn’t have access to education,” she explains, “they instilled in me and my siblings, a strong sense of the value of education, and the importance of a consistent work ethic. I feel a strong obligation to ensure that their sacrifices have not been made in vain.” For Chanel however, a commitment to hard work doesn’t need to come at the expense of creative expression. “I want to be an example to my younger siblings. To show them that they can thrive in non-traditional and creative spaces. That’s what keeps me motivated to continue working hard. I want to create a space for other Middle Eastern people and other People of Colour to work in the creative industries.

And today, as her craft moves rapidly from strength to strength, failure – which once loomed large in Chanel’s periphery – has begun to seem less of a threat than a sign of creative good health. “The best advice I can give to others in similar situations,” she explains, “is not to be scared of failure. We are only failures if we don’t try, so trying and failing is much better than not trying at all.” These are words, I think, that we can all live by, and ones which are exemplified by the joie de vivre of Chanel’s designs. As she puts it, “If you want to create in this world, fuck what anybody thinks. Share it with the universe!”

Words: Harry Langham

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