The latest male subversion: Wearing Chanel womenswear

A symbol of feminine elegance, the French couture house has succumbed to men’s claims on its legacy, the last luxury that resisted them. The brand does not market a male fashion collection, but its true believers have no qualms about buying the women’s collection

In December 2021, singer Maluma attended a Chanel dinner in Miami wearing an iconic Coco Chanel-designed jacket.Astrid Stawiarz (Getty Images)

In the name of the fashion designer who helped liberate women, imbuing them with the power of garments, fabrics and prerogatives of the male wardrobe, there are now also men proclaiming their freedom of dress. The issue has more to do with an attack on power — the conquest of the last bastion of luxury that has always resisted them — than with the long-standing deconstruction of identity or the disruption of gender. Be that as it may, it could not be more paradoxical.

It’s a turn of events that Gabrielle Chanel herself never would have suspected. She was only accountable to men if she could take advantage of them, at least in terms of clothing. That the fashion house that she founded in 1910—the century-old standard-bearer of empowered feminine elegance—ended up becoming the unusual destination for gentlemen is something that the brand itself has always tried to avoid. However, in a sign of the times, the brand has not only been hit hard but where it hurts the most. Men who love suits made for women are now clamoring for headlines in view of the increasingly weighty and public presence of brand ambassadors and Chanel-clad gentlemen at their fashion shows. Even Greta Gerwig’s Barbie Ken wears a Chanel ski jacket in his real-world escapade.

Bryanboy seen wearing a full Chanel Look
Filipino blogger Bryanboy is one of Chanel's most influential clients on social media.Jeremy Moeller (Getty Images)

“She wouldn’t have understood, she would have screamed her head off,” fashion consultant and branding expert Inmaculada Urrea says of Mademoiselle’s possible reaction to male claims on her legacy. The author of Coco Chanel: La revolución de un estilo (Coco Chanel: The Style Revolution), who has a revealing biography of the designer in the works, Urrea earned the right to speculate: “She was a disruptor and broke all the rules of dress in her time, of course. Let’s not forget that she pioneered what used to be called unisex in 1918. However, for gender roles she was very classically minded, old-fashioned even: women had to dress to please and seduce the opposite sex, she said. At the end of her life, she was very angry because, as she lamented, ‘Today women are more men than men.” In that regard, Urrea notes, the brand has long ceased to care about the meaning of its founder and barely uses the name Chanel. “If it didn’t smell of a marketing operation, of being modern and relevant in a market where image takes precedence over substance, it could even be considered a way of closing the circle,” she concludes. To an extent, she is right: the Parisian fashion house has never marketed men’s collections, not even now. It has, however, played with misdirection.

On the catwalk, the Chanel man is actually old news. Karl Lagerfeld liked to bring him out in his runway shows. The models helped to give masculine packaging to the sporty gadgets that adorned the cruise collections at the time, from rugby balls to paddle rackets, swimming mittens, cricket bats and even boomerangs. None of the garments worn in those fashion shows were ever produced, at least not specifically for men. The expectation, however, was there, so much so that, in 2017, the firm had to deny rumors of a collaboration with Hedi Slimane, the designer for whom Lagerfeld had recovered his size small, determined to stuff himself in his Dior Homme suits. “Chanel is not working on launching a men’s collection,” they said.

Joe Jonas, wearing CHANEL
Singer Joe Jonas, dressed in Chanel.Sean Zanni (Getty Images)

A couple of years later, Chanel’s partnership with Pharrell Williams flourished with a collection that introduced the brand in the field of luxury streetwear. A close friend of Lagerfeld, the singer, rapper and music producer — who was named the creative director of Louis Vuitton’s men’s collection last February — had already walked the runway for the Métiers d’Art line and anticipated events with custom Adidas sneakers. Thereafter, he gave the brand his particular vision of clothing, wearing the appropriate sneakers, dressed in the usual sweatshirts complemented by hip-hop-style jewelry. But, once again, Chanel lacked the courage to market the items for men per se. The current display of fanny packs and sneakers in boutiques began; men’s Chanelmania started at around the same time.

In the beginning, they say, it was Future who dared to wear golden link chains and strings of pearls with the interlocking double C logo. Such styling made a splash in 2017, although it wasn’t until 2019 that he allowed himself to be seen wearing a jacket adorned with sparkling brooches. Meanwhile, Usher was spotted at the spring/summer 2017 fashion show sporting Chanel. Then came Gunna, who flaunted a graffitied bag from the brand’s collaboration with Pharrell on Instagram. That was enough to cement the myth of the Chanel guy, and it was reinforced by the brand’s practice of naming male ambassadors, which Chanel has done since 2012, when Brad Pitt became the image of the iconic No. 5 perfume. These representatives include musicians Sébastien Tellier, Nile Rodgers and K-pop king G-Dragon, along with a handful of Chinese actors.

Usher arrives at the Chanel show
Singer Usher, the "king of R&B," arrives at the Chanel spring-summer 2017 fashion show wearing a complete look from the Parisian fashion house. Pierre Suu (Getty Images)

“When you have a brand of Chanel’s impact, [that is] so prominent, a bastion of women’s fashion, and a guy can suddenly access it, it’s like the ultimate prize. Because every guy is going to want it, even if they can’t access it,” Bobby Wesley, a head stylist for rappers, explained in a 2019 interview in GQ when the Chanel frenzy began. Famous wealthy guys like Maluma, Joe Jonas, Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky and Chris Rock were seen wearing only Chanel at the brand’s parties and fashion shows.

So, is there a real male consumer of Chanel? Of course, there are the collectors, who treasure the classic tweed box suits even if they will never wear them. Increasingly, there are also those who are daring enough to try their handbags. But to find the real customer/believer, you have to go to Asia. Filipino Bryan Yambao, the famous blogger Bryanboy, is certainly the most prominent in terms of media presence. He owns 60 women’s suits, coats and sweaters that he wears on a daily basis. “With Chanel I feel free,” the blogger once said. It’s better not to know what the fashion designer who helped liberate women by imbuing them with the power of menswear would say about that.

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