Become A Junkprints Junkie (Like Me!)
Google the name “Chanel Kennebrew.” Seriously, if you’re not up on this incredibly talented graphic designer, photographer, illustrator and fashion designer, you need to play catch-up — and with the quickness. Her Brooklyn, New York-based fashion and accessories company, Junkprints, is buzzing harder than a swarm of killa bees (word to Wu-Tang), thanks to playful, clever, hip-hop flavored designs that have just the right amount of sass (and sting).
Born in Inglewood and raised in Pomona, the Cali gal founded Junkprints eight years ago as an illustration/design/photography company, landing such freelance gigs as art directing and coordinating the photography for FredFlare.com‘s Spring 2006 catalog, designing Clutch magazine’s website, and illustrating for an MTV project. She eventually forayed into fashion — a realm she admittedly stumbled into. After years of making her own garments and having strangers swoon over them, Chanel had a light bulb moment: why not use fashion as a means through which to share her artwork and vision with the masses? And so, in 2007, she officially launched the Junkprints apparel line, modifying vintage clothing and printing original graphics on T-shirts and hoodies. Handbags, wallets, and costume jewelry soon followed. “I believe in art for the people and removing the elitism attached to the commercial art world,” Chanel says. “Most people are not in galleries so that’s not where my art should be. The clothing line was an ideal medium for creating art that the day-to-day person can absorb.”
So what’s the method to her madness? Well, for one, Chanel loves the idea of remixing materials and giving them a new life (or upcycling them) and of revisiting age-old topics and ideas and offering a fresh new view on them. Taking materials ranging from vintage fabrics to packaging materials, newspaper clippings, magazine layouts, vinyl scraps, zippers and other found objects (which she later “remixes”), Chanel zooms in on a topic she wants to address or a message she wants to convey and uses the materials on hand to create her wearable art.
What I personally find so amazing about her work is not just its aesthetic value but the freshness of its perspective. Take, for example, the Matilda Tee pictured above, which features the Matilda character front-and-center, with the word “Lovely” running diagonally along the left shoulder and sleeve in various types and colors. Every time I see this tee, I feel like playing Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” — and it’s easy to see why.
Created in January, the adorable Matilda character (who my five-year-old son is apparently in love with, since he’s spent days carrying stickers of her all over the house!) is, in my opinion, a much-need visual icon to which women of color can relate. As children, many of us had no choice but to play with Barbies and Precious Moments dolls that bore absolutely no resemblance to us and, even as adults, we’re constantly bombarded with images (from cartoon characters like Pinky Dinky Doo to actresses like Scarlett Johansson and teenybopper sensations like Hannah Montana) to which we can’t relate. But, thankfully, now we have brown-skinned Matilda, with her small lil’ Afro adorned with flowers, her flirty pink A-line dress, and her big, beautiful brown eyes.
Asked what prompted her to create the character, Chanel says, “Matilda was created out of narcissism — she’s probably not gonna save the
world or patch up the economy, but she’s cute and silly; she’s made in my own
image, and I relate to her.” Delving deeper into the topic, she says, “I think that our love of heroes and inspiring characters — fictitious and real — comes from narcissism. We identify with them and often look up to them because we see ourselves (or the selves we aspire to be) in them. Many folks of color constantly feel like they are under represented or misrepresented in the media. We want something to identify with — not tokenism or sidekicks.” Preach on, sis! Think of how amazing it would be if we (women of color) could buy our daughters Matilda dolls, books and clothing. Just imagine what a positive impact that would have in terms of make our young girls feel beautiful and appreciated (instead of them always wondering why the girls on TV and in books/magazines look nothing like them). That right there would be a welcome revolution in and of itself.
Another fantastic example of the unique Junkprints aesthetic is the Lil Afro Bag pictured at top. The trapeze-like shape of this denim bag is enough to make you do a double-take. Featuring an an Afro lady drawing, a thick chain handle, and a gold lamé zipper, this bag is imbued with a ’70s funk-meets-disco flavor that’ll have you feelin’ sassier than Taraji Henson’s character in Talk To Me (and y’all know she was a fly one!)
Chanel describes the Junkprints aesthetic as “bold, deliberate and just on the verge of obnoxious.” What’s more perfect for the girl that’s sicka than average?
Junkprints Matilda Tee, $30 and Lil Afro Line Purse, $70. Visit Junkprints.com