Egyptian star Sherihan shines as Coco Chanel in new TV musical

The Egyptian star returns to the small screen strong, after her 2001 cancer diagnosis

Great art and fashion are timeless.

This principle was on display this week when Sherihan Shalakani, who goes by first name only, made her anticipated television return with Coco Chanel.

The musical is available to stream on MBC Shahid – under its paid-for tier Shahid VIP – and in it, the Egyptian actress plays the pioneering French designer.

The turn marks Sherihan’s first starring role since the 2001 film Al Eshk Wal Damm, after which she retired, owing to being diagnosed with salivary gland cancer.

Twenty years later, Sherihan is a vibrant and vivacious presence in her small-screen return, as she embodies a figure whose uncompromising spirit echoes her own approach to life and art.

Here are five reasons to watch Coco Chanel.

1. The anticipation is palpable

Regional fans and the Arab entertainment industry have been waiting for two decades to see Sherihan’s return.

Viewers would have sensed her nerve after the rather trembling bow she gave the theatre audience upon stepping on stage – designed as 1920s Paris – as Coco Chanel in her early years, a failing cabaret singer and aspiring designer.

This was the only wobble in what was a strong performance.

She may have been away for a while, but Sherihan is a seasoned professional on screen and stage, and that experience shines through in a well-rounded performance as the fashion pioneer.

From her wicked humour and rebellious spirit to her crippling pangs of loneliness, Sherihan captures the various emotions of Coco Chanel in a tailor-made performance.

2. It's a mix of musical and drama

An interesting aspect about Coco Chanel is that it’s a stage production shot for television.

The former format succeeds through its visceral energy, while the latter is suitable to capture the drama and emotion.

As a result, the production plays it down the middle.

Coco Chanel has five major musical set pieces varying in style and mood.

Ya Birnati (My Hat), a number about Chanel’s exquisite feather hat designs, is vibrant and jazzy with Sherihan and co tap-dancing along the Parisian streets.

On the other end of the spectrum is Mannequin, a desolate ballad in which a forlorn Chanel compares a life devoid of love to that of the fashion dummies adorning her atelier.

While Sherihan's voice was clearly affected by her 2001 diagnosis and recovery, that raspiness to her vocals only serves to give Mannequin extra pathos.

3. The costumes are on point

One of the most difficult jobs of Coco Chanel belonged to the costume department.

Not only did they have to create effective recreations of the designer’s famous works, but also evoke the fashion sense of 1920s Paris.

On that score, costume designer Reem El Adl and her team did a great job with gender-challenging ensembles of shirts, trousers and bow ties, and Chanel signature pieces such as the black dress.

Another standout piece Sherihan wore in key scenes was a lovely circa-1910 dress of pale pink lace and pintucks, with a velvet bow and worn with Chanel’s trademark pearls.

4. Coco Chanel's wisdom

For all the glitz and glamour surrounding Chanel’s life, it’s easy to forget her pioneering approach to fashion and marketing.

Playwright Medhat Al Adl explores this through a number of winning scenes showcasing Chanel's philosophy to work.

When finally opening her atelier on Paris's Rue Cambon in 1910, Chanel explains to her team that her designs will always be "simple, comfortable and elegant."

Chanel also knew the power of influencers more than a century ago. In one scene she dresses up a socialite in a daring outfit, without charge, knowing “the scandal” that would ensue would result in a boost in business.

And in a lovely exchange with a US reporter, Chanel explains and distils some of her principles.

“There is a difference between how old you are and how mature you are,” she says. “It’s the same difference as who wears the dress and how they wear it.”

Chanel then points to a particular outfit.

“That dress there is rather cheap,” she says. “But if I wear it, then it becomes in fashion.”

5. It marks a great comeback

While Coco Chanel is entertaining to the casual viewer, it is also a moving experience for Sherihan fans.

The two women led different lives, but they share certain similar qualities that allow certain scenes to resonate deeply.

Chanel’s desire to stand out from the pack is similar to Sherihan’s drive when emerging on the scene in the early 1980s.

While her personal setbacks differ, Chanel’s dogged desire to bounce back with grace and wisdom mirrors Sherihan’s recent return to the small screen earlier in the year.

Sherihan’s tears as she stands with the cast, soaking up the audience's applause, is also a victorious moment to savour.

If the latest career move follows the trajectory of Channel’s industry comeback in the aftermath of The Second World War, then Sherihan’s return to the public eye means the best is yet to come.

Updated: July 23rd 2021, 8:16 AM
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