Cut From a Different Cloth pix
A retrospective of Hussein Chalayan's work reveals the architect behind the clothes
Aric Chen -- Interior Design, 4/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
Hussein Chalayan is a master of deconstruction, as demonstrated by this dress from his spring 2002 line.
A coffee table accordions into a skirt, from the fall 2000/winter2001 collection.
Clothing designer Hussein Chalayan's oeuvre includes a coffee table that transforms into a skirt and a resin dress that evokes the lines of an airplane—with movable wing flaps and all. This partly explains why many in the fashion industry have described the 34-year-old Londoner's clothing as architectural: In them, you see a relationship between form and function.
"He's one of the most interesting fashion designers of the moment," says Sue-an van der Zijpp, the curator of "Hussein Chalayan." A retrospective that includes a 192-page catalog (NAi Publishers), the show runs through September 4 at the Groninger Museum in the Dutch city of Groningen. "He totally merges ideas into clothes in a natural way. But it's never a simple idea. Sometimes it's hard to tell what it visually means because it's always different," van der Zijpp says.
For example, for a 1993 graduation show at London's Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, Chalayan featured a collection of garments he had buried with rusting iron filings weeks before; he presented the attention-grabbing results of their decay. At his professional spring 2001 runway show in London, live models smashed dresses made of brittle sugar-glass on stage, echoing the movement of wire-frame figures that were exploding in digital animation on sidewalls.
In a renowned collection for winter 2001 (before the sugar dresses), chairs folded into suitcases, their slipcovers turned into dresses, and a round coffee table composed of concentric wooden rings famously expanded accordion-style into a skirt.
His creations have been political, theatrical, even metaphysical. Now they're also being lauded as architectural, but not in the way that term usually applies to fashion. "People see that I'm interested in structure and call my clothes architectural," Chalayan says with a shrug. "I'm interested in architecture as theory."
Indeed, his work is theoretical because it addresses the transformation, perception, and rituals of space, and not just graphic lines and constructions. In a fall 1998 presentation, for example, dramatic beehive headdresses altered the anatomy—or silhouettes—of his models. They were reflected in a set of mirrors, which translated their movements into flat, kinetic patterns on stage.
For a more concrete example of how the designer treats space, consider his first store, which opened last year in Tokyo. London firm Block Architecture designed the bi-level boutique as a visual essay on modernity. Olive trees sprout from the floor, clotheslines hang from walls, evoking images of Chalayan's native Cyprus, and vertical slats modeled after airplane wings fold out to create shelves. These items might seem an odd juxtaposition, but that's precisely the fashion designer's point. "A transition of place merges the idea of being on the ground and afloat," Chalayan explains. "It's a feeling of displacement, like you're in a Cypriot garden—which is actually in high-tech Japan."
The clothes themselves form a kind of ongoing narrative, with the idea of flight or time-travel as a subplot. So-called Airmail shirts can be folded into an envelope, and pieces from his menswear collection in 2003 incorporate numerous pockets for storing mementos. These garments came with instructions to meet at London's Heathrow airport a year and a half later for group show-and-tell. "It was about transforming a place through an event," Chalayan says. "The clothes created an interplay between experience and memory at a site that has this emotional association with departure and reuniting."
While his work approaches the level of performance art, Chalayan is quick to point out that his more outlandish creations form what he calls "monuments," of larger, more utilitarian collections. He has, after all, designed for the likes of Tse, the fine knit-wear label, as well as mainstream British retailers Topshop and Marks & Spencer. "My conceptual pieces help me create wearable clothes," he says. Sounding very much like an architect, he adds, "It's important that people can actually use what I design."