Sandiswa Sondzaba puts the spotlight on up-and-coming fashion designer, Hussein Chalayan, who combines fashion, technology and art to create decomposable clothing that highlights and brings attention to prominent social issues.
Whenever the term haute couture comes up, the usual names are mentioned: Alexander McQueen, Chanel, Gucci, Dior, and Dolce & Gabbana. One lesser known visionary is Hussein Chalayan, a British/Turkish-Cypriot fashion designer. Chayalan is the current creative director of the Vionnet fashion house but he has proven that his creative genius extends beyond the Goga Ashkenazi-owned enterprise.
At the recent Paris Fashion Week, he made waves when he debuted two melt-away dresses for his 2016 Spring/Summer collection. His SS16 show at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, included two models come out in what appeared to be tailored white lab coats in waxy paper. Upon contact with water, the coats slowly dissolved; revealing gorgeous, sparkling couture gowns underneath. This was another example of the designer blending fashion with technology.
Oftentimes this use of technology is used to make serious statements about the fashion industry. One of his more famous designs is the Table Skirt which was a mahogany table that transformed into a geometric and telescopic skirt. This design came from his After Words collection for Autumn/Winter 2000. This collection intended to make a comment on the dramatic and involuntary aspects of mobility, and illustrate the sentimental aspects of forced migrations. This social commentary is really pertinent considering the current migration crisis that has gripped Europe. What Chalayan’s After Words collection communicated was that the migration crisis is a lot more than policy; migrants are people who seemingly have to adjust to a new way of being that entails existing in a state of constant precarity.
Despite the recognition he has received for his work, which include being crowned ‘British Designer of the Year’ in 1999 and 2000, Chayalan has oftentimes struggled with sponsorship and funding. In 2000, he had to go into voluntary liquidation when he found himself £250,000 in debt after his then-employer TSE refused to renew his contract. He managed to make a comeback in 2001, by presenting a collection without a catwalk presentation. He designed for high-street label Marks and Spencers to make ends meet and he gained some ground when the Swiss jeweller, Asprey, appointed him as their fashion director in 2002. He has recovered from this setback and has gone on to collaborate with Swarovski (with his collection of LED dresses), being appointed as the creative director of Puma, and screening his short-films at the Venice Biennale and at Mode Natie in Antwerp.
Why do I love Chalayan so much? He is a fashion designer who really seeks to blur the distinction made between fashion and art. He is not a “superstar-designer” but his work has, time and again, spoken for him. How many fashion designers have started off their careers burying their Central Saint Martins’ graduation collections in their back gardens so that the clothing may decompose and become an archaeology project? He is a true Renaissance man who, in addition to his design collections and short-films, has created performance-art pieces; displayed his works at contemporary art galleries and museums; created costumes for a production of Così fan tutte performed at Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles; and choreographed his own production.
He is fashion’s international man of mystery who is as transcendent as the clothing he creates. He may not be fashion’s most famous designer but, to use a Harry Potter metaphor, ‘he is the classic Ravenclaw whose intellectual use of creativity knows no bounds.’ As a Ravenclaw myself, I suppose that is why when I read about him I see my spirit animal.