Monday 25 July 2011

Hussein Chalayan at the V+A

Images throughout courtesy of Hussein Chalayan
On Tuesday evening I went to hear esteemed fashion designer Hussein Chalayan discuss his illustrious career thus far with The Sunday Times Style Fashion Features Director Claudia Croft. Held in the V+A, to mark the entry of some of Chalayan’s most iconic garments to the main fashion collection, the Q+A discussed all aspects of Chalayan's brand from his design aesthetic and cultural influences to consultation work and his view that ‘fashion is teamwork’.
A designer I have always respected and have been keen to learn more about, Chalayan is for me a bit of an enigma. There's no denying his innate ability to combine beautiful clothes with risk, something he cites as a trademark of his generation. "There's no one left from my generation, Lee [McQueen] was one of the last. We were all at Saint Martins around the same time and were incredibly ambitious and confident, having been accepted into such a renowned school. Brit Art was big business at the time and empowered us."

"I look at my designs and sometimes I can't believe I had the audacity to put stuff out there." Describing himself as an 'outsider', the designer views his work as a catalyst to learn about the world, taking advantage of his position and ability to travel and research. A self described ‘cultural animal’, Chalayan is often described as a minimalist and a conceptualist. Croft asked if these labels meant anything to him, and endearingly he said “No, it’s all rubbish really, it’s just language journalists use to categorise your work...” He feels he has created his own niche. A great orator, in a short space of time the audience really got to know the real Chalayan, giving brutally honest answers to both Croft and the audience's probing questions.
Although proud of his Turkish Cypriot heritage, which is a constant source of inspiration and is what gave him such a strong work ethic, Chalayan considers himself a Londoner, although he is quick to state that that does not make him English per say. Remarking that London is the most diverse cultural hub in the world, Chalayan finds it interesting that cultures are so apparent and isolated in London, offering Tottenham, Brixton and Chinatown as examples, and places where you can go to absorb a completely foreign culture, right in the centre of the capital.
When asked why he no longer chooses to show in London Chalayan cites but one reason: "some press go straight from New York to Milan, bypassing London altogether. The first season I showed in Paris sales rose dramatically... It was a simple case of numbers."

With an approach to fashion that hints at a new form of world science, Chalayan cites science as an inspiration, however argues that his work is 'not strictly science', instead evolving from the heritage of arts and crafts, creating garments that are 'good ideas, that are resolved well'.

When asked how he finds inspiration for collections Chalayan confessed that now that he has such an expansive archive he “likes to swim in his repertoire, rather than give birth to an entirely new collection.” He attempts to create collections that have feelings, which transfer to and empower the wearer. When asked by a member of the audience whether he has any intention to expand and widen the accessibility of his brand, Chalayan agreed that he needs to cater to a younger market with a lower disposable income, and unveiled plans for a diffusion line that ‘echoes the mainline collection launching in January’.

When discussing his garments becoming part of the V+A’s collection Chalayan commented that; ‘when you exhibit in a museum or gallery you are allowing yourself to be scrutinised in a much scarier way. When producing a fashion show, the designer gets to choose how long the audience get to look at each garment, but in an exhibition there are no rules’. Indeed Chalayan is a man who makes his own rules!

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