HUSSEIN CHALAYAN: “FASHION IS A COMBINATION OF
ART, PROFESSION AND PRODUCT”
Hussein Chalayan was born in 1970 in the Turkish part of Nicosia, Cyprus. Until he lived in his country, he studied in Türk Maarif College. From 1982 he moved to live in England with his family. Between 1989 and 1993 he studies and he obtains a diploma in fashion design in “Central Saint Martins” in London. In 1994 he creates his own brand. He is a winner in the competition of vodka “Absolut” for best designer (1995). In 1996 and in 1999 he is twice a winner of the best designer of the year award in Great Britain. Till 2001 he works for knitwear company TSE (New York) and for the London store “Top Shop”. From 2000 to 2004 he is creative director of the company “Asprey”. He was presenting his own exhibitions in “Barbican Art Gallery” and “Victoria & Albert Museum” (London), Kyoto Museum in Groningen Museum (Holland), as in different galleries and museums in New York, Istanbul and Vienna.
Hussein Chalayan is among the most commented advanced-guard fashion artists at the Island. In the last years with his every participation the Nicosian guy shocks, electrifies and provokes the apperception of the public. Some time ago he launches dresses, made from creased and torn pages of books. He explains his idea with the fact, that the contemporary is miserable and for that reason he has to wear rubbish. At his other fashion show he presented clothes, made from remained material in the soil. Today, the advanced-guard British fashion is impossible to exist without the challenges of artists like Hussein Chalayan. In his fashion style the free imagination and the associations with the sharpest collisions of the contemporary world meet each other - moral, cultural, political, social, economic and purely human collisions. As one of the most creative fashion designers in the contemporary world Chalayan is an object of many analyses, and every analysis tries to put him in some frame, name and label. His rich intelligence and difference transfix the attention of the experts, who name him with many appellations. He is named in many ways. Once he is called “Nobel in the fashion industry”, other time – “the most abstract theoretical designer”, also “philosopher” and “thinker” in fashion. Which aspect distinguishes Hussein Chalayan from his other colleagues? Is it helps him his ethnical origin or not? Is it helps him or impede him his ethnical origin? Which are his most important achievements and how he succeeds to coincide the ideal and the material, the theoretical and the commercial? In what is expressed the exotics and the eccentrics of Chalayan?
THE WAY FROM NICOSIA TO LONDON
The transformation of the Nicosian Turkish man in elite British designer is actually the social and cultural dynamics that the young Hussein endures in his rise to the mature Chalayan. Until he is twelve years old he lives and studies at his native place – the Turkish part of the Cyprus capital Nicosia. His memories about this period of his life are very interesting. When he was a little boy he likes very much to play as an architect and to build houses, buildings, parks, gardens and many other things, that children construct with ease. The process of building himself gives him a lot of pleasure and provokes constantly his interest. The circumstance that the island of Cyprus is divided in two parts doesn’t depress him, but on the contrary – fill up him with emotion and fascination. In his opinion there is something very exciting in the fact to be divided from somebody and at the other side of the dividing line to exist other culture, which excites your curiosity and makes you wondering “what happens at the other side?”. But later we will understand that his memory for Cyprus isn’t only positive.
The childhood and a part of his youth years in Turkish Cyprus incise forever in his spirituality and conscience. Yashmak and headcloths, shalwars or something like shalwars and in general the different signs in the Islam in the appearance penetrate permanently in his works. It is elementary to interpret all this like standard experience for visual representation of the Moslem women and their situation in the today’s society. In fact the intelligent and the provoking combination of these signs with other modern components give to his works originality, emblematic and ripeness. Hussein Chalayan is national pride for Turkey and especially for Turkish Cyprus. He not only doesn’t forget his home and his native language, but often he visits his native place, as he reads lectures to the students in Istanbul and he participates in Turkish galleries with his own exhibitions. But it spite of this, he says that he is a man with Mediterranean origin and without his own place. He calls his mother country “turbulent zone” – Turkish Cyprus, and he reminds with pain the cruelty of the constraint, which introduces the ethnical and religious boundaries and forms the fear and the hatred.
The designer knows some of the leading fashion cultures in the sphere of style – English, French and Italian. We have to know that he has an excellent command of their languages. Plus is the fact of his native language, and namely the Turkish language. However his mother also has a contribution to his predestination as creator of unique clothes. Chalayan remains the high quality and the perfect sewing of the clothes, which she was sewing (in fact all the clothes that he was wearing as a child, were made from her). This punctuality and delicacy in sewing transmitted to him. “She sewed all my clothes and they look like they were taken from some store. Whatever she made, she made it really good and I thing, that this kind of standard was transmitted from her to me” – says today the designer.
ANATOMY OF THE DIFFERENCE
To find maximum fast thyself, to show up and most important – to be different from the others by originality, scandalous, non-standard etc is an object number 1 for the most creators. Chalayan reaches all this namely with the means of a philosopher-mystic, of a scientist-tester and of an untiring alchemist. And yet in what is rooted the anatomy of his difference? He reaches his most remarkable successes thanks to his innovatory approach at least to three things: the materials, the design and the ways of presenting of his works. Before he was accepted in college “Central Saint Martins” he already experiments with new prints on the materials. His choice pauses on peaces of meat that are interpreted on the design of the textiles, invented from him. Just this helps him to be perceived from the strict pedagogues in the most elite fashion college in London. Later, when he graduates at “Central Saint Martins”, he decides to burn a part of his diploma collection, using for this object the yard of his friend. Probably ever since than he was ambitioned to analyze the inevitable omen over the fashion – to die quickly, to be transitional, to burns like after bright fire. The unusual experiment and “the fashion flames” were perceived from the owner of the famous store “Brown`s” Joan Burstein, who immediately invited the young author to give his own works for exhibition and selling in her commercial empire. The student collection with the name “The tangent lines” were made from woven paper textile, who was buried for a time in the ground with iron shavings and after that (what an alchemy!) – used for design objects. Thanks to this stay under ground and the contact between the textile and the iron waste a very interesting patina was created, that totally changed the kind of the material. Later Hussein Chalayan will come back to this skill (in the collection “The buried dresses” for example), allowed to him to discover new possibilities from the birth of the original materials moreover in real contact with the real nature. What makes the designer to bury his clothes, and after that again to give them back to the “real world”? His explanation is, that he believes in the life of the clothing. The digging of the clothes and after that, although sodden from the rain, its restitution in the real world shows that clothes continue to live. Their contact with metal fractions, soil, stones, inhabitants of the underground etc influences on their inner life. However the experiment is an experiment. Most of these clothes are not meant to wear. A very small piece of them are adapted for this object but after they are passed trough complementary machining, including washing and reparation. Chalayan is convinced that the treating of the material and the cloth in that way helps to discover new dimensions of the relation between the human body and the clothing.
In the search of original constructive decisions the designer amaze public and connoisseurs with a many functions clothes, that easy bear different metamorphoses. For example wooden table for coffee, that changes into dress and contrary or dresses and blouses, inspired of the design of air lounges, elbow-rests, mobile tables etc. In the institute of the suit “Kyoto” is preserved made from him wooden corset (collection autumn-winter 1995-1996) that inspires at the same time feelings of delight and horror. The delight is due to the perfection of the form and of the precision of the treatment of the wood, tightens up with metal plates and nuts. The horror is unreal, but not ungrounded, because this unmerciful case, can injure brutally the fragile human body - like and instrument of the inquisition.
The aesthetical provocations of Hussein Chalayan border of the naturalism of the naked woman body, as it is in his shocking models from 1998 (gradually denuding from below, but constantly veiled from above). There are significant his inventive and definitely ethnical influenced interpretations of the ornaments for head – yashmaks, kerchiefs and helmets, in which the Islam customs sublime significant veils and veiling, as it is in the collections “Between” and “Panoramic”. Whether he will use kerchiefs or PVC masks it’s all the same. In all the cases it’s about one monotonous identity that erases human individuality and the possibility to be different.
In his commentary to the collection “Between”, spring-summer 1998, Caroline Evince marks: “...All models are with hidden faces, as in the development of the collection models vary from entirely covered with clothes to totally undressed. The hidden faces and the naked bodies upside down the western protocol. Chalayan interprets the dimensions of eastern exotics over the western norms for sexuality. The intention of Chalayan in this collection is to place her between two spaces, territories, worlds and cultures or to realize an essay that has to characterize the post-colonial assimilation and the hybridism of the modern urban life”. It’s clear, that the designer has a good command of the means of fashion and fashion design, to express his thoughts and his sense of the modern transformations of the civilization.
We can easy refer to the works of Hussein Chalayan the words of Collin McDowell about the fashion avant-gardism today: ”The fashion innovation has never been so progressive, as it is today. Just like in the vanguard art, that also is far away from that, that most of the people find for reasonable, it exist the danger million of women to be outcaste, who expect designers, photographers and fashion editors to consult them about their clothing. More and more the designers prefer to use the stage, to reveal their thoughts”. According to McDowell, Chalayan belongs to those contemporary fashion makers, who use the fashion stage, to show their fantasy and to express their way of thinking like a way to shock the public.
The choice of place for fashion presentation is a part of the conception of Chalayan for the new designer suggestions. In one case he pauses on sterile and minimalist spaces, where his arts clearly show up (blank rooms with white walls and at most neutral background). In other case his choice pauses on the cinema studio of the famous Alfred Hitchcock – the irreplaceable master of the psycho movies. There with the help of the multimedia and of the fashion-show with models the new ideas are launched (this happens at the presentation of the summer collection for 2001). Frequently the fashion-shows of Hussein Chalayan are presented in wild or almost constructed buildings outside London, where among the coldness and the alienation of the concrete constructions the models live really their life and show up remembering and authoritatively.
It will be wrong to understand all these techniques and technologies of creating and presentation of the works like paroxysmal tendency toward originality and unconventionality of the designer. It is important to understand, that they are not an end in itself, but a part of one completed conception, where are weaved knowledge and possibilities of the video, photography, architecture, industrial design, information technologies etc. One of the best connoisseurs of the designer – Bradley Quinn marks: ”Chalayan is thinker, who refutes the statement, that fashion and others creating disciplines exist separately. In fact, a great part of his works in last ten years makes specific relation between them. As Chalayan constructs bridges between the visible and the ideological, the invisible and the tactile, his models are a challenge to the concept about what could mean the cloth”.
THE FANTASY OF THE VIRTUAL REALITY
I had the chance to be at some fashion-shows of Hussein Chalayan in London. I remember the presentation of his collection autumn-winter 1996-1997 in the town of the Thames, where I had the chance to be at. His models corresponded with the idea of aestheticism of the strange, tasteless, and even insipid. It is not necessary for man to be insincere to his primary impressions, to confess, that one – at first sight, fashion that functions aggressive-irritably. But only at first sight! One of the most often repeated bynames of Hussein Chalayan is “the designer-pessimist”. Where comes this feeling of melancholia, sadness and original kind of predestination from? What is his depth and destination? The pessimism of the creator-experimenter is not with a destructive purpose, but is at once a result of the feeling of devaluation and revaluation of the traditional values. His fashion is a reflection of this feeling. A strong imprint on the clothes, proposed for the season autumn-winter 1996-1997 leaved the tendency "Art Deco”, famous with his influence of the paintings over the decorative arts.
The designer himself expresses his philosophy like this: "This collection is an expression of the fantasy of virtual reality. I don’t hide its relation with "Art Deco", because I like its geometrically and contemporary sounding. I didn’t try to copy the style of 20s, but at once to reproduce particular aspects of black and white movies, as to make a hint for the computer era. I wanted to absolute the mission of art to work with the romantics of the past!"...
The apparent absurdness in the silhouettes of the showed models is dictated by the wish of the vanguard artist to dramatize the show. Materials like metal stretch and contemporary synthetic materials, also including materials with plastic origin symbolize the dramatic change in the textile of today. Plastic with qualities of silk and metal, reminding of crepe: here are the symbols of change - daring, expressive and strange!
“THE FASHION IS A REAL ART”
The philosophy and aesthetics of Hussein Chalayan result from his deep wish to catch the elusive in the fashion, to raise over the transitional and her daily manifestations and by a perfect dissection to obtain her aesthetical and cultural extract. The artist has clear concept of the mutual commitment of the human body, its movements and the cloth that can just to execute its trivial function, but also to be an attribute of the fashion like an art. Chalayan himself says: ”The clothes require other feeling for life in a movement. Still more, that the fashion is a real art and this is dictated from its nature. Today is here, but tomorrow it isn’t”. More than once he declares that he is not interested in the transitional thing that for him only the eternity has significance. It’s about the eternity that shows in the forms and in the bodies. To be understood better the conceptuality of the designer it is necessary the entering into his points about the relation and the similarity between the nature and the culture. In his opinion, the nature looks like culture, in which the boundaries are totally washed away. Mountains, rivers and winds bear the imprint of the characteristic national special features that can be transferred on the clothing. “To be caught the emotion and the magic, that unify them in one as a whole, is also so difficult, as to create a harmony between the material and the form, the volume and the material” – he confesses.
It is unthinkable the spiritual knowledge of the Chalayan’s genius without his sharp feeling of disagreement with the status quo and with the conventional concepts for art, as in his permanent aspiration toward critical rationalization once again of that, what is happening in real life. He doesn’t embarrass to set even against the omnipresent medias at the time of the official presenting of the British fashion awards in 2000. Chalayan is indignant at the fact, that the British newspapers spare many more attention and make many more noise for the participating celebrities – pop-performers, cinema and sport stars and TV stars than to the real heroes of the event – the fashion designers. He is disappointed, that the newspapers instead of devote space to present the collections of the designers and to reveal their new groping, they write mostly about the celebrities that are included in their fashion-shows. “It’s very sad, that all the materials were devoted to celebrities. This is week of the fashion, but not a week of the celebrities” – says the designer in anger about the superficial behavior of the media. In principle he opposes on the mannered analysis and criticisms of the designer art, because he things, that this is very easy, but more difficult is to be created the new. “Whatever work somebody is doing, I don’t thing, that is correct somebody to minimize the months of work, that you are putted into for the execution of the project. If people come and see something, and don’t like it, or they do not understand it, they have to perceive it yet and to decide it according to its own development”.
The fashion artist is clear about the multidimensional nature of the fashion and he is one of the authors of the shortest definitions about it, calling it “combination between an art, a profession and a product”. Among the strongest instruments for such a statement are his works. Chalayan himself can’t escape from the commercial side of the fashion and together with his experimental and theoretical elaborations he creates market oriented clothes that have for aim to be sold, to bring profit and – of course – to satisfy concrete consumer needs.
CHALAYAN AND THE BULGARIAN FASHION
There is a relation between Hussein Chalayan and the Bulgarian fashion. As a rule this relation can be seek indirectly in the works and the collections of the author. Sign of his empathy to the East-European, in particular – in the Balkan culture and folklore is the using of Bulgarian national tune in the showing of his collection “After Words”, autumn-winter 2000-2001. The models contribute to be expressed the designer philosophy, connected with the destiny of the refugees, with the alienation and with the human suffering. Created at the time of the tragedy in Kosovo, this collection remains of the humanity, what a terrible thing is the forcibly exile and “the compulsion to leave your home and to hide your property” (Chalayan).
Lately the relation between Chalayan and the Bulgarian fashion design acquired more concrete outlines. A proof for this is the works of our young designer Maria Doychinova, who works for some time in his team like a trainee and like an assistant. The final result was an including in his fashion-show of a model of Maria Doychinova, showed in Paris in 2006. The collection prêt-a-porter, in which was presented a work of the Bulgarian designer is meant to the season autumn-winter 2006-2007. In her conversations with Chalayan she answers to his many questions about Bulgaria and the Bulgarian rose, about the political situation here and in Turkey, about the food, the customs and the manners, about the beauties of our nature etc.
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The place of Hussein Chalayan in the world fashion is significant for the role and the significance of the conception and the experimental design. Thanks to artists like him distinguishes more clearly the truth, that the fashion is not only fast transitional product for direct consummation, but also a deep, permanent and an art with emotion, loaded with philosophy and original aesthetics. The works of Chalayan shows, that the works of the fashion design and the way of their presentation give irreplaceable opportunity to express convictions and conceptions for influence in the society and in the culture. Among the merits of the Cyprus designer is also the fact, that he unveils the nature of the fashion, revealing its syncretism, mixed character, well bounded by the other arts and technological systems – architecture, industrial design, aviation, information systems, new high technologies etc. The design of Hussein Chalayan demonstrates the glocalisation in the fashion and the rule, that the global fashion in unthinkable without the local tradition.
In the article are used this sources: Ermilova, D.U. История домов моды, Moscow, 2003; Chalayan, H. The Fabric Of Life. In: “Sleek”, 09/ winter 2005/2006; Evans, C.Fashion at the edge. Yale University press. New Haven and London, 2003 ; Frankel, S. Fashion: Perfect ten; Complex, conceptual and risk-taking, Hussein Chalayan's designs have been challenging preconceptions for a decade. In: “The Independent”, 4/23/2005; McDowell, C. Fashion today. Phaidon Press Limited. London, 2000; Menkes, S., Hussein Chalayan: Cultural dialogues. In:”International Herald Tribune”4/19/2005; Reuters; Seeling, Ch. Fashion. The century of the designer 1900 – 1999. Konёmann,2000,Cologne and others publications in the Bulgarian and in the foreign press.
1. Hussein Chalayan, 1999
Photo: © Andreas Kokkino / McDowell, C. Fashion today. Phaidon Press Limited. London, 2000, р. 386;
2. Model of the collection of Hussein Chalayan Along South Equator, autumn-winter 1995-1996
Photo: © Evans, C.Fashion at the edge. Yale University press. New Haven and London, 2003, p. 79.
3. Wooden corset form Hussein Chalayan, autumn-winter 1995-1996
Photo: © История моды с ХVІІІ по ХХ век. Колекции Института костюма Киото. “Арт-Родник”, Москва, 2003, с. 686
4. Wooden corset form Hussein Chalayan, autumn-winter 1995-1996 (a detail)
Photo: © История моды с ХVІІІ по ХХ век. Колекции Института костюма Киото. “Арт-Родник”, Москва, 2003, с. 687
5. and 6. Models of Hussein Chalayan, autumn-winter 1997 – 1998.
Photo: © Seeling, Ch. Fashion. The century of the designer 1900 – 1999. Konёmann,2000,Cologne, p.483
7. Model of Hussein Chalayan from the collection “Between”, spring-summer 1998
Photo: © Roberto Tecchio / Evans, C.Fashion at the edge. Yale University press. New Haven and London, 2003, p. 47.
9. Models of Hussein Chalayan, 1998
Photo: © McDowell, C. Fashion today. Phaidon Press Limited. London, 2000, р. 387;
10. Models of Hussein Chalayan from the collection “Panoramic”, autumn-winter 1998-1999
Photo: © Niall McInerney / Evans, C.Fashion at the edge. Yale University press. New Haven and London, 2003, p. 47.
11. Model of Hussein Chalayan from the collection “Aeroplane dress”, spring-summer 1999
Photo: © Breward, Ch. Fashion. Oxford, 2003, p.237.
12. Model of Hussein Chalayan, 1999
Photo: © Marcus Tominson for “Visionaire” / McDowell, C. Fashion today. Phaidon Press Limited. London, 2000, р. 239;
13. and 14. Models of Hussein Chalayan from the collection “Geotropics”, spring-summer 1999
Photo: © Chris Moore / Evans, C.Fashion at the edge. Yale University press. New Haven and London, 2003, p. 270.
15. Model of Hussein Chalayan from the collection “Echoform”, autumn-winter 1999-2000
Photo: © Chris Moore / Evans, C.Fashion at the edge. Yale University press. New Haven and London, 2003, p. 271.
16. Models of Hussein Chalayan, 2000
Photo: © Andreas Kokkino / McDowell, C. Fashion today. Phaidon Press Limited. London, 2000, р. 386;
17. and 18. Models of Hussein Chalayan from the collection “Remote control dress”, spring-summer 2000
Photo: © Niall McInerney / Evans, C.Fashion at the edge. Yale University press. New Haven and London, 2003, p. 273.
19. and 20. Models of Hussein Chalayan from the collection “After Words”, autumn-winter 2000-2001
Photo: © Niall McInerney / Evans, C.Fashion at the edge. Yale University press. New Haven and London, 2003, p. 286 - 287.
21. Models of Hussein Chalayan from the collection “Ventriloquy”, spring-summer 2001
Photo: © Chris Moore / Evans, C.Fashion at the edge. Yale University press. New Haven and London, 2003, p. 77.
22. Models of Hussein Chalayan from the collection “Medea”, spring-summer 2002
Photo: © Chris Moore / Evans, C.Fashion at the edge. Yale University press. New Haven and London, 2003, p. 60.
23. Maria Doychinova and Hussein Chalayan, 2006
Photo: © Private archive of Maria Doychinova
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Translator: Kristina Paytasheva