London's Design Museum pays homage to the bold talent of designer Hussein Chalayan, a true fashion maverick.
For more than 15 years, designer Hussein Chalayan has altered our perception of fashion through the amalgamation of art, science and technology. This month, the London Design Museum's major retrospective, Hussein Chalayan Works: 1994-2009, pays homage to his visionary talent.
The opening of Hussein Chalayan's biggest retrospective to date is the latest well-deserved plaudit for a designer who's had his fair share of fashion highs and lows. Since graduating from London's Central Saint Martins College in 1993, the designer has taken a host of awards and funding, but Chalayan suffered a setback at the beginning of the century when the non-renewal of his contract as design consultant for New York knitwear label TSE Cashmere forced him into voluntary liquidation. Since staging his comeback in 2001, the London-based Turkish Cypriot designer has delivered some of the most highly anticipated shows on the catwalk. Fusing the use of technology – such as hydraulics, LED lighting and video installations – with thoughtful, sometimes controversial subject matter and intelligent yet surprisingly wearable collections that sit as comfortably on the hanger as they do in a museum, Hussein Chalayan's seasonal shows are a work of art, rather than the customary celeb-fest served up by his contemporaries.
However, today Chalayan has mastered the rare talent of combining creativity with commercial success through a series of collaborations with leading names from UK high street chain Marks & Spencer, along with his recent appointment as creative director for German sportswear brand Puma. The recent acquisition of the Hussein Chalayan brand by luxury French retail group PPR affirms Chalayan's status as one of the most inspiring designers of the century.
Hussein Chalayan's definition of luxury:
Time is our ultimate luxury.
Your biggest retrospective to date opens this month. What did you learn from seeing your work assembled in a coherent way?
This is the first time we have had such an extensive exhibition in London. We have had exposure at other museums and galleries, but largely overseas. What I noticed is that all the various projects/collections are still very modern. What the visitor will see in the show is how different worlds relate to each other, how everything is interconnected. My work is a reaction to things that happen in the world - in history, anthropology, science, technology. It represents a merging of all these worlds, which is what makes the work unique. I enjoy creating bridges between different worlds and disciplines. Visitors should not come with fixed expectations. This will not just be a fashion exhibition but a tray of ideas. They will be exposed to clothing, then a film, then an installation.
How did the exhibition come about?
The Design Museum contacted me about 18 months ago. I thought it was the right moment to have such an exhibition that would show my work – being fashion, art or design projects – up to date.
As a native of Nicosia, what do you feel have been the most influential aspects of the Turkish Cypriot culture on your work?
My work reflects a relationship between rural and urban culture, movements of people and the idea of migration, anthropology, history, cultural prejudice, a relationship with the earth. My work is a conversation, a constant state of discourse.
What, in your opinion, are the strongest pieces in the collection?
It is very difficult to say. What is being exhibited is already a selection of all my projects. It is like a jewelry box of a show.
Your work is very cross-disciplinary, merging science and technology with fashion and art. Which of the two areas initially piqued your interest at the outset, and how and when did you begin experimenting with the two?
My work is about ideas. If I had to define my philosophy in just a few words, it would be about an exploration, a journey, storytelling – it is a combination of these things, with suggestions and proposals at the same time. It is a quest into certain areas and proposing a way of looking at something. I am very much an ideas person, which my team helps me to realize. I am not a one-man show. When you are someone trying to create an idea, you don't always have the means to make it practical the first time around – the perpetual struggle of making a prototype and then making it real.
What kind of books do you enjoy reading, and what are you reading at the moment?
I have a big pile of books waiting at home. They are about history, migration, technology, genetics, etc. Unfortunately, between finishing the exhibition at the Design Museum, finalizing the pre-collection and shoes collection and starting the next show and collection, I hardly have the time to start reading these books.
Who are your favorite artists and why?
I am excited by so many people. It can vary from directors Aki Kaurismaki or Antonioni, choreographer Pina Bausch, to cultural theorist Roland Barthes, to artist Ceal Floyer.
Which designers have influenced you the most?
No one, per se. But I love the work of Margiela, and historically, Sybilla.
You've done some interesting collaborative projects in the past. Who would you most like to collaborate with, from the realms of art and of science?
I am not really into collaborations at the moment, as my time is currently divided between restructuring and developing my business with the Puma partnership and working as Puma's first creative director.
Your appointment at Puma is not your first commercial role; in the past, you have collaborated with high street brands. In more recent years, you have managed to strike an impressive balance between commercial success and creative integrity. How have you achieved this, and how are you applying this to Puma?
In staying true to myself.
How will PPR's acquisition of the Hussein Chalayan brand affect you, the brand, and its future?
The partnership with Puma presents an amazing opportunity to expand into new brand categories and move into retail – but in our language and while staying true to the brand. We definitely want to reach more people. Our first season with the Puma Group is the launch of our first shoe collection and pre-collection produced within the PPR/Gucci Group facilities. But I want to take projects a lot further. I would also like to make long-lasting art projects, where monumental pieces deriving from them can also become real objects you can use.
You are currently working on accessories.
The new FW shoe collection is produced by Sergio Rossi. We are also launching a first Hussein Chalayan trainers collection for men and women this fall that will be produced by Puma.
What has been the most interesting aspect of this?
I've never worked so much on accessories.
You've enjoyed both incredible success and struggles throughout your career. What are the most fundamental lessons you have learned?
As said above, staying true to myself.
As a fashion designer, what are the key pieces every man and woman should have in their wardrobe?
Clothes that make them feel good and confident!
What do you enjoy most about Paris Fashion Week?
That it gives us such an international audience.
Hussein Chalayan Works: 1994-2009 is on show at the London Design Museum from January 21 through May 17, 2009.
The designer will also be presenting his F/W 2009 ready-to-wear collection during Paris Fashion week, from March 5-12, 2009.
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