Fashion Obscura: Hussein Chalayan’s Outsider Fashion
The month is February and the year is 2013. You just got home from another soul-crushing day at high school, and it’s time to check tumblr. Scrolling past backstage photos of Sasha Pivovarova and scans of an NSFW editorial from French Vogue, something catches your eye: it’s a GIF of Hussein Chalayan’s Fall/Winter 2013 runway show.
You look closer. The moving image captures a model gliding down the runway, her face vacant in a very high fashion way. As she approaches the camera, her hand grabs at the neckline of her dress. She wrenches down, a forceful maneuver that, in any other case, would rip right through the garment.
But instead of destroying the dress, she creates a new one. The frock unfurls into an entirely new creation, a mind-bending feat of tailoring.
It was this GIF that introduced me to Chalayan’s enchanting experiments with transforming fashion. The British-Turkish designer, a Central Saint Martins graduate, has been creating high-tech wearables long before the advent of WiFi and smartphones.
In 2000, he created a remote-controlled dress with panels that lifted to reveal a layer of tulle. In 2007, he upped the ante with computer-controlled dresses that seemed to shape-shift on their own accord. The same year, he debuted an LED dress that played videos on its surface. And in 2017, he partnered with Intel to create brainwave and heart-monitoring accessories that displayed visualizations of models’ stress levels via tiny built-in projectors.
Chalayan’s runway shows emanate a strange sort of magic that fashion today lacks. While watching footage from his past collections, everything else falls away — a transportive quality similarly present in the work of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano.
Chalayan hasn’t shown at Fashion Week since the FW20 season, and recent news regarding the designer is sparse. In 2019, he joined the University of Applied Sciences Berlin as a design professor. In 2020, Shanghai’s Power Station of Art hosted Hussein Chalayan: Archipelago, a retrospective of his work. And in early 2022, he collaborated with homeware purveyor Karaca on a collection of tableware.
It seems the creative has indefinitely stepped away from fashion. “The industry favors all the same people and it is really boring, from stylists to photographers to designers… It is safe to say I haven’t really ever made myself part of the ‘club,’” he said in a recent interview.
It’s this unwavering authenticity that unlocked the imaginations of me and countless other fashion tumblr teens. And it’s the reason why, after 69 seasons, Chalayan may have retired as fashion history.
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