#SuzyLFW: Chalayan: 25 Years Of Thoughtful Style
The very first exit from the Chalayan show at London Fashion Week summed up the designer and his skill. The curvy black leather dress, inset with tiny flowers, was typical of what has made him such a fine fashion player in a minor key.
The audience knew from the start that there was something behind the clothes – literally, since the body seemed to be shaped by a shadowy corset. The designer, who has never used fetishism to degrade women, took a historic image of ‘a woman of ill repute’ from the Shakespearean era and turned it into something sensual, but pure.
For 25 years, Hussein Chalayan (who has dropped his first name) brought to the catwalk a graceful modernity rare in the churning fashion world. For him, technical precision melds with female grace.
This was a dramatic show in its thoughtful way. Dark spiritual figures came dancing through Sadler’s Wells Theatre, where Chalayan has presented his landmark shows, including a courageous statement about the covering of Muslim women in black chadors back in 1998. It now seems prescient.
Then there was the famous ‘coffee table’ skirt in 2000, unfolding furniture into wearables, as the designer incorporated elements of contemporary interiors. Later there were relationships of clothes with technology.
But it is to Chalayan’s credit that conceptual and theoretical ideas, as well as architectural pieces, never obliterated the importance of creating wearable clothes. He may have dressed Björk in the mid-90s, but he remained rational in his attitudes to dressing women to meet their needs.
But Chalayan’s skills over a quarter of a century have been for making thoughtful clothes, ones that represent the desires and needs of modern women.
The most important thing about the collection was its creation in the round. This meant cutting that challenged the familiar flat surfaces and, instead, favouring the moulding of fabric to body. Women’s bodies.
A surreal addition to a black dress with stripes pieced together at an angle to body curves, was a sculpture of head and hands. That represented ‘voguing’, what the designer called a ‘pretentious’ culture of showing off, as if for the cover of Vogue.
Then there were the little sprites, wrapped in black, as they moved alongside the models. They were figures that the designer named as Bunraku agents, after the Japanese figures who pretend to be the wind.
But all this deep thinking was embedded in graceful clothes that were often focused on a lowered, curving neckline – or just sartorial wool pieces shaped by corsetry.
At a celebration for the quarter century, Chalayan was surrounded by loyal clients, his tight-knit team and family who had come from his native Cyprus. The designer explained how he had developed his company, as if giving birth to children one at a time.
How well they have grown!