On first sight of Hussein Chalayan, one could be mistaken for not assuming this minimally dressed, polite and calm man who lists Sunday brunch as one of his main enjoyments, is in fact the creator of the extravagant, show stopping fashion he has become synonymous with since his St Martins graduation into the 90s fashion world. In fact, Chalayan himself appears frustrated at the strong association of his name with show pieces. He insists that such design barely features in his day job, that of making clothes. He makes clothes that people can, and want to wear. This is what his business does and Chalayan is a business man, as well as a designer.
It almost appears as though Chalayan has two parallel strands to his design approach. He sees himself as a communicator of ideas. This is where the shows come in. More than most fashion designers, Chalayan also exhibits his work in museums – this is really just another forum for ideas communication which allows the viewer an alternative experience. His shows are fast and powerful and in a museum the observer can scrutinise. Chalayan draws much inspiration from his sense of being a cultural alien in London, despite having been educated here in Britain. Chalayan is Turkish Cypriot by birth – such cultural differences and connections to ‘other worlds’ can be seen as inspirations to his previous work. Having been active in the fashion world for many years, Chalayan has produced a large body of work, which he now feels he can ‘swim in’ for further inspiration -‘you don’t always have to continue generating new ideas’ he says.
The second strand which lies alongside Chalayan the communicator, is Chalayan the business man. Unlike many other high profile designers, Chalayan does not have residency at an international fashion house. This means that the business must be profitable itself and cannot just be a showcase for its lead name. There was a possibility many years ago for Chalayan to move to Gucci, but it did not transpire in the end. Maintaining a profitable fashion business for many years is obviously difficult, thus it was felt a real loss when he was not able to go to Gucci – though on reflection Chalayan is happy about the turn of events. The body of the Chalayan business brand is the production of high end, wearable clothing. They are currently working on a more affordable line, which should be available towards the end of this year. The business is also supported through Chalayan’s consultancy work: he is currently creative director at Puma.
Hussein Chlayan has experienced decades of the fashion world and has observed a lot of changes. Starting out in the 90s was exciting, risky and possibly easy, when compared to the hard times in the new millennium, where he found himself having to work harder and harder. Like many, Chalayan is slightly cynical about the modern day fashion world: where money speaks louder than talent and celebrities join the ranks of the designers: although he admits that if the clothes are good, then is there actually a problem? He cites fashion bloggers as some of the most influential people in fashion and definitely feels the power of social media. This is not a natural route for him, although he understands the necessity (his company has a Facebook page).
Chalayan has just published a new book and released his first fragrance‘airborne’.