It was a deal that happened very quickly, said Hussein Chalayan at a press conference with the Chairman and CEO of PUMA, Jochen Zeitz, this lunchtime to announce the designer's appointment as the first Creative Director of the 'sports lifestyle brand'. But the potential to turn what Chalayan deems 'prototypes' - the wearable technology that has characterised his work over the past 14 years- in partnership with a company whose bread and butter is perfomance technology was too good an opportunity to miss. "Technology is the only thing that can make fashion look new", he said, "and I'm very excited to turn all that research into a reality".
Zeitz was keen to stress that this was no mere 'collaboration' but a long-term commitment -more marriage than short-term relationship added Chalayan- and to that end, PUMA, part of Francois Pinault's mighty PPR group have bought a 'majority stake' in Chalayan's own company (they would not be drawn on how much). A very intelligent communicator, the CEO reminded an excitable press pack that it was PUMA (and by implication not Adidas) that was the first sportswear brand to work with fashion. In 1998, PUMA launched a sneakers line with Jil Sander, a good four years before Yohji Yamamoto embarked upon his joint line with what Zeitz referred to as "the 'A' word". As for whether fashion and sports were good bedfellows, Zietz said 80% of PUMA product is now sold as a fashion item and acknowledging the emotional correlation between aesthetics and performance, cited Linford Christie telling him ten years ago "when I look good I run faster".
The amount of excitement and good will towards Chalayan from those writers who have followed his career during a period when it has become increasingly difficult for designers without major backing was palpable and a joy to witness. With a generation of young designers coming up through the ranks whose modus operandi is distinctly anti-conceptual and anti-intellectual, ideas-based fashion design had been receiving less press support of late. It is a wonderful moment for British fashion design to see one of its most inspired visionaries and ingenious innovators to have his dreams translated into reality. "In Autumn/Winter 2009", Zietz assured, Chalayan's "influence will be felt".