Something has changed at Hussein Chalayan. Maybe it's the multiple retrospectives being staged to honour his career: the latest at Paris' prestigious Musée des Arts Décoratifs kicks off in July (nothing like a good root through the best bits of their archives to get a designer thinking how really great they are).
Maybe its the switch from the high-voltage but equally high-pressure runway show over to intimate showroom appointments and skilfully directed video for the past two collections. Or maybe Chalayan's just in a good place right now. Whatever the reasoning, his past two collections have distinctly upped the ante, taking Chalayan to a new plain where commerce and creativity are perfect bedfellows. It's gratifying to see.
Chalayan's Autumn/Winter 2011 collection is titled Kaikoku. His last was Sakoku. See the theme? Well, actually, they're more than just unpronounceable for Westerners, they're entirely interrelated. The first explored the period where Japanese society closed itself off from the world for almost four hundred years, this season was about Japan opening to Western influence, and absorbing it wholeheartedly. Nowhere, ironically, has this been seen more prominently than in fashion, as many a formerly-moribund Paris house discovered in the 1980s.
Chalayan, of course, examined it more cerebrally, exploring the idea of East meeting West. That's a fashion cliche if ever there was one, but Chalayan brought new life to the equation. Check, for instance, his marriage of the draped volume of the kimono with the rigours of Western tailoring in intriguing felt tunics folded around and away from the body. Those had an air of Balenciaga to the formality and structure in their volume - perfectly dovetailed into one of next season's key themes then. It was picked up in the outerwear, the stand-out success story of this collection.
Chalayan pinched a 'Station Pocket' detail from his archives, and offering deep tunnels to encase the arms and emphasise a strong egg-like shape, they looked wonderful, as did rounded shoulders on coats and blazers. Chalayan has always been adept at picking up on the mood of the times and reengineering them to his own devices, and these were virtuoso.
As for Chalayan's remote-controlled metal frock dress that rolled around by itself and then pinged a few thousand Swarovski-crystal pollen buds off at the touch of a button? Well, there was a heavyweight intellectual justification - it was about floating, freedom, yadda yadda. In actual fact it was about the exuberance and excitement of a dress exploding into unexpected motion before your very eyes. Chalayan is nothing if not a showman - even in the showroom.