You have to be brave to title a collection 'Doing Sweet Fuck All' - even if it it does sound rather more eloquent when expressed in Italian. But Hussein Chalayan is a brave, brave man. Brave, indeed, to stand on a podium at his own show and give a running commentary on the pieces he presented, when to some designers even appearing on the catwalk to acknowledge the applause seems an insurmountable obstacle. Braver still, perhaps, to send out a collection bound to confound and confuse his critics. Take a deep breath: Chalayan has done Cruisewear. That title,'Dolce Far Niente', refers to the sweetness of idleness - in fashion, a concept perhaps best expressed by the idea of conspicuous leisure. This is open to interpretation: that leisure can be read into a crinolined ballgown that negates the very notion of labour, or luxurious sportswear that merely indicates a life freed from its constraints. Certainly, when a mind as febrile as Hussein Chalayan sends out a selection of classic seperates that could have been seen idling away on the Riviera half a century ago, we need to take stock, crack his head open and examine just what is going on within. Chalayan's take on 'sportif' was never going to be straightforward. His lounging pyjamas were flattened into two-dimensional cut-outs, hair compressed under crin bathing-caps, eyes hidden behind goggle-like sunglasses, misshaped and hinged at odd points. His maillot sweaters were sliced-out at the back and stretched over sci-fi rocket-pointed bosoms, while the crashing ocean waves wound their way up, around and across, foaming across the figure in stiff iridescent blue frocks. Le Corbusier's grand continental monuments to Modernism were represented in a repreisal of last season's concrete-cut foam tailoring, this time rendered a chalky white as if bleached by the Iberian sun. To protect your skin from said glare, you have only to don one of Chalayan's oversized sun-hats with sliced-out looking-glass portal shading the eyes. Everything was familiar, yet twisted, right and yet wrong, like a utopian vision of a future hazily filtered through the eyes of the late thirties. Playing with rigid conventions of this type of dress (to all extents and purposes unchanged for almost a century), Chalayan managed to create something unsettling and disquieting. What better way to épater le bourgeois than to warp their sartorial stalwarts? Those ghostly china hands clutching from within otherwise elegant silk chiffon and georgette dresses at the finale were certainly enough to spook anyone. Chalayan fans left feeling equally disturbed - was this Chalayan dumbing down, watering down or just toning it down? None of the above. This collection felt like a genuinely new proposal from Chalayan, a glimpse backwards and yet forwards into a landscape of retro-futurism. It is easy to under-analyse because Chalayn used such deceptively simple tools to express his message. Rather than clodhopping, tubthumping theatrics, this show - with its classic couture commentary and live, exceedingly French music in the background - felt part of the establishment, whilst quietly revolting from within. Chalayan's brave, brave new world was compelling, enigmatic and utterly mesmerising - because of, rather than in spite of, its subtlety.
Hussein Chalayan is a brave, brave man. Brave, indeed, to stand on a podium at his own show and give a running commentary on the pieces he presented.