Hussein Chalayan took a trip to the Far East to inspire his S/S 2011 collection - join the rest of the fashion world anxious to rework anything and everything oriental into next spring's key must have. Except for the fact that, for Chalayan, clothes are about far far more than the purely visual, and hence his vision of the east - namely Japan - managed to transcend the usual stereotypes and assumptions made by Western fashion, and actually offer something tantalisingly, fascinatingly new.
A rigorous, methodical and intensely intellectual designer, Chalayan not only went to Japan, but immersed himself in the country's often-surreal culture. Chalayan was inspired by the Sakoku period, where Japan was wilfully isolated from the rest of the world between 1633 and 1853 - and the notion that this reflects in the oddness and isolation of Japanese culture today. He then explored ideas such as the Japanese obsession with order and rigour, the Japanese fetish for packaging and wrapping (maybe that relates to their fetish for fashion? But that's a whole different hypothetical collection right there), the idea of Japan as a water-surrounded nation, and the Kabuki theatre. Add dresses draped to form approximations of Japanese characters, broiderie anglaise inspired by the back-seat of a taxicab, and a few nods to Japanese schoolgirl style, and it's a complex, convoluted mix.
Yes, it's complicated. Complicated for Chalayan to synthesise these elements so skilfully, render them so flawlessly, and fashion them into a collection that felt light, easy and, above all, interesting. It was interesting to see his treatments of these themes - even without knowing, you sensed it was about wrapping, draping, playing with blocks of colour, interrupting the order of neat tailoring with explosions of volume. The intense, focussed thought behind these clothes, however, gave them a depth and resonance that escapes all but the very best designers. There were also some neat tricks pulled from Chalayan's own past - detached collars taken from his late nineties shows, flat cutting from his A/W 1999 show, those multiple gores as featured in his 2000-2001 shows - reproduced, refined and remade.
Chalayan opted to present via a simple film rather than a catwalk show this season, allowing his audience to toy with the clothes immediately after, as well as read the extensive programme notes to explain every nuance of the collection. They were illuminating, rather than irritating (the fashion show norm), fitting really, as Chalayan's collection wasn't just fashion that made you think, but fashion that made you learn.