Interview: Hussein Chalayan

Fashion Designer

by Hussein Chalayan .

The idea is to push boundaries, but also it is to say that these pieces that exist on this level have other friends that exist on a more approachable level.

Alexander Fury: What were your aims in undertaking this exhibition and what is it that you hope to achieve?

Hussein Chalayan: Well this is the first exhibition we’ve had on this level, ever in London. Really the whole idea is to show my world to people. Let’s say in terms of design and in terms of films, in terms of sculptures that are all informed by similar ideas. It’s a way for people to be able to look at these things close up as well – although obviously there is digital media, we have a website. Also, I think it’s very different to doing a fashion show, because that is an event that is over in ten minutes. So, it’s to see the clothes in a different context, on mannequins that are engaging with the space. It’s a whole other thing.

Alexander Fury: Your work often pushes at what we consider to be fashion and goes into boundaries of things that we may term as art and technology. Is that deliberate? Do you deliberately push against what people consider to be fashion?

Hussein Chalayan: I think that the pushing is not…well of course I like to push boundaries, but I’m absorbed by the idea often and I’m trying just to do what I have in mind. And it does what it does. It’s not like it’s done for the sake of “oh, I want to push the boundaries”. It’s really like an idea that I feel forms and it has its own life and it just has to happen. So in a way I think yes the idea is to push boundaries, but also it is to say that these pieces that exist on this level have other friends that exist on a more approachable level.

Alexander Fury: Was it important for you to include all the different mediums that you work in? There’s film, there’s installation alongside the clothes. Was it important for you that all of that was represented in the exhibition that the public gets to see all of that?

Hussein Chalayan: Yes, because often they’re not exhibited together or, I mean a lot of those films have not even been shown in London before. So, it’s to do with the location that we just haven’t had this level of a show here ever. We’ve had shows and we’ve participated in shows, but not on this level.

Alexander Fury: I think to the general public fashion is quite ephemeral, it’s represented by images and the public don’t really get a chance to engage physically with it. At the same time a lot of fashion exhibitions are criticised because they remove the fashion from the public. I thought it was quite interesting that you’re taking these garments that are often represented by images, you’ve talked about them as monuments, they’re almost couture garments and you’re bringing them into a space and allowing people to physically interact with them. In a sense it’s against fashion, it’s against fashion’s representation in an exhibition. Is that something you always wanted to do?

Hussein Chalayan: I think, what I can say is that a platform like this gives the opportunity to show clothes in an alternative way. I didn’t want this to be a costume show – I think I’ve seen too many of those. I felt the figures should somehow baptise the space, somehow engage with the space - there’s a tank outside as well. Basically you don’t get this opportunity often, because in a live show it can actually come across as pretentious if the girls do too many weird things. So in a space like this you have more freedom to do that and in terms of how fashion is perceived. If you were from a non-fashion background you may just enjoy this as an installation; if you’re from a fashion background you may just enjoy the clothes; if you’re maybe from a design background you may just enjoy the other pieces. So I think what this creates is a sort of situation that a lot of different people can appreciate on a different level.

Alexander Fury: I find it really interesting that as soon as you walk into the exhibition there’s a direct juxtaposition of your graduate collection from 1994 and your latest collection. Was it important to you that you were representing your work through your career?

Hussein Chalayan: Well the first piece you see is actually from my first London Fashion Week collection; the ‘Buried’ dress. I like that because it was like the two opposite; one was really synthetic and in a way very aerodynamic and the other one was very earthy and I think, yes I like that thought somehow because it’s the two ends of the spiral.

Alexander Fury: You talked about the fact that this is a very edited selection. How did you make that process and how difficult was it to select the pieces?

Hussein Chalayan: Well, if you can imagine that there’s nearly fifteen years of work - and how the hell can I put that into one big space? So we chose things that had a nice connection to the films or to the objects and that we felt we can present as a series, things that would make a good image let’s say. I think it was very much how one thing led to the other, but it was relative, so that made the selection easier – the relative process.

Alexander Fury: In planning an exhibition like this, there’s a hell of a lot of work and at the same time you’re showing your collection in just over a month in Paris. Has the process of creating this exhibition influenced you in terms of what you’re going to do next season? Are we going to see an influence?

Hussein Chalayan: I don’t think you are, it’s a completely different thing that we’re doing next. For me, I think the collection that we’re doing for March already unfolded a while ago and I think it’s a very, sort of ‘Hussein’ way of working. And, no I don’t think it’s influenced me because before we did a retrospective show in Groninger: half of this is from there actually and the other half is new. Although it was selected again, it was re-edited for this, the approach was already there: the architecture, or the seeds, were already there for the kind of show it was going to be.

Alexander Fury: Connecting with that, and my last question, is that a lot of people would see a retrospective as an end, the end of one chapter and possibly the beginning of another. Is that how you see this?

Hussein Chalayan: Some people have been calling it a retrospective but I would call it work up-to-date, because I’m not in my eighties about to die! It’s kind of a new beginning for me, but actually more than anything it’s just an opportunity for people to see the work close up, and there’s a large body of work we’ve done that people haven’t seen here. So it’s really an opportunity for that and, I mean, there’s constantly new works in the pipeline.

Interviewed at the Design Museum, London, 21 January 2009