Hussein Chalayan

Hussein Chalayan – Wall Text – Proje4L, Istanbul, April 2004

Each society defines itself through ciphers and codes. To figure out and define the similarities and differences, one should observe the societies from the mirror at which they perceive themselves. The mirror exists as a reflection of the image, not the reality. Hussein Chalayan can be considered as a fashion designer and artist who choose to search for these codes and ciphers and constructs his works on symbols and metaphors. Chalayan, a well-known designer, does not only exist in fashion scene. He structures the organic connection between art, architecture and fashion in his works. Chalayan deals with the concepts such as space, geography, culture, social stratum, localization, nomadic lives, relativity, transformation in his fashion shows and his video works, his latest video works can be handled as a synthesis of the fashion shows he has been realizing since 1998. In spaces surrounded by symbols and metaphors, the thin line between dressing and veiling gets blurred and clarified; he embodies the abstract by the visual production.
Hussein Chalayan was born in Lefkoşe,Cyprus in 1970 and moved to London with his family at the age of twelve. In 1993 he graduated from St. Martin’s School of Art with Fashion Degree. After his graduation, Chalayan started to dress the windows Browns Store, which where assigned to Galliano a decade ago. Judie Blame notices Chalayan’s works at Browns, and that Browns is located at the opposite street of worldwide-known Harrods Store can be interpreted as the most significant factor of Chalayan’s fame. Judie Blame, image maker and stylist, has an influence on togetherness of Chalayan and Björk, their meeting and working together. He designed many of Björk’s costumes and the dress for Purse album. Designing his first collection in 1994, and working with various names and firms in the following ten years, he laid the foundations of a store for his own works. He worked as creative director of TSE, an USA trade known for cashmere dresses, between 1998-2001, and of Asprey, a two hundred years old company, between 2001-2004. In 1998 he designed costumes for Michael Clarke Dance Group’s Current/See show, and Messiah Opera staged by Eric Fraad at New York John Jay Collage Theater in December 1999. From 1994, Chalayan starts to work in collaboration with big companies, among his fashion show’s sponsors Absolut Vodka, Renault, Top Shop, Nokia, Arcadia Grup, ITKIB, Marks&Spencer, Dubont, and among his video works’ sponsors Tribe Art Commission. Taking over with his designs, Chalayan is found worthy for many design awards. He was the winner of Absolut Creation competition, organized by Absolut Vodka, among a hundred fashion designers in 1995. In 1999 and 2000 he was awarded as the fashion designer of the year in the British Fashion Awards.
Creating his own choices of music and choreography to form the fashion show places, Hussein Chalayan worked with photographers such as Nick Knight, Marcus Tomlinson and Mario Sorrenti. Fashion shows, formed over the themes problematized by Chalayan, in a way symbolize an idea, create and present an atmosphere for it. Though his shows differ in stage design, music installation and the glances on the faces of models, each show has a connection in details with the other. The titles in Before Minus Now, 1999 Spring/Summer Collection can be depicted as the progress and transformation towards the aerodynamic design of Place to Passage video work in 2004.
Mirrorheads, found in 1998 Spring/Summer Collection and photographed by Chris Moore, can be read as a work that differentiates the situation and perception of mirrors. While Mirrorheads chases after the answer of Umberto Eco’s question: “Is the reflected an image?”, it contrasts with the static situation of mirrors. Mirrors are on the stage as complementary such as hats or foulards. Mirror is an object, faced in everyday life, not hesitated to meet by chance but not carried as a costume, and the spectator undertakes to complete the meaning it bears and its multi-dimensional form. Chalayan based Mirrorheads work on border concept and the transformation of it. The reflection of spectators on the mirrors that models wear can be interpreted as an attempt to question the togetherness of perception and spectator; and voyeurism and border. By peeping an object, instead of leaving it fixed, one led the objects enter into the play and blur the space between personal space and spectator.

Eggheads and Girls in Dhalikis works, found in 1999 Autumn/ Winter collection, are photographed by Richard Avedon. Chalayan, who chooses to designate the icons he wants to deal with and transform them, in a way aesthetize the concept of veiled women of Islamic countries, and makes a synthesis of dynamics, which belong to different lands. While, Still Life fashion show (1996) refers to still life painting; the designs in 2000 Autumn/ Winter collection titled Afterwords leave the traces of his socio-economic situation. The show focuses on compulsory migration -experienced in Cyprus, where he spent his childhood and in Balkans where the war was still on; announce a functional design. Chair clothes become dresses, chairs become suitcases, and tables become skirts, and this puts stress on uncertainty of nomadic lives, emphasize that identity formation is bound to experienced space and time.
The use and presentation of symbols, and the interpretation of cultural links occupy an important place in Chalayan’s works. Instead of focusing just on fashion, Hussein Chalayan prefers to problematize every single detail surround him. The works come out from the influences he gets, his impressions, and differentiate between the subjects they deal with.
1998 Spring/Summer collection titled Geotropics is kneaded with the meaning of nation concept, its development, nationalism and culture concept. On the historical Silk Way, the nourishment of different cultures from each other, from their distinct costumes, and dressing cultures can be defined as the journey of costumes, and also can be called a sophisticated approach directed to the born of nation concept, the determination of natural borders by mounts and rivers. In a way, the creation of micro geographies is defined via clothes. Layer Dresses work in Geotropics collection, depicting the direct connection between veiling and culture, is a video fashion show set on three women veiling in layers. The social stratums that one wears on are significant components regarding the definition of belonging.
Echoforms, 1999-2000 Autumn/ Winter collection, states that all systems and products the human kind creates are the reflection of body. Technology, speed concept can be named the negatives of the body, the things that body cannot materialize in its limits but can reach them by means of bodily produced creations. Just as music arouse many things already existed in our bodies, the created spaces are projections of body. Echoforms, based on cars’ inner space designs, is an attempt to determine the repeat of ergonomic structure.
Besides identity, dressing and socio-economic matters, Chalayan also investigate the notion, concept of space. Thus he organizes 2002 Spring/ Summer collection titled Medea of Sandys not on a podium in Paris but in historical Women Monastery, selecting a frequented place that welcomed many people from different social groups during years, the monastery, as an alternative to a place set for short periods, the podium. In fact the clothing of 60’s evoke the Middle Ages and those of 30’s evoke Edward period clothing culture. Medea of Sandys is an attempt to specify the time slides in historical space, just as an archeological excavation.
Regarding the 2002/2003 Autumn/winter collection , titled Ambimorphous , he adds  the folkloric elements to his designs and he chooses to use orientalism in  an abstract way instead of bounding it in already existed definitons. Ambimorphous can be considered  as an attempt to discover  the blurry  border between realism and surrealism, between  being powerful and  powerlessness, also it points the changing balances around us. Clothes at the show penetrates in each other and as a result these new forms become undefinable. Reality and surrealism are extinguished in each other.
2003 Autumn/ Winter collection, Kinship Journeys, can be read as a complementary attempt on the topic of human life circle. The black diving board, black boat, the clock counting the minutes and the music are on the stage as the foremost elements of that circle. There are three episodes. At first episode, with the help of the diving board, power that is hunted throughout lifetime is stated. Everybody carries balloons that keep them existing and aims to reach higher and higher. Together with the religious music orchestra plays, one tries to cut his connection with the ground and to reach heavens. Diving board, by its nature, just conveys the power applied, that means to reach higher one needs to apply more power. Each diving board experience is not a success. Second episode deals with our sins and the fact that we become dirty day by day. A Christian ritual, to plant a branch after confession ceremonies, is on the stage. This action represents the belief in transformation of sins into something useful, becoming a sprouting tree to reach prosperity. The third episode is narrated using the black boat on the stage. The boat, interpreted as the coffin, is exposed to refuses. To refuse the boat is to refuse the death. Kinship Journeys makes it clear that life is a journey with and end and chronometer that starts with birth will stop at a point. Chronometer, not stopping from the beginning to the end of the show, appears de facto for the spectators. Chalayan reveals the impossibility of isolation even in fictive time and space.
2003 Autumn/ Winter collection, Place/ non Place, is structured on the fact that an industrial product, the dress, can gain an internal past. That a space is defined by social, politic, economic and cultural experiences surround it motives Chalayan to evaluate a dress with such notions. If an activity can convert a non-place space to a place for a while; the dress, gained a past through usage and necessity, can function the same.
With two of his works named Airmail Dress and Aeroplane Dress, Chalayan gets the opportunity to present his works in Turkey for the first time at 7th Istanbul Biennale. A skirt design that a little child turns on and off with the remote control used at 1999 Spring/ Summer collection, Before Minus Now, is the base of Aeroplane Dress work in 2001, in which the dress is turned on and off and made of plane material. Airmail Dress is made of paper, when folded become a standard envelope. It’s produced a hundred paper dresses and some of them are exhibited at St.Irene, one of the exhibition places of 7th Istanbul Biennale. Chalayan’s first solo exhibition in Turkey, titled Echoforms, is at Galerist. This exhibition includes video works such as Aeroplane Dress, After Words, Ambimorphous, and Medea, installations such as Echoforms and Reduction Room, and photographs works as Abondoned Plane.
Aeroplane Dress, Airmail Dress, Abondoned Plane and Temporal Mediations are produced at different times, but are constructed on related themes. Airports, places without action, only present a multiple transition. In front of a door, which opens to different places with different possibilities, waiting just the opening of the door, like Alice in Wonderland… At airports, where time and space are suspended in uncertainty, to experience the place is a dual sided process of breathing. The one who experience and the one, which is experienced, have a tendency to transform at different points. At moving, continual transition place, identity, border and orientation concepts shed away from obscurity. Photography work, Abondoned Plane, is completed at Nicosia Airport after European Union closes the port to air traffic for its own use. The plane left in the closed airport lost its functions in an eternal abandonment. Hussein Chalayan creates the photographs and taking the road with the knowledge that each photograph signs the things left in the past, this work symbolizes the transformation of the former. With the reflection of action, the association of a transforming place has the traces of an (in)finite waiting, and the impossibility of another journey of  a plane left motionless at a place set by the notion of journey is described. Meaning, give birth to itself with the togetherness of two symbols, which motive Chalayan to say something on place and houses hints about the place’s present. It’s attributed a monumental value to the plane, which lost its value once upon a time it got. Chalayan’s productions lay on a platform in which they are related to each other conceptually. Airmail Dress, Aeroplane Dress, Abondoned Plane and Temporal Meditations directly or indirectly point out airports. Air mails, transformation of a plane that will no more be used, the projections of things enclose us in everyday life…
Besides the political factors it includes, Temporal Meditations can be defined as Chalayan’s personal encounter with his childhood that occupy an important place in his past, and with Cyprus where he spent his childhood. The installation of 2004 Spring/ Summer collection, in which traditional motifs spread among, is enriched with the symbols. Summer meal, including watermelon and halumi cheese, special to Mediterranean, coffee fortune telling and backgammon meet the spectators with their transformed situations. Backgammon played on the table defined as compromise place, and as the elements change form-solid into liquid-, at which point compromise is necessary experience a loss. Plane and airport, the motifs Chalayan uses in all of his works, gain a monumental value especially in Temporal Meditations.
2003 video animation work, Place to Passage attracts attention as the last indicator that C Chalayan’s investigation in construction of places. Journey concept is defined taking into consideration that everybody moves in its own planet, and is visualized using a Stanislav Lem like fiction.
It seems Chalayan want us to realize the objects that stand beside us, stand in front of us, that we are close or away, the objects that encircle us, and what are these objects actually. Maybe this is an effort to overcome the limitations of language via visual.
In general, all of Chalayan’s works are existing related to each other, constructed over each other and are following each other. The concepts strained by Chalayan come together with his personal past. At this ongoing progress, it shouldn’t be difficult to grasp that consolidating his acquaintance with visual culture norms Chalayan effectively begins to bring forth at film medium.

Fatos Ustek
Translation (Tr-Eng): Emel Kahraman