From Banality to Brilliance: the Fashion of Hussein Chalayan

Hussein Chaylian

Fashion as an Outlet for Big Ideas


Fashion is sometimes depicted as a danger to women; a conditioning; a concern of only the most silly and superficial girls, keen to play up to society’s expectations and with a willingness to totter precariously in six inch heels. What fashion is rarely considered as, in the hangover of idiosyncratic-identity-consuming-capitalism anyway, is an outlet. If fashion is no longer a coherent expression of self what exactly is it an outlet for?

Fashion is multifaceted, inextricably linked to society, culture, politics and religion. Fashion is symptomatic of the big issues we face every day. Fashion can be an outlet for big ideas. “Fashion is not created by a single individual” (Kawamura, 2005), rather it is an “international language” (Jones, 2011), thus speaking not of one person’s character but of the human condition generally.

Hussein Chalayan Between 1998

Hussein Chalayan is one designer finely in tune with this idea. Rather than singularly attempting to explore his Cypriot cultural heritage, Chalayan draws from the political, social, and economic realities of his era. His 1998 collection Between focuses on the universal notions of worship and territory. It aims to deconstruct how we define our territory through belief systems. During the creative process Chalayan asked nude models on a beach in East Sussex to stake out their territory using rope and poles.

Once their boundaries were defined Chalayan interrogated the idea of identity by concealing some of the model’s faces. Models dressed in red wore egg-shaped capsules that entirely covered their faces, offering a certain protection from the gaze of others but completely removing any sense of their individuality. Others wore headpieces framed in mirrors that allowed the spectators to see and be seen in their reflections. The collection culminated with six models dressed in black chadors of varying lengths, while a seventh model was completely naked, wearing only a minute yashmak covering her face.

As debates about religion and prescriptive codes endure, Chalayan’s collection is as relevant in 2014 as it was in 1998. Between shows how through “the religious code you are depersonified” (Chalayan, 2011). Unlike most designers, Chalayan is not simply concerned with the covering (or non-covering) of the body, rather the pieces he created cause us to examine why and how we choose to cover our bodies. Rather than making a glaring and pretentious statement about personal identity, Between considers identity in its broadest terms. This makes for a deeply poignant collection.

Hussein 01Like art, philosophy, or literature, such fashion offers a profound commentary on humanity. It is therefore necessary to approach the work of Chalayan as we would that of Picasso, Sartre, or DeLillo. We may be critical, we may even disagree with what the pieces stand for, but we must acknowledge its artistic and intellectual integrity. Such work makes it impossible to dismiss fashion as a superficial bane of society. In the twenty first century fashion is a powerful and evocative way of expressing our humanity.

This article was written and submitted by Jennifer Martin for Round 1 of Modeconnect’s International Fashion Writing Competition. Jennifer was invited to take part in Round 2. Read all the published submissions