Meeting back in 1993, when groundbreaking designer Hussein Chalayan was creating an installation for the Prague-based, British Council-run Window Gallery, curated at the time by Andree Cooke, the pair have been friends since, collaborating on a
Meeting back in 1993, when groundbreaking designer Hussein Chalayan was creating an installation for the Prague-based, British Council-run Window Gallery, curated at the time by Andree Cooke, the pair have been friends since, collaborating on a variety of projects.
Chalayan's creative approach has always been one based solidly in ideas and concepts, his work blurring the lines between what is described as art and what is described as design, while Cooke is regarded as being one of a handful of curators very much open to this cross-referencing between outputs…
The designer and curator are currently working together on Chalayan's new solo exhibition, B-SIDE, held at London's Spring Projects gallery, a space curated by Cooke and set up originally to provide a platform for contemporary work across the fields of art, fashion and design. This show focuses on the designer/artist's film work, installations, animation and sculpture.
We brought the two together to discuss ways of working, where they fit, and whether or not they feel like they have to.
Do you think a piece of fashion design is capable of being as narrative driven as an art work?
Hussein Chalayan: I think in my case yes, but as a rule, no. I am process driven and have to have a story or an idea in order to create what I'm doing. You don't have to know about that in order to appreciate the product, but it is my way of working.
The functionality of the clothes is another thing to take into consideration.
HC: Yes, but that is another layer to the process for me. It is a combination of the concept behind the garment, with the functionality, that I find so exciting.
Andree Cooke: I feel the way you look at your work, Hussein, is with a sliding scale of what, and how, you produce. Sometimes it is more conceptual, sometimes more about the design; but they inform each other.
HC: There are points in each collection, where I produce something conceptual that can have a running effect on various other parts of my output. What I describe as my “monuments.” It could be that these monuments inform what becomes the best selling shirt from the collection, or something more sculptural and conceptual, that you can't wear.
Hussein, you're one of the few designers who manage to work, and be credible, within both the art and fashion communities. Why do you think, traditionally, there has been an uncomfortable relationship between the two?
AC: Generally speaking, I think that producing art works for collectors has always been a very narrow field, and fashion has perhaps been treated as more trivial and decorative. Or seen as not following through conceptually. That has stopped fashion from crossing over. I feel in the last ten years or so, however, that designers have referenced the art world a lot more than they have done previously.
HC: I think a lot of people are bound by classification. We like to be able to classify something. There is a change coming through though, and as Andree said, there has been a lot more cross-pollination recently.
There have been a number of high profile museum and institute exhibitions recently, showing designers’ archives. Where do you think this trend stems from?
AC: To be honest, the excitement that is surrounding this approach to fashion design, and the crossover of fashion design into art, is fantastic, but it is also perhaps not as radical as it seems at this moment. The designers that are getting this platform now have been working on it for a very long time. They have made a career out of it.
Hussein, when you are producing, do you see it all as one outlet, across artwork and design?
HC: Thematically I do. But I think functionally of course, there are divisions. Ultimately, as well as being about the conceptual, we sell to stores. And if you’re buying something you don’t have to know about its concepts. It's either a nice dress or it's not. It suits them or it doesn’t. And I'm fine with that.
And Andree, how do you go about curating an exhibition of work like this, in comparison to those based purely in fine art?
AC: Well, I don't actually make those distinctions. I'm interested in working with someone who has great ideas. When I am putting together a show, I want the person exhibiting to show the best that they are capable of, in that moment, and to communicate to a public in the clearest way possible who that person is, or what they are about. The fashion and art categories in that context are slightly irrelevant.
HC: It's about what suits the idea the best. Sometimes you can have an amazing idea, and it doesn’t have to belong to any category at all.