Hussein Chalayan on The Importance of Identity

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Goldfrapp performing at the Royal Albert Hall wearing Hussei
Goldfrapp performing at the Royal Albert Hall wearing Hussei

Following his couture collaboration with Goldfrapp, Hussein Chalayan discusses the importance of identity, and how he has evolved over the past two decades

"My composition is the most important aspect of my work – the way in which I drape. I work with transformation in order to create new shapes. In the past two or three years, there has been a greater element of couture within my work. I have learnt a lot by working with Vionnet – I have definitely explored a new dimension. Eveningwear has really evolved for me, as well as my coats and my tailoring of course, which I have always done. I have been trying to purify and refine my ideas through couture. I try to think of the Chalayan woman and what she would wear on different occasions. She may dress like a boy during the day and then be super sexy at night. The project with Alison (Goldfrapp) took the experience of couture to a new level."

"I have been trying to purify and refine my ideas through couture" — Hussein Chalayan

"It is important to have an identity. A lot of designers collage different ideas from everywhere and say, "This is me." I can see where all their references are from and I think it’s a shame. I swim within my own repertoire and add new things. It is important to have a sense of my own style. I really care about that. If I think that something I've done is similar to somebody else, then I won't do it."

Ever since his breakthrough graduate collection in 1993, Hussein Chalayan has been carving his own identity. He champions an intellectual approach to fashion, balancing performance art, power dressing and a unique spin on femininity, placing composition and silhouette at the heart of each design.

The Turkish-Cypriot designer turned his conceptual hand to stage costume this week for Goldfrapp’s performance at the Royal Albert Hall. The singer performed a one-off show with the London Contemporary Orchestra, playing tracks from her sixth studio album, Tales of Us. It was a captivating, fairytale performance, interlaying beguiling vocals, an extensive orchestra and a heady dose of old-school glamour. At first glance, Chalayan’s demure black trouser suit seemed a world away from Goldfrapp’s usual outlandish disco-dress. However it went on to dramatically transform during the performance, peeling down into a bustle.

The transformative garment draws parallels with his recent S/S15 collection: a darkly romantic blend of architectural trickery, as garments peeled and unzipped to create new silhouettes. This idea is key to the Chalayan label: his early designs showcased a coffee table that transformed into a wooden skirt, an armchair cover that became a dress and fold-up paper clothing, all of which now stand as a paradigm for 90s conceptualism. “Transformation is something I have worked with since the beginning, and it has really evolved," Chalayan explains. "It is more effortless and relaxed now. I have been doing this for the past few seasons, but with Goldfrapp’s outfit it was really like a showpiece. It is great to be able to apply my designs to people, as it becomes less about a spectacle and instead becomes real.”

Words by Mhairi Graham