Hussein Chalayan (b. 1970)

Place to Passage (2003)

Cypriot-British fashion designer best known for infusing intellectual concepts and artistic elements into his designs and shows.

Chalayan was born to Muslim parents and attended Turk Maarif Koleji (“Turkish Education College”) in Cyprus. In 1978 he moved to England with his family, and in 1982 they began living in London. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, London, in 1993, he established his own independent design label and his own company, Cartesia Ltd. (1994). Chalayan’s big break came soon thereafter, when a collection that he developed was presented during London Fashion Week.

His Fashion Week debut was critically acclaimed, as were his subsequent shows, which often featured body-inhibiting designs—such as his cocoon dress, a sleeveless creation that bound the arms of its wearer to the sides of the body but provided slits for the release of the hands. In 1995 he won a design competition sponsored by the Absolut Vodka distillers. Two years later the Victoria and Albert Museum included his creations in an exhibition titled “The Cutting Edge: 50 Years of British Fashion,” and that same year his aubergine-coloured silk beaded gown was chosen as the dress of the year by the Museum of Costume in Bath.

The 2000 autumn-winter ready-to-wear show staged by Chalayan at Sadler’s Wells, a London dance theatre, was such a critical hit that it propelled him to be designated British Designer of the Year—for the second consecutive year—by the British Fashion Council. The audience compared his presentation with performance art. Chalayan’s stage set consisted of modernist furniture—just four chairs and a circular coffee table set up at the foot of his catwalk. Throughout the show, models wearing his signature elegant, skillfully designed ensembles—floral-sprigged tops and skirts and black coats made of layered fabric and edged in white—moved by those pieces of furniture. At the finale of the show, a model approached the table, removed an inner wood ring from it, and stepped into the table; the furniture piece was instantly fashioned as a skirt.

By blending such clever theatrics with his beautiful designs, Chalayan became known as one of fashion’s most intellectual designers. In a previous season, he had dressed a troupe of models in traditional female Muslim headdresses but left their bodies naked. His presentation outraged the Muslim community, of which he was a member, but attracted the attention of the press. At another show, models wore metal prongs that twisted their facial expressions into screams. In explaining his penchant for going to such stylistic extremes, Chalayan said simply, “Fashion is so transient. I am trying to give my work constant development, both conceptually and aesthetically.” Though the catwalk theatrics of some designers can overshadow the clothes, Chalayan’s work was remembered as clearly as his avant-garde staging. Shortly after his 2000 autumn-winter show, the London department store Harvey Nichols stocked his work for the first time.

Also in 2000 Chalayan voluntarily liquidated Cartestia Ltd., fraught with accumulated debt. The following year, after securing financial backing, he debuted a new collection on the runways of Paris. He launched a men’s line in 2002; a more affordable secondary line, Chalayan by Hussein Chalayan, in 2004; and a women’s line in 2005. In 2006 he was named a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his contributions to the fashion industry.