A mixed blog of fashion goodies
Have an idea for the Hint Blog? Email us.
Bookmark and Share

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Haidee Findlay-Levin catches up with Hussein Chalayan...

The last time I met Hussein for breakfast in London, breakfast turned into lunch and then into tea. In fact, it was a glorious and sentimental Sunday affair, one that still left me feeling nostalgic for London and for some of the special and lasting friendships I had while living there. Hussein was and is one such friend. We developed an immediate bond when I first wrote a feature on him as a St Martins graduate student. I subsequently worked on his earlier shows and collaborated on some of his first exhibitions. I was one of his earliest supporters and remain loyal to my belief in his talent. To describe him as conceptual or intellectual is to miss something. To me, he is someone who will take a day out of his insanely stressful schedule to hear about the details of my personal melodrama, usually firing off rapid questions before any of my answers come to mind.
Meeting him for breakfast in New York this week, the day after he received an award from the Fashion Group International, was not that different. This time I was determined to get my questions in first, to find out how this most respected of designers was feeling. It always amazes me just how humble and modest Hussein is, how unaware he is of his notoriety and position within the international fashion world. He was truly flattered to have won this award, surprised even that his reputation had reached these shores. Believe me this is no act! 

What evolved in our discussion was just how difficult it is to realize most of his innovative ideas, not for the ideas themselves but for the expense involved. Aside from his costs in silks and linens, we're talking the finest rosewood, advanced laser technology, LEDs and film production, not to mention research and development. Why an investor, institute, patron of the arts or technology tycoon hasn't jumped at the opportunity to support this genius is beyond me. We have witnessed what he has created on next to no money; can you imagine what he could create with some money?

What seems harder for most to recognize is his talent for making modern, real, beautiful and, yes, wearable clothing. His process may be complicated and/or difficult to follow, but strip that way and you have a beautiful and elegant cocktail dress, which most retailers and department stores (even in his own city, London) fail to see.

It is only once his designs (or those of other forward-thinking designers like Martin Margiela or Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garcons) are appropriated by other more popular or mainstream designers that they become "wearable." This brings  to mind a jacket I have been wearing all week and have received many a compliment for, including one such compliment from Lanvin designer Alber Elbaz. The jacket is by Margiela, from the first of his four over-sized collections, the proportions of which are scaled up by 72%. Many years ago the show brought laughter and smiles to the faces of the fashion pack as they pronounced his clothes good for pictures, a great concept, but unflattering and absolutely not wearable. And now they pronounce Mary-Kate Olsen as the under-sized trendsetter of  "the over-sized" herself.

This kind of situation often forces the originators of good ideas (as in the case with Hussein) to even plagiarize themselves. By creating a second or "more wearable" diffusion line, they water down their own ideas, hopefully, before others do. Sometimes it's these diffusion collections that are the success and driving force of their businesses.

As we left, I said goodbye to designer Thom Browne, a Pastis breakfast regular. I thought about how many men were wearing their suits shorter these days. Could they all be wearing Thom Browne originals, or at the very least his more accessible Black Fleece line for Brookes Brothers? Unfortunately not. They were probably wearing some further watered down version by some lesser-known designer or brand, shortened ever so slightly above their sockless shoes. They were probably walking with their girlfriends wearing a cotton shirt dress by Doo.Ri for the Gap or a similar incarnation reminiscent of that "impossibly unwearable" collection of Hussein's several summers ago.

Labels: ,