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Friday, October 3, 2008

Paris Fashion Week: Hussein Chalayan

Haidee Findlay-Levin...

I joined Fantastic Man editors Jop van Bennekom and Gert Jonkers to see the Hussein Chalayan show. They weren't there to see menswear, but to lend their support to Jody Barnes, their new fashion director, who was stepping in to style the show in place of a pregnant Jane Howe.

There were the usual high expectations from Hussein, who seldom disappoints, usually presenting one of those shows that makes Fashion Week memorable. I have been there for almost all of them, ever since his student days. And sometimes I have been in the trenches, too, filling in for Jane or offering my loyal friendship and support. Last season, in all honesty, was my first disappointment. It just never jelled for me, so this season my expectations were especially high, in light of his new position at Puma and their financial support.

The runway was the familiar circular format, this time revolving. The narrow window in the back revealed a row of wine glasses. This became the stage for a live percussionist, who added further eeriness to the soundtrack by passing his hands rhythmically over the glasses.

The first look was a gray bodysuit, and from that point on we saw many variations of intricately cut bodysuits that revealed décolleté, legs and even a fair amount of butt. All this seemed very much in keeping with the season. But at a Hussein show?! This was dangerously close to the amount of flesh he showed in his controversial show of naked women under truncated chadors.

Some of the suits were fitted with small fins or wings at the hip, others had surgical corsetry or what looked like the inner workings of a vehicle, while others were embellished with shards of glass. Space travel and aerodynamics is a subject that greatly interests Hussein and although this immediately puts him in the “futuristic" camp, he insists this is not the case. In fact, he is adamant to shake free of the label and insists that it is the now that really interests him. After all, the future quickly becomes the present.

Besides a few touches of fluorescent yellow, the gray palette transitioned into blue photographic print, another theme that has recurred in his work. This time, it was a collage of car graveyards and car wrecks, complete with fragments of license plates. Narrow trousers were given the same treatment, as were softer layers of shroud-like chiffon or a harem jumpsuit that was cut out at the hips to facilitate the protruding fins.

Another interesting addition to the line-up, and for Hussein in general, were sunglasses with little panels or shutters in place of lenses, which seemed both retro and futuristic. In fact they seemed inspired or adapted from a series of glasses prominent in the 60s, originally designed by fellow Brit, Oliver Goldsmith. There was one style with vertical panels shown in a few bold colors and another with pinched holes, a style Goldsmith also introduced with smaller holes, known as the Alice Band, as it doubled as exactly that when popped up over the head. The shoes were really the only downside, steel heels which looked a little buckled and beaten up, interesting aesthetically but treacherous for the girls who had that revolving catwalk to negotiate.

For the finale—and there is always a much-anticipated finale at a Hussein show—four girls stepped onto the revolving platform as wind machines were fired up like twin plane propellers. The print of their dresses morphed into rigid fins in the back, like those of a classic car. As the wind blew, sending their loose hair into a frenzy, the screech of the musical glasses rose before ending in a crash, as the lights dimmed and the window snapped shut.

Backstage, Hussein spoke about the concept of the show. You can be sure he will never talk skirt lengths or trends, but is usually intrigued by some philosopher whose work feels contemporary and relevant today. This time he spoke about the world in a state of flux, pregnant with the anticipation of change brought on by an outside force. This change can be physical, shown here in the shapes and forms of the clothes themselves, or as a natural, social or political event. If all change looked as amazing as it does in the hands of Hussein Chalayan, bring it on, I say!

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