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Chalayan’s Film Fest: “I guess I am an ideas person, ultimately,” said Hussein Chalayan as he sipped an espresso one Friday morning at the buzzy bar at the Zetter hotel in East London. He’s discussing the latest medium he’s turned his hand to: film installation.
Chalayan, who’s known for his rigorous, conceptual approach to design, will show two installations in two different London galleries over the next month — a few weeks before he unveils his spring collection in Paris. This season, the designer will present his collection to press and buyers individually, rather than staging a show.
Last week, the designer’s installation, “I am Sad Leyla,” opened at north London’s Lisson Gallery where it will run through Oct. 2. It is a film made by Chalayan, whose background is Turkish-Cypriot, of the Turkish female pop singer Sertab Erener singing a haunting piece of Turkish classical music in a shadowy theater, accompanied by an Ottoman orchestra.
While one screen set up in the gallery shows the film, elsewhere throughout the space Chalayan has displayed isolated elements from the project. The music’s framed score is up on one wall, while in another room there’s a 3-D nylon sculpture of the singer, with a video of her features projected onto the cast’s face. The designer said he’d separated the elements, “So that you can appreciate the nuances. When you walked around the gallery, I wanted your experience to gel and become one,” said Chalayan.
Chalayan described these projects as “evolving together,” with his fashion design work. “There is always this performative element to my work, and film for me has been quite a natural medium,” he said. “You can orchestrate the way the elements in a film connect, in terms of the choreography, the lights, the sound. In a way, it’s what you ultimately do in a runway show, but obviously that’s live and things go wrong. There’s another beauty in that, but film was a natural progression for me.”
This Thursday, the designer’s installation “B Side” will open at Spring Studios, another north London gallery. The show, which runs to Oct. 23, features a film called “Anaesthetics,” which Chalayan made in 2004. It depicts situations the designer describes as “Possessing an underlying violence,” such as air travel, with its artificial sense of comfort, or artfully presented Japanese food, which belies the manner in which fish is caught and killed.
Also on show are the fiber-glass molds that Chalayan used to create the dresses in his spring 2009 collection, “Inertia.” In that collection, foam was injected into the molds so that it looked as if the material were being blown in a wind tunnel. Though Chalayan describes these show pieces as a collection’s “pinnacle,” he admits that presenting such looks in a runway show context can be “a hindrance. Most of our time is spent making really wearable clothes, where we really care about the cut and construction and the quality of the fabric,” said Chalayan. “But sometimes the pieces that are more charged take over and people think, ‘Oh, he is avant-garde, I don’t need to buy his collection.’ People can’t imagine that you can do both, and that in a way, those pieces evolve from your collection.’”
As a result of this inter-disciplinary approach, Chalayan says his forays into the art world aren’t distinct from his life in fashion.
“I never think of it like, ‘Oh, I am an artist.’ I think it’s quite an overrated word,” said Chalayan. “Even as a fashion designer, you are making things that are aesthetically charged — OK, it’s in a different discipline, it’s an industrial process, but making anything that has an artistic value could make you an artist, essentially.”