THE QUIET MAN
Byline: James Fallon
Hussein Chalayan isn’t about hype or fashion moments. While he has been tipped as London’s next big thing ever since his graduation collection in 1994, Chalayan is the philosophical bishop in the chess game of fashion to Alexander McQueen’s aggressive king.
But, over the past three seasons, as his collections have grown stronger, Chalayan has proven that, in his own quiet way, he’s as influential as the more-talked-about McQueen. He’s also done it with less financial backing and no licensing deals to support his efforts. With sales of under $2 million, it’s no wonder he’s on the lookout for a major backer.
In an interview two days after his show, which left retailers and press alike ecstatic, he said he was aware of people following in his footsteps.
“I call it evolutionary treading,” he explained. “I do something, and then someone else takes up the idea and moves it along before I have the chance to. But it happens to other designers, as well. The problem is that there seems to be this attitude that we are just small designers in London, so who’s going to know where the idea came from?”
The inspiration for his spring collection was the idea of space and the way cultures and individuals define their own areas. But, while Chalayan says he has to have a concept to serve as the catalyst for each collection, he quickly adds that he doesn’t expect the customer to care. “They’re just clothes, after all, which can simply be appreciated esthetically.”
His major market is in Japan. In the U.S., he sells to Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. Each season, major fashion conglomerates on both sides of the Atlantic request videos of his shows, and Chalayan has always sent them in the hope of getting some backing. But no longer. “I’m not going to do it this season,” he says. “I know why they want them now, and it’s not to back me.”
Chalayan doesn’t mind that his best efforts are often ignored even by the British press in favor of those of his more visible contemporaries. “It’s about being loud in London, and I don’t like loudness,” he says. “I am pleased that the others get the recognition, but I wish people would realize that we’re all different. Something has gone wrong for me somewhere in that, and I think it’s money related. But I’m interested in more than clothes. I just like ideas.”