Byline: James Fallon

LONDON — Hussein Chalayan, one of London fashion’s most promising stars, has filed for voluntary liquidation, according to sources.
Chalayan’s business traded as Cartesia, Ltd. On Dec. 18, he called in the London-based liquidators Baker Tilly to shutter the company. Baker Tilly currently is determining Cartesia’s assets and has written to its creditors about the voluntary liquidation, the sources said.
Cartesia is understood to owe about $450,000 to a range of companies, including fabric manufacturers and the companies involved in his last runway show during London Fashion Week in September. The designer has laid off his six full-time staffers and terminated all his contracts with his freelance workers, according to sources, who asked not to be identified.
Chalayan is expected to ship his spring collection, however, which was bought by such stores as Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman and Kirna Zabette.
The designer could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But shortly before Christmas, he played down rumors that he was encountering financial problems.
“It’s nothing significant; it’s just a financial restructuring,” Chalayan said at the time in a telephone interview. “It’s completely voluntary. Every company has to trim its expenses on occasion and that is what we are doing.”
Before the reported liquidation filing, Chalayan had insisted he would show during the upcoming London Fashion Week in February. “It’s just a slight restructuring. We’ve had to let some of our freelancers go, but I hope to work with them again. Otherwise, we plan to continue.”
Sources said Tuesday that Chalayan took the latest step in the hope it would enable him to clear his debts and start a new, debt-free company to carry on his business. But they claimed the designer doesn’t plan to mount a runway show in February. Instead, he is planning to produce mainly a conceptual presentation.
Chalayan’s apparent liquidation illustrates the difficulties of being a conceptual designer in the fashion business. The designer, 30, has been lauded from the moment he graduated from Central Saint Martins in 1994. Always a technical and conceptual designer, he initially produced hit-and-miss collections. But over the last three years, he has seemed to find the often-elusive balance between the artistic and the commercial. Two years ago, his commercial hand was further strengthened when he was appointed consulting designer to the Tse New York line.
Chalayan’s work for Tse has met with mixed success, but his own collection has gone from strength to strength. Two seasons ago, he wowed his audience with a show that featured models who actually converted a set of chairs and tables into dresses and telescoping skirts. Amidst those, though, were beautiful and wearable floral skirts, ruffle-trimmed tops, waterfall-front dresses and great denim skirts, jackets and pants. His video and live presentation in September, while not as strong as in the past, still produced fresh touches, including acid-washed denims and graph-paper checked tops and dresses.
Despite his growing international stature, Chalayan continued to struggle financially with sales that averaged less than $2 million a year. He admitted the problems to WWD The Magazine in an interview in February 2000, saying he wanted to restructure his company to bring in outside investment.
Over the last six months Chalayan is said to have seen all the world’s major luxury goods groups seeking investment, including LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Prada. While some of the companies were reportedly interested in recruiting Chalayan to design one of their existing labels — with Prada talking to him about Jil Sander — none of them injected capital into Chalayan’s own firm. His hopes suffered a further blow last month when Gucci acquired a majority stake in Chalayan’s fellow British designer Alexander McQueen.
Chalayan also reportedly spoke to Pegasus Apparel Group in the U.S., but was unwilling to sell an equity stake in his company, which may have prevented a deal. Some potential investores expressed concerns that the size and scope of Chalayan’s business were too small to merit an investment.
In last February’s interview, Chalayan expressed frustration at the fashion world’s hesitancy to invest in new talent. He said even a few hundred thousand dollars would make a huge difference to his company.
“There are very few collaborations where the designer is right for the investor and the investor is right for the designer,” he said. “If I do anything, it will be for the right reasons. It’s finding someone who loves culture and loves ideas and someone who has an eye for things beyond clothes, because I want to do more than just clothes.”

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