I wanted my shows to be a cultural experience for the audience, but newspapers put, say, my bubble dress on the front page to sell papers, and it would make people think that I was an ‘artist’, and not interested in making wearable clothes.
Hussein Chalayan became known as a ‘conceptual designer’ in the 1990s and it’s been bugging him ever since. Rather than getting attention for his more extraordinary designs (there have been dresses made of giant plastic bubbles, a table turning into a skirt, LED lights and lasers incorporated into garments as well as black chadors either covering or exposing the naked bodies of his models), he would like the focus to be on his wearable clothes, the stuff that people actually buy. But shifting perceptions is hard to do. Especially considering that the fashion press loves a good spectacle. For Hussein this has meant that he has spent years consulting and designing for others, and occasionally selling his work as art to fund his fashion collections. He has made films rather than catwalk shows, and invited buyers to come and look at his tailoring up close. But still he is struggling. Department stores are reluctant to stock his work, and speciality stores rarely order enough to keep a designer in business. Hussein Chalayan describes himself as ‘a storyteller with clothes’, but where do storytellers fit into a world that premiers status over independence and financial might over creative fearlessness?