An empty stage at Sadler’s Wells, the home of London ballet – and the place where Chalayan had presented some of his most dramatic shows before he moved on to the Paris schedule 16 years ago. So after an unforgettable presentation of tables turned into skirts at the turn of the new millennium, what would the designer do to wow us now?
Enter a circle of plain clothes, loose, but artfully cut and draped with a sense of that rare feeling in modern fashion: decency. The colors of these pieces were quiet, but not dull: gray moving towards purple or faded to white. Kate Bush’s Misty played as the music summed up the softness in color and in shape.
Typically, the outfits were a masculine/feminine mélange, with soft pants and some with tops that sat wide on the shoulders drawing focus to the throat and the upper décolletage. Or there were capes that swung gently as if in a breeze to accentuate a skill of draping to shape. When sleeves were not long, models might wear gloves. The general feeling was of graceful, easy to wear clothes with a touch of folklore and a tinge of insecurity in the bare threads swaying on the surface.
Then suddenly the models yanked open a flap and out came the tinsel that seemed more aggressive than playful and added that punch of feeling that Hussein always brings to his collections.
What was this sudden explosion?
“I guess that’s what life is, isn’t it – that you could have that duality?” the designer said. “You can have a protest element, but also the purity. It has to do with layers of life and the idea is that the clothes are, in a way, trying to tell a story, or create a sense of life, within that scenario.”
Remembering the Kate Bush Misty video that had snow streaming in through a window and cascading across the screen, I asked Hussein whether his tinsel shower was meant to be a decoration or something more significant.
“It was a combination of a protest and a celebration and also because I wanted these tacky things coming out, that I found very beautiful myself,” the designer said. “I call it a ‘pseudo celebration’ and a protest at the same time, because there’s that kind of aggression that you needed to tear them but also things that come out are quite charming. So I thought it was a nice combination.”
Chalayan’s words could not be a better summing up of his collection and the mood it created with its mix of modern, carefully realized and utterly wearable clothes – and a splash of surprise. Welcome back to a fine designer on his powerful return to London Fashion Week.