Hussein Chalayan is a Cypriot-British fashion designer known for infusing intellectual concepts into his designs. Hailed to be one of the most experimental and innovative designers in the contemporary era, he has created designs that include airplane parts, garments resembling furniture and a robot dress loaded with Swarovski crystals. Renowned internationally for his futuristic and intellectually stimulating designs, his works have been displayed in museums such as the Palais du Louvre, London’s Design Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo. Born to Muslim parents in Cyprus, he grew up in an era marked by political turmoil and violence. His family moved to England when he was a young boy when the situation in their homeland became unbearable. He studied Fashion Design at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London and impressed the fashion fraternity with his graduate collection titled "The Tangent Flows” which was bought in its entirety by high-fashion boutique Browns. Eventually he started his own company Cartesia Ltd. and launched a line of ready-to-wear garments. He is the recipient of several fashion awards and was also credited by ‘Time’ magazine as one of its ‘100 Most Influential Innovators of the 21st Century.’
Childhood & Early Life
Hussein Chalayan was born on 12 August 1970, in Nicosia, Cyprus, to Muslim parents. The 1970s was a period of political turmoil in the nation, marked by rampant acts of violence. The ongoing ethnic conflicts between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities eventually led to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus which resulted in escalating violence against the civilians from both sides.
Chalayan’s family was forced to flee their homeland and move to England in 1978. There he graduated from Highgate School following which he enrolled for a National Diploma in fashion and clothing at Warwickshire School of Arts.
He then proceeded to study Fashion Design at the prestigious Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London in 1989. Creative with an intellectual bent of mind, he soon earned a reputation for being one of the most radical design students in the institute.
In 1993, he presented his graduate collection titled "The Tangent Flows", in which he displayed clothes that he had buried in a back yard for six weeks and exhumed just before the show. The process of burial and decay was a reference to life, death, and urban decay.
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Hussein Chalayan did an internship with Savile Row tailor Timothy Everest following which Chalayan established his own independent design label in 1993 and founded a company Cartesia Ltd. in 1994.
He displayed his first collection in London’s West Soho Galleries and made his debut at London Fashion Week which was a critically acclaimed success. During this time, he came up with the idea of body-inhibiting designs such as his cocoon dress that bound the arms of the wearer to the sides of the body.
In his fashion designs he sought to infuse intellectual and technological elements, integrating human body and clothing with science and culture. His catwalks were more of theatrical performances than just fashion shows.
In 1995, he worked with the avant-garde star Björk and designed several creations for her including the jacket that Björk wears on the cover of her album ‘Post.’ The singer modeled for Chalayan in October 1995 for London Fashion week.
Chalayan was appointed as creative director of TSE New York in 1998 and launched his sportswear collection for the band. The same year, he organized a catwalk which featured female models in varying degrees of nudity with their heads covered in traditional female Muslim headdresses. This stirred some controversy in the Muslim world, but also added to the designer’s reputation as an innovative and experimental one.
Despite the critical acclaim he received and the awards he won, he faced financial crisis and was forced to file for bankruptcy in 2001 having accumulated debts of an estimated $1.5 million.
He was appointed as the creative director of jewellery brand Asprey shortly after filing for bankruptcy and worked with them till 2004. A few years later, in 2008, he was appointed as creative director of Puma AG.
During the 2000s he worked hard to re-establish his business and expanded his design portfolio with his menswear line in 2002. In 2004, he launched a more affordable secondary line for men and introduced a women’s line in 2005.
In addition to fashion designing, he also makes short movies. His film ‘Ambimorphous’ was screened at Mode Natie in Antwerp in 2002 and ‘Absent Presence’ represented Turkey at the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005.
He displayed a series of architectural dresses in the ‘Before minus now’ collection for Spring/Summer 2000 where the dresses featured wire-frame architectural prints against static white backgrounds that were generated by a computer program.
His “Remote Control” dress which incorporated the aerodynamics of airplane travel into its form was the first wireless device to be presented as a fully functioning fashion garment. It was showcased at the Hyères Festival in France in 2000.
He designed a series of laser LED dresses in collaboration with luxury label Swarovski which was showcased in Tokyo in 2008.
Awards & Achievements
Hussein Chalayan won the British Fashion Awards for Designer of the Year in 1999 and 2000.
In 2006 he was named a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for his contributions to the fashion industry.
In 2009, he was awarded the Outstanding Lifetime Achievement to Design at the FX International Interior Design Awards, London.
Personal Life & Legacy
Hussein Chalayan is a very enigmatic personality who keeps his personal life guarded. His parents separated when he was quite young and he was primarily raised by his mother who was a major influence on the development of his artistic abilities.