Hussein Chalayan: leading fashion’s digital future?

Despite the great potential for the industry, fashion, in my view, has not really taken digital media as seriously as it should have. There are examples of good practise, with treasures such as Telegraph’s Hilary Alexander, Glamour magazine’s Jo Elvin and heritage brand Burberry using online platforms to good effect. But, for the most part, it is an epic missed opportunity.

So, it was with great joy that I listened to the fashion visionary, Hussein Chalayan, recently at the ICA in London, speak of his passion, not only for his craft, but also for the effective sharing of his work through digital channels.

Entitled ‘Sakoku’ and ‘Kaikoku’, his Autumn/Winter ’11 and Spring/Summer ‘11 collections were a comment on the Japanese ‘locked country’ and ‘open country’ policies, respectively. And, fittingly, both were produced as video installations.

It seems appropriate that Chalayan should move in this direction. Telling the crowd of his concern that: ‘the fashion show is a symbol of power’, what better way than to use the democratisation of information, a luxury the web affords, to share what he does with a wider audience and disseminate his message.

It is also apposite that the locked and open worlds of Japan, used as themes in his two collections, reflect the closed, elite fashion world having its doors thrown open to potentially new, web-based audiences.

Chalayan’s choice of ‘show by video’ can only have benefited him. By exposing his show to online communities, his work can now be viewed on top global magazine sites, shared via mobile technology and passed around social media platforms with the greatest of ease. ‘Location is becoming less and less important.’ He explains, adding: ‘It’s about the digital location.’

Chalayan doesn’t rule out the use of the more traditional fashion show format for future collections but I feel his open approach certainly might wake the fashion industry up to the new media landscape.

At the shows, his collections always spark a jolt of electricity through the audience as he cranks up the voltage and generates mass media pieces that serve as much as art as they do garments.

Chalayan explains: ‘I see myself as an artist who happens to work in fashion. I work as an artist who uses clothes as a medium.’

His innovative approach to fashion has drawn on many arenas, from architecture to philosophy, comfortably positioning his passion for clothes in a more academic context, allowing his work to be housed in both boutique and museum.

His graduate collection for Central St Martins in 1993, The Tangent Flows, was a collection of silk dresses that had been covered in iron filings and buried for four months, only to be exhumed for the show itself. This established a recurring theme Chalayan has become known for in his work; that of the impermanence of clothing.

But, in conversation with writer and critic, Emily King, Chalayan looks ahead, saying: ‘I’d like to engage with real people who want to buy the clothes and make that the real presentation.’

I predict we will see augmented reality channelled through the world of high fashion in the not to distant future.

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One Response to Hussein Chalayan: leading fashion’s digital future?

  1. Ged Carroll says:

    I saw some of his work at the Design Museum a few years ago and it was mind blowing: http://www.flickr.com/photos/renaissancechambara/3354038957/in/set-72157615303446096

    Really smart use of materials that challenged what fashion is

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