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Thursday, 17 February, 2000, 12:41 GMT
Frocks and freakery

Hussein Chalayan and Cherie Blair in 1999 Chalayan with Cherie: No, it really is about space


''It was supposed to be an idea - not supposed to be something you wear,'' Hussein Chalayan once said of his own creations.

A model wearing the Chalayan table design Ooh, I'm a bit uncomfortable...
This will come as a relief to those who watched the young designer's show at this year's London Fashion Week.

He sent models sashaying down the catwalk wearing 1950s chair covers. One wore a skirt made out of a wooden coffee table.

Hussein, the 29-year-old "intellectual" of London fashion, is famed for his wackily conceptual, unwearable clothes and mystifying fashion shows comparable to 1970s "happenings".

London auction house Sotheby's recently sold a collection entitled Out of the Closet: Clothes of the Unwearable, which included Chalayan designs.

A model wearing the Chalayan table design ...Ah, that's better
But he is also British designer of the year, and supermodels are practising their air kisses in expectation of him winning the title again.

Chalayan, who was born in northern Cyprus in 1970 and moved to London as a child, graduated from the prestigious Central St Martins' college only seven years ago.

At his graduation show, he stunned the fashion world and startled his friends by displaying decomposing dresses which he had buried in a garden and exhumed.

In 1997 the general public became interested, after he sent models onto his catwalk wearing yashmaks and very little else.


Hairstyles at the Sadler's Wells show 2000 Some designs are beautiful and wearable
The idea had been about "defining space as a general theory", he later said.

Fascinated by architecture, aerodynamics, space and religion, Chalayan's clothes are futuristic and minimal, and are said to play on the idea of body as a structure.

He says things like: "Nudity in my shows is about purity and the body's power. Clothes cocoon the body."

And: "Covering the head is about diminishing identity by denying its role as the window of the personality."

Hussein's 1999 structured plastic dress Others are not: Hussein's 1999 structured plastic dress
He has made paper dresses that fold into envelopes to be sent in the post - famously worn by pop star Bjork - and added padded headrests to dresses.

Last year, he showed a plastic dress, operated by a child with a remote control, with car-door-like panels which opened to reveal a fluffy pink tutu.

He also showed a leather dress inspired by car interiors, saying it was about "externalising speed and putting it back on the body".

But there is more to Chalayan than conceptual freakery.

At this year's New York Fashion Week, fashion writers fell over themselves to applaud his "wickedly modern", "beautifully wearable" designs for upmarket Manhattan cashmere company Tse.

He has designed uniforms for the "mind" section of the Millennium Dome, as well as a uniform, interiors and logo for Turkish Cypriot Airlines.

Most cheeringly of all, he has even designed a range for that High Street store so beloved of teenage girls across the nation - Top Shop.

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See also:
16 Feb 00 |  Entertainment
Posh spices up Fashion Week
14 Feb 00 |  Entertainment
In pictures: London Fashion Week
16 Feb 00 |  UK
Dressed to fill

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