Hussein Chalayan. The Cyprus-born, Paris-based designer, 43, who graduated from the celebrated Central St. Martins school in London and launched his eponymous label in 1994, is certainly not a Karl Lagerfeld in terms of fame. Lagerfeld, for instance, can no longer walk on the street in most places without being mobbed by fans. He is also not a Tom Ford, as he rarely has his name dropped in rap songs. He is also not an Elie Saab, as his creations are not quite such obvious red carpet choices. (unless you're Lady Gaga). And despite being trumped by other designers in these more superficial areas, Chalayan boasts something that is arguably even more important: He is an influencer's influencer. As the Wall Street Journal's Christina Binkley quite accurately stated recently: "It is hard not to reflect on his experimental work when viewing the serene lines of Phoebe Philo's collections for Céline, or some of Viktor & Rolf's frothy geometric shapes. Rolf Snoeren of Viktor & Rolf calls him a 'fashion artist.'"
Filling the role of "Fashion’s arch avant-gardist", "one of the most cerebral designers of his era", likened to Alexander McQueen and John Galliano by critics, Chalayan (which is formerly the name of his label; he dropped "Hussein" in 2010 to avoid being judged, "because I so don't represent the Islamic world", he says) is not short of admirers. He is a two-time British Fashion Council Designer of the Year honoree. His work has been described as "inevitably carrying an undercurrent of philosophical or social commentary." His designs including dresses containing moving airplane parts, a robot dress loaded with Swarovski crystals, LED pixelated dresses (one is pictured below), and Tyvek garments that resembled furniture and could be folded down to envelope size. His reach spanning an array of disciplines to explore the latest innovations in science, design, music, and multimedia arts.
And yet, Chalayan struggles in the American market, not surprisingly, as fashion in the United States is likely the most commercially-focused of the four main fashion capitals in the world. Of his state-side presence, he says:
"We're fine. We're stable. We're of course still niche. I'm working nonstop. It would be nice if the department stores here acknowledged us. They act like we don't exist. Especially the American department stores. They actually buy designers who are big fans of my work."
In fact, Chalayan is not stocked in any department stores in the U.S. states. When Binkley asked the designer about this, he said: "No, we're in specialty stores, like Mameg [L.A.] and Ikram [Chicago]. I feel a little bit left out, to be honest." The good news, for Chalayan well-wishers and menswear shoppers alike, after almost eight years, he is re-launching his men's collection and soon. In fact, Chalayan is slated to offer 22 menswear looks for Spring/Summer 2015 via a capsule collection entitled Moor's Chorus, which will kick-off the relaunching of his menswear line. Chalayan described the collection as smart and casual, with a blend of the structured and the slouchy, all done in lightweight fabrics. There are no immediate plans to show it on the runway, he told WWD. Maybe department stores will pick up this collection, which will be an ongoing on under the Chalayan label, given the increasing focus on menswear as a source of potential growth. We'll see …
* This article was initially published in June 2014.