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LONDON — Hussein Chalayan is preparing for his first solo show in Britain, an exhibition that will feature some of his greatest hits and inspirations from the past 15 years. He admits it’s a big deal, but he’s staunchly refusing to use the r-word.
“I’m too young for a retrospective. I mean, I’m only 38 years old,” Chalayan said over an afternoon coffee in the buzzy dining room of The Zetter hotel in London’s Clerkenwell. “It’s more like an art show — with clothes.”
“Hussein Chalayan — From Fashion and Back,” which opens Jan. 22 at London’s Design Museum and runs until May 17, is based on the designer’s recent show at the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands. Chalayan describes it as a window into his world — he regularly references architecture, technology, philosophy and anthropology in his collections — and a “jewel box” of a show.
The 35 outfits on display are among his most outré. “You’re not going to see any coats — nothing commercial. These are my clothes in their purist form, the monumental pieces,” he said. Exhibits include his furniture garments and dresses glowing with LED lights or moving lasers.
There are also pieces from the designer’s Central Saint Martin’s 1993 graduate show, The Tangent Flows, when Chalayan buried a collection in his back garden and later unearthed the designs before putting them on show.
The mannequins, too, reflect Chalayan’s topsy-turvy take on design. They are custom-made: working women watering olive trees, painting walls, cleaning windows and sometimes even taking a coffee break.
The show also features some of the designer’s other creative efforts, including his five short art films. In 2005, Chalayan represented Turkey at the 51st Venice Biennale with a film called “Absent Presence” with Tilda Swinton.
Puma AG, which has a majority stake in Chalayan’s business, is the show’s main sponsor. Chalayan is the creative director for Puma’s Sport Fashion division, and the first fruits of his efforts at the brand will be unveiled later this year. Jochen Zeitz, Puma’s chairman and chief executive officer, believes the exhibition goes beyond pure design.
“Hussein is someone who looks at fashion from a technological level,” said Zeitz. “The exhibition will be very interesting for designers — not just fashion designers, but people who are interested in technology. He has a technological mind, but knows how to translate technological information into designing fashion,” he said.
To mark the exhibition, Chalayan and Puma have created two limited edition T-shirts which will be sold at the museum and at London’s Puma concept store on Carnaby Street.
Chalayan said the show attempts to draw parallels between his clothing and the world at large. “I want the audience to see that a lot of things in life are interrelated,” he said. “I love all the connections in the world. We’re brought up to think we’re isolated — an idea that’s a bit dull, and just not true.”