Simplicity is definitely one of the most difficult things to achieve in fashion. There is actually something even more difficult, practically almost impossible - to grant simplicity while offering demanding buyers and disaffected consumers the chance to get more than just clothes and more than one look in the same design.
In the last twenty years, season after season, Hussein Chalayan offered us the chance to see conceptual designs and at times even duplicity in action: fans will remember his graduate collection (1993) when he buried clothes with rusted iron pieces and then dug them out to explore the concepts of change and decay, or his iconic dress from the "After Words" collection that morphed into a piece of furniture.
The designer reached a new stage with his Autumn/Winter 2013 collection through transformative yet wearable clothes.
Chalayan's show (note: WWD spotted Spanish designer Sybilla during it - will she be back soon on the fashion scene?), held in Paris at the end of February, opened with basic garments such as a black jacket matched with a pair of wide-leg dark denim trousers with oversize cuffs that were at times reminiscent of sailors' pants.
Further classics including black oversized leather jackets, tailored coats, ribbed knits, white shirts and peplum tops followed, but their linearity was interrupted by a few dresses and trousers made with fabrics characterised by interesting surface effects achieved through laser cutting and screen printing techniques.
In some cases the fabrics tried to reproduce the textures of peeling paintings by Titian; in others they represented the peeling walls of decaying buildings (in the image above the designs are compared to a picture of the peeling walls of Venice's Arsenale that I took a while back).
Apparently, it was quite difficult to reproduce on the fabrics these surface elaborations and further touches of colours were added through iridescent textiles hinting at the transformation of the body into an electric current.
The conceptual aspect wasn't missing: among the urban simplicity Chalayan opted for, there were three slightly deconstructed draped dresses that, through one gesture, could be transformed into long eveningwear (last three images in this post).
The trick was possible by simply tugging a flap around the neckline: the draped fabric folded around the neck area was therefore released forming an over-layer and an entirely new look (see also the final video at the end of this post to get a better idea of the final effect).
Dresses changed their colours from black to beige or dark burgundy to black, but also the surfaces changed: in the third and last dress, the peeling black fabric with coloured nuances gave way to a long smooth black gown.
All the transforming dresses looked wearable, as a bonus they can be practically and functionally folded away (remember Nanni Strada's lesson and her concertina clothes?) and they don't seem to be ostentatiously offensive in our financially dark times.
When showcased in Paris, the collection - entitled "Rise" - was accompanied by projections of Renaissance altarpiece paintings by Titian and Benjamin West, and a press release explained how disembodiment and metamorphosis were among the themes behind the designs.
The tranforming clothes hinted indeed at the spirit leaving the body, and the theme of transformation was also referred to in the more body conscious dresses or in the jackets and coats that opened up revealing new fabrics underneath.
Even the designs representing a peeling wall could be seen as a comment on the daily transformation modern urban environments and settings go through: Chalayan could almost be seen as the only designer who through his garments has indirectly referenced the way the cities we are living in are changing (think about how David Adjaye's Hackney Fashion Hub may redesign London's East End into a luxury retail hub and have an impact on its residents).
Through these designs, Chalayan symbolically rose to another another level, merging the intellectual and the conceptual with the wearable and the functional.
Many designers, especially the youngest ones, are making the mistake of aiming for the unwearable or the visually striking and captivating, opting for extreme silhouettes or bright trendy colours, yet the only garments that can be defined as truly "modern" are those ones that do not follow any trends.
The good news for what regards this collection is that the convertible designs that many fashion journalists dubbed "two-in-one dresses" will actually go on sale.
Two weeks before the show, Chalayan announced an agreement with Italian company Pier S.p.a. to produce and distribute worldwide the women's wear collections starting from the A/W 2013-14 season.
Based in Casale sul Sile in the Veneto region, Pier S.p.a. has been producing garments for top brands for over 40 years and their experimental techniques and technologies will definitely allow Chalayan to be able to produce more conceptual yet wearable garments.
In a recent press release Pier S.p.A. President and CEO Marzia Narduzzi stated that Chalayan is "a revolutionary designer who stands for contemporary and innovative style” and that his garments can be considered as "a marriage of Italian excellence and innovative design" since they are made with the highest quality materials.
Chalayan, who will retain creative control over all his collections, added in the same press release: "Not only does Pier have a great understanding of my brand but their knowledge of luxury clothing manufacturing and production, as well as their commitment to the integrity of design are exceptional. This agreement will help my independent company with vital production and manufacturing infrastructure which will ultimately help us to grow." Sounds like the perfect plan to celebrate his 20th anniversary in the fashion business.
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