The power of roads is unquestionable: by following them we can reach new destinations, along the journey we may meet different people and live unexpected and memorable adventures.
Hussein Chalayn explored the theme of the road in his A/W 2010 collection inspired by a trip to the States, while the German Autobahn made an appearance in his A/W 16 womenswear collection. For his A/W 18 menswear collection the designer travelled instead along Boulevard Périphérique.
The ring-shaped Boulevard Périphérique - also known as "Périph" - is a controlled-access dual-carriageway surrounding Paris. Its construction started in the late '50s on the former site of the Thiers Wall (the last remaining of the city walls of Paris). Destruction of the latter in the 1920s had left a ring of vacant land surrounding Paris, which at first was claimed by slums and squatters.
The Boulevard was planned along this land to alleviate traffic congestion, but, finished in 1973, this multiple-lane controlled access road soon became the busiest road in France.
Chalayan employed this inspiration on different levels of the collection. First of all it appeared in the patterns for some of the clothes: Chalayan covered one shoulder of his coats, jackets or shirts with a circular half-cape motif that evoked the ring-shaped Boulevard Périphérique, a tailored trick that maybe pointed at an imaginary round trip.
One black jacket was even lined with what looked like a gold foil strip that seemed to recreate the shape of the Périph.
Yet there was also a further and more conceptual meaning revolving around the Périphérique – the "intérieur Vs. extérieur" dichotomy.
The Périphérique consists of two concentric carriageways: the intérieur ("inner ring") and the extérieur ("outer ring"). Vehicles travel clockwise on the inner ring and counterclockwise on the outer ring. In the southern half of the highway, the "inner ring" is designated as the Périphérique Ouest ("Western Ring") as traffic flows westbound; the "outer ring" is calld Périphérique Est ("Eastern Ring") as traffic flows eastbound. In the northern half, these designations are reversed.
Besides, this concrete belt is a physical and psychological boundary: it cuts across the city passing through working-class neighbourhoods in north-east Paris, but in well-off areas it turns into an underground as a tunnel. In a nutshell, the road also divides the richer inner parts of the city and the suburbs or banlieues where Paris's immigrant population lives.
The collection replicated these dichotomies combining different tailored elements together and deconstructing and reassembling interior and exterior panels.
The semi-circles on the khaki or black jackets or coats could indeed be intepreted as motifs borrowed from one menswear design and applied to another and the collection also included shirts that looked unfinished, torn or incorporating irregular panels reaching the knees or an abstract blanket-like textile that hinted at North African patterns (while evoking the cinematic decorative elements from Chalayan's AW 15/16 collections).
All these designs hinted at displacement, immigration and integration, tensions that Chalayan already explored in previous designs such as his iconic circular wood table that could be transformed into a skirt (A/W 2000-01 collection) inspired by the news from Kosovo about people fleeing their houses in a rush during the war (and by his own experiences as a Turkish Cypriot living abroad).
As a whole the collection was stronger on outerwear (see the double-face cashmere topcoats) than on suits and separates, but the best point is that the garments could be used as social commentary or simply as wearable pieces.
It was interesting to see how during the menswear shows in London, while Vivienne Westwood attempted to deliver a more political message with a video and a lookbook, Chalayan looked at contemporary themes through his tailoring. Hopefully, we will see more issues unrelated to fashion and related to real life becoming a trend in the next runway shows.