Hussein Chalayan: storyteller and technology wizard

Hussein Chalayan: storyteller and technology wizard

Hussein Chalayan is probably the only fashion designer awarded by the prestigious Time magazine as one of its ‘100 most Influential Innovators of the 21st century’. This Central Saint Martins graduate works across design, science, technology and art to develop his collections and show pieces. He uses them to tell stories related pretty much to anything from history and politics through nature and environment to emotions and art.

From the beginning of his career, Chalayan’s collections always contained a narrative. ‘The Tangent Flows’, his graduate collection, featured decomposed silk dressed that had been covered in iron fillings, buried in his friend’s garden for months and then exhumed.

The Transformer dress, SS2007

End of the 90s marked Chalayan’s interest in innovative materials and technologies. In his 2000 spring/summer  collection he showed a composite dress created from fiberglass and resin cast in a specially designed mold. It has side and rear flaps that open with a remote control to reveal a mass of pink tulle.

The spring/summer 2007 collection was a journey through history and time marked by various events, wars and revolutions. To show the passing time, Chalayan used light, water and Swarovski crystals incorporated into dresses. The key pieces were the ‘Transformer’ dresses. Through a series of soft movements the dresses changed shapes to show styles typical for different decades. The dresses were driven electronically by controlled, geared motors and had battery packs, chips, monofilament wires and other electronic components hidden beneath. The effect was a subtle but significant movement that led to a complete transformation of the silhouette.

Dress from the 'Speed' collection
Dress from the ‘Speed’ collection

The next emblematic dress was part of the autumn/winter 2007 collection. One of Chalayan’s most famous creations, the video dress ‘Airborne’ was embedded with 15,600 LEDs layered behind Swarovski crystals.The dress displayed pixelated images of sharks in the sea and blossoming flowers. As always, there was a story behind, this time around life and death and how our lives are in a constant flux going through the changing seasons. It was also the beginning of Chalayan’s collaboration with Moritz Waldemeyer.

For the following collection ‘Readings’, Waldemeyer engineered dresses with hundreds of laser beams integrated into each piece. They were attached by custom-designed, servo-driven brass hinges, which allowed the lasers to move. The dresses were embellished with Swarovski crystals that, depending on the angle, either deflected or took in the laser light.

The result was spectacular with the moving lights first lighting up the dress and then coming away from the body and interacting with the surroundings.

The 2009 spring/summer collection ‘Crash’ included molded rubber-foam dresses that appeared as if in high speed. Painted with images of crushed cars, number plates and car handles, they depicted the speed in our lives that can result in a crash.

For his AW 2011 collection Chalayan chose not to stage a fashion show. Instead he showed a film that he directed, casted and edited. It featured the remarkable “Kaikoku” Floating Dress.

Designer Hussein Chalayan unveils his collaboration with Intel on Sept. 30, 2016, at his Spring/Summer 2017 runway show at Paris Fashion Week. Paris Fashion Week’s Spring/Summer 2017 event runs Sept. 27-Oct. 5, 2016. (Credit: Intel Corporation)
Chalayan’s SS2017 collection (Credit: Intel Corporation)

The dress is made with cast fiberglass painted with gold metallic pigment. Attached to it are 50 Swarovski crystal and pearled paper ‘pollens’. The dress is controlled via remote control and expels the pollens high in the air like dandelion parachutes flying in the wind.

And finally at the most recent spring/summer 2017 show at Paris Fashion Week, Chalayan surprised his public again.

The collection featured, amongst some beautifully crafted monochrome clothes, sunglasses that picked up biosensing data – such as fear and stress – and belts that projected imagery reflecting those emotions.

The glasses were powered by Intel Curie module, button-sized microchip that lets designers and makers add function to a wide range of wearable products. Earlier this year Curie module was used by CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalists who embedded it into clothes, spectacles or a sleeping mask.

The Hussein Chalayan collection and runway show theme centers around the here and now of London life. Projected visualizations interpreted the wearer’s “stress level” onto a wall powered by Intel technology during the presentation on Sept. 30, 2016. Paris Fashion Week’s Spring/Summer 2017 event runs Sept. 27-Oct. 5, 2016. (Credit: Intel Corporation)
Emotions projected onto a wall (Credit: Intel Corporation)

The module on Chalayan’s glasses used Bluetooth technology to measure EEG signals in the brain and another sensor to measure heart rate and pulse.The stress data was then communicated to a belt powered by an Intel Compute Stick. That data was translated into images and projected onto a wall.

When a model walked onto the runway, the projection changed based on her stress levels.

For example, the ‘Imminent Danger’ moment was depicted by a projection of moving legs. When the model started to get nervous, the glasses sensed this, communicated to the belt and the legs on the wall moved faster, echoing her inner stress. In the ‘Omnipresence’ moment the tension of living in a big city was depicted by two hands pulling a coiled rope in opposite directions. The calmer the model was, the less the hands tugged in the projection on the wall.

Chalayan once said: “Only with technology can you create new things in fashion. Everything else has been done”. As technology advances and opens new possibilities I believe that we will see plenty of new things from Chalayan in the coming years.

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