For Designer Hussein Chalayan, the Medium is the Message

Through his designs, Hussein Chalayan tells wondrous, fantastical stories—even if few people can decipher them. “As with great art and films, whose concepts can be obscure but still appreciated, my designs don’t need to be understood in order to be enjoyed as garments,” says the 41-year-old British designer. “If the end result of my work is a range of nice dresses, I don’t really mind if the consumer understands it or not.”

In his self-titled monograph, which is out this month via Rizzoli and features the sartorial daredevil’s complete body of work, Chalayan groups together collections from di erent periods throughout his career (beginning with his senior collection in 1993 for Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design) under esoteric umbrellas such as Transcendence, Disembodiment, and Metamorphosis. Of his own evolution, he says, “I don’t mean this in an arrogant or self-important way, but I’ve finally come around to thinking of myself as an artist who happens to use clothes as my main medium.” Chalayan, who’s also a photographer and video-installation artist, has dressed over-the-top style pioneers like Lady Gaga (the pop icon’s bubble dress and the pod in which she arrived at the 2011 Grammy Awards) and Björk (for the album cover to 1995’s Post). “I would totally agree that less is more, but in my own work people often only look at the monumental pieces and don’t even notice the minimal pieces,” he says. “But they’re always included in the collections.” Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees, especially when those trees are made into paper dresses that fold into airmail envelopes and can be sent across the ocean.

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