Fashion? Art? Wearable or unwearable? The ambiguities that exist today create an edginess, a sense of confrontation, in the way we consider and understand clothing. Clothing exists beyond a practical status – it can and does ignite ideas.
Hussein Chalayan considers himself an artist – working through the medium of clothes – rather than a fashion designer. His chief concerns are conceptual: he draws attention to the processes of making, advocates the evolution of clothing forms, and explores new aesthetic considerations.
Born Huseyin Caglayan in 1970 in Nicosia, Cyprus, Chalayan received an honours degree in fashion from the London Central St Martin’s College of Art and Design in 1993. His extraordinary graduation collection, ‘The Tangent Flows’, was accompanied by an explanatory text: the clothes, made from reinforced paper, were initially buried in earth and covered in particles of rust; they were then exhumed and shown on the catwalk in their encrusted state.
Chalayan’s Spring–Summer 2000–01 collection, entitled Ventriloquy, presented a series of alternative garment forms or ‘alter egos’. Staged on the London catwalk, a virtual presentation with computer animations was followed by a performance representing ‘real’ and ‘resin’ clothes, depicting the transformation from the ephemeral to the monumental.
The National Gallery of Victoria purchased the three Cast resin dresses from this collection. Resembling carved ice or marble, these dresses have an unearthly quality; full of contradictions, attractive yet threatening, they exude a dullness that somehow glows, a smooth surface that also encases bubbles, and a lightness that is also heavy. They are moulded and sculpted in resin of the palest, palest pink – almost the colour of nothing. The skills of the dressmaker were painstakingly translated into resin by the Scottish sculptor Paul Topen. The complex construction used both fibreglass and silicone rubber moulds, into which the polyester resin was poured and then laid in by hand, with a stiff brush. Keeping this material of a uniform consistency was extremely difficult, and about seven dresses had to be made to produce one of exceptional quality. The garments were made in halves and were simply bolted together. The Gallery’s three dresses differ in degrees of opacity and detail.
Chalayan’s epic work relates to the ornate figures of classical Greek sculpture, carved with pleated robes of unbelievable beauty, and to the mutant fashion pieces created by the contemporary Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo. Conceptually groundbreaking, Ventriloquy points towards the future beyond the eternal wheel of ‘fashion trends’ and provides an interesting bridge between the visual arts and fashion.