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Hussein Chalayan’s ‘Narratives’ 5 juillet 2011

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International Herald Tribune, July 5, 2011, p. 10
Special Report: Fashion

by Suzy Menkes

The mouth of the sculpted figure opens in precise time with that of the Turkish performer Sertab Erener, singing a song of love and loss on a giant screen. This multimedia face-off, with a digital projection creating the sculpture’s moving lips, is symbolic of a 21st-century fashion exhibit and of the complexity of thought from its subject, the designer Hussein Chalayan.

From the opening vision of a decomposing dress, created for the designer’s fashion college graduation collection in 1993, through ‘‘air mail’’ dresses in synthetic paper, presaging the fashion in movement area on the exhibit’s upper floor, ‘‘Hussein Chalayan: Fashion Narratives’’ (until Nov. 21) is a thoroughly modern exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.

Whereas so many shows are presented as glass windows containing clothes, this one is rich in visual invention, like the 1998 ‘‘airplane’’ dress made of fiberglass and resin that slowly opens its ‘‘wings,’’ or the extraordinary film vision of a woman’s hair changing in cut, with the wig and its myriad technological connections also on view.

The visions are light and airy, although often heavy with symbolic meaning — as in the visual row of dresses changing slowly and subtly from plain black to patterned; or a film of the now-famous show in which a row of veiled women was repeated until their bodies were nude and only the shoulder-length chadors remained.

Pamela Golbin, the exhibition’s curator, has made a powerful statement by separating thought and process from the streamlined clothes. While Mr. Chalayan’s complex ideas about individual, racial and geographical identity are expressed in a visitor’s guide booklet to each installation, the objects are isolated to speak for themselves.

Sometimes, when the emotion of the creator is difficult to absorb, the words and the visuals are tough to match up — as if in a fine art exhibition. But both are intriguing. Ms. Golbin said that after various Chalayan exhibitions where the designer’s work was primarily shown in installations, she wanted to focus on the end product, meaning the clothes.

There are pieces — like printed dresses from 2004 — that have to be studied closely to reveal the images of battle scenes from the 1950s in Mr. Chalayan’s native Cyprus. The notes explain that the designer used genetic anthropology to trace historical migration patterns of Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

Never has multimedia been used so effectively to convey the in-depth stories behind the clothes, with the films mostly generated by the designer himself. Yet the most fascinating exhibit is not the rotating figure in a high-tech glass observation box but Mr. Chalayan’s intense sketches, tracing the journey inside his head as he creates his clothes.

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