A midday show under the gilded, chandeliered dome of the Grand Hotel in Paris, scene of so many haute couture presentations of old? You can't get more grown-up than that. To find Hussein Chalayan in these surroundings, rather than in some far-flung, freezing nighttime venue, made some in his audience sit up and do a double take. And so they should, for this choice of locale marked a watershed in the career of a designer who has been quietly moving from the experimental margins to a point of creative maturity. Guess what? Leave meanings and subtexts for a later discussion: First and foremost, Chalayan now wants us to look at his clothes.
And how wearably, beautifully in sync with the current dialogue about fifties couture/fur trim/pretty dresses those clothes turned out to be. Chalayan opened with a black fake-fur hooded coat, a fur-collared skirtsuit, and a sculptural fur-trimmed cape sitting atop a waisted bodice and a bubble skirt. Right there, without labored references, he nailed his claim to reinterpreting the silhouette, emphasizing a neat torso with gentle volume beneath.
Chalayan's original mind makes the leap from old world to new by fusing in elements of modern sportswear. He cuts jackets that incorporate trompe l'oeil boleros, horn duffel-coat toggles, baseball jacket-style knit ribbing, and frilled peplumsand still look unfussy. He's also doing his part to ease along the changing shape of trousers with his neat-waisted, wide-leg sailor pants. Chalayan's dusty-pink shearling jackets and coats, cut to a slim, flattering line with luxurious high collars, had more of those little peplums in back. And he ended by provingto any remaining disbelieversthat he has a sensitive touch with eveningwear. After a few elegantly drapey silk-printed, thirties looks, he closed with short puffball dresses appliquéd with patches of embroidery.
Later, Chalayan said that his show was based on the concept of solitude and personal identity. Perhaps, as an independent, self-financing designer amid a globalized industry, he feels those pressures more than others do. But in this collection, the aloneness of his talent shone with an exceptional brightness.