Something amazing took place at Hussein Chalayan's show: Models broke out in smiles. Not stilted smiles they'd been ordered to wear, but the spontaneous human variety that indicates actual enjoyment. Suddenly you thought: Good Lord, there are people inside these girls! They are actually living individuals!
This was not the intended revelation of Chalayan's collection, but as an accidental by-product, it made a serendipitous contribution to what he was saying. "Generally, I'm interested in how we are as human beings," he said after the show. "I think of my work as a kind of life science." Chalayan's concept was an abstract story about the evolution of humanity, which was accompanied by an a cappella group who struck up an extraordinary vocal timpani simulating prelife space sounds, jungle noises, and folkloric and religious chants.
So was it the group that started to crack the models up? Or was it that naughty Coco Rocha, who advanced toward the photographers wearing a draped black dress that had a 3-D ape worked into it? An ape drape. After that, it was a case of every nation under a smilenot just the little-girl performers, but the from-everywhere audience, too. Never in a nasty way, though, because apart from the missing-link showpiece, the collection represented some of Chalayan's most highly evolved designs for everyday living. Take the clothes away from the concept and you simply have intelligently cut asymmetrical dresses and all-in-ones with interesting gathers and soft drapes. Some came in prints of Stone Age flint ax heads, and others with straps made of special rough-cut Swarovski stones made to imitate, well, stones.
At the end, two girls came out in mechanical dresses that, in the darkness, sent out moving spots of light configured to symbolize the big-bang beginning of the universe. They were, as always in a good Chalayan show, astonishing and moving. But somehow, it was the sight of those normally dead-faced models coming to life that was really miraculous.