In these days of reduced budgets and the pressure to sell clothes, the art of the fashion show as theater—which Hussein Chalayan and Alexander McQueen both pushed to a pinnacle of creativity in London in the nineties—has, much to the detriment of audience fulfillment, been shoved to the back of the agenda. Now meanings and messages are often delivered only aurally, but in some hands they can still be powerfully affecting. Such was Chalayan's voice-over preface, a tribute to McQueen, in which he honored his peer as a man whose work probed a raw, dark beauty and through his work became a mythical hero himself.
Sound was also the guide to understanding Chalayan's theme for Fall: a car engine firing up, followed by snatches of radio-station music and weather reports gleaned from across the U.S.A. He was on a road trip. Once you tuned in, it was clear he was setting off from New York, with a clever observation of the urban mix of tailored coats, jeans, hoodies, and sneakers that has become a city street uniform since the nineties. Soon, we were heading through Pennsylvania and Amish land, as the hoods took on the structure of bonnets, and the modern world was briefly silenced. From there, Chalayan took a turn south, making glitter-sleeved, formfitting dresses with diagonal necklines suggesting beauty-pageant sashes. Then it was out through hurricane country: Steel gray pleated twister dresses whipped around the body, then up and over the head, accompanied by emergency on-the-spot updates from a radio reporter.
In a way, this narrative is too literal an explanation for either Chalayan's thinking, or the fact that the clothes followed a completely wearable, on-track route for Fall. On one level, the collection traced the concerns with landscape, history, environmental crisis, ethnography, and culture that have always informed his work. On the other, Chalayan's American explorations allowed him to tick off trends and stop by every category needed in the span of a day-to-evening, casual-to-formal collection. Somewhere in Utah, he brought up a shearling coat with matching binoculars and a camel poncho. Later on, he worked through sportswear in gray sweats and then, maybe on the West Coast, arrived at a place where sinuously glamorous full-length gowns (beaded in dégradé patterns suggesting headlight flashes at night on a dark freeway) made complete sense.