There's clever as in smart, and there's clever-clever, as in smart aleck. Hussein Chalayan is the longtime standard-bearer for smart in fashion, but still, one suspects there are some who confuse the two when it comes to the designer's long and challenging body of work. How else to explain why more attention isn't paid to what he's doing, especially now that he has so effectively mastered the art of mixing smart with sensual. Chalayan's new collection was one of the season's loveliest: a fresh, airy paean to summer, with the designer's technical ingenuity creating artfully charming effects. These were present from the opener—picture a striped beach towel, wrapped as a strapless sheath—to the closing look, a dress made up of vinyl "feathers" of Pantone color, topped by an attached coat lined in the same, which shrugged off to form a kind of tailcoat. Reading that back, it sounds clever-clever to the nth. It wasn't. It was just beautiful, especially with the ravishing soundtrack of the movie Perfume swelling in the Palais des Beaux-Arts.
The wrapped-towel effect was one of the collection's summery anchors, as it was in Chalayan's Resort range. For day, the stripes; for evening, long columns gathered at one shoulder, like the tuck of a towel. But summeriness also prevailed in the photoprint of couples kissing on a beach (so abstracted that there will be no invasion-of-privacy lawsuits following); in the perforated pattern of palm fronds; and in a tropical print that was blurred, according to Hussein, as though viewed through the plastic of a tent. All of these visual elements were delivered in appealingly cut or draped silhouettes that took summer to the city.
But the most intriguing effect—the most Chalayan-esque—was the one that embodied the collection's somewhat abstract title, Breeze Corridor. If we got it straight, that corridor is the line along the beach where you linger when the sun is hot but the water is cold, so you've got your wrap half-on, half-off, undecided about whether you're going to plunge in. In that spirit of tentativeness, Chalayan attached jackets to tops so they could be shrugged off, as in the show's last look, and worn as a bustle or tailcoat.
Oh, and about those hats on sticks: In the breeze corridor, it's hard to stabilize your headgear.