Hussein Chalayan has always been a fearless designer, unafraid of the pretentious and the impossible, unfazed by ideas that anyone else would find too abstract to render in cloth. In his pre-fall collection, for instance, he wanted to convey the notion of disembodiment, spirit-being leaving physical body. One dress featured layers that unzipped, as though the skin was peeling away to reveal the wearer's essence. The neckline on another dress was pulled to one side, making it look like the wearer was being dragged along, as though this particular spirit was reluctant to leave. Chalayan created a jacquard pattern from thermal images of electricity. He imagined this was what the spirit would look like as it left the body. He was equally taken with photos of the almost-as-profound transformation from chrysalis to butterfly, using them in a print whose striations glowed like luminous camouflage.

So far, so ethereal. And so very in keeping with Chalayan's longtime reputation for impenetrability. But that was scarcely the whole story here, because Hussein Chalayan has undergone a sea change. "I was more textbook in the old days," he agrees, "but now my communication with my customer is more straightforward. People understand my particular talent for precision tailoring." In other words, disembodied spirits and butterfly wings, beautiful though they may have been, took a backseat to Chalayan's ability to create elegantly body-conscious dresses, jackets, and coats. His sinuous, almost hourglass seaming was one giveaway. "Luxury mixed with an urban element"—Chalayan's own description—seemed appropriate for a three-quarter-sleeve black jacket whose curving volumes suggested haute couture. But it simultaneously had the sloppy ease of a tracksuit top. The designer's version of a leather biker jacket mastered the same surreal straddle between salon and street.