February 28, 2011 Paris
Chalayan himself insisted he was shying away from anything literal. He was more inspired by the notion of a place—once isolated, now exposed—where new ideas could be explored, where wildly diverse elements could manifest in peculiar ways. That place sounds a lot like his own near 20-year career in fashion, which he has been tapping into more and more. Wise move—the world missed out on those Chalayan genius moments from the late nineties and early naughties. There is also no time like the present to be reminded that fashion's most cerebral designer has always been absorbed by the body. You could feel that obsession in the fluid lines of the tops and dresses that had scarves flowing from their lapels, or in the sinuous asymmetric bias-cut pieces.
Despite the designer's protestations to the contrary, the Japanese connection was inescapable. And explicable, because the rigorous thinking that goes into every Chalayan collection is something he instinctively shares with Japanese culture. Here, he was utterly mesmerized by Japanese form: the kimonolike sleeves and wraps, the delicate dévoré texture used on a coat and jacket, the oversize man-tailoring, even the robot dress that acted as the finale of the film that Chalayan directed in lieu of a show. And, not least, the model he chose for that film. She had the huge eyes, bud mouth, and flowing hair of a manga heroine made flesh. Plus, there was an abstracted photographic print the designer visualized as the view through a Japanese window of an American bomber.
The evocation of a moment of violent transition in a country's history crystallized an enduring frustration for Chalayan's rah-rah club in the fashion industry. There is absolutely no doubt that he is driven by an intense passion for his work. He has extraordinary ideas—and the all-consuming drive to realize them. That robot dress, for instance, which unleashed spring-loaded crystals intended to convey the idea of pollen exploding into the air. Gaga will go gaga, and the world will hear Chalayan's name one more time. But he is so much more than a gimmick, and this collection is, unfortunately, not the one to let the world know that.