It’s a Sunday morning; you’re a little shady; you arrive at a large hall where you engage in a rousing rendition of a reasonably familiar song before settling in to listen to some guy talk at you for an hour. Sound familiar? No I haven’t converted but I have become a willing participant in the School of Life non-secular sermons
I guess, not unlike the regular garden variety, each sermon addresses one tricksy virtue or vice. I’ve been to a few of these and am likely to go to more. The School of Life curates them so they are just odd enough to be interesting. On one Sunday we heard from British designer and general brilliant artist Hussein Chalayan on the art of fitting in. He gave us a Sunday morning peak in to his life via a series of stories, starting with a traumatic account of his circumcision party – complete with inappropriate balloons – in Cyprus and winding up with him producing a film starring uber muse Tilda Swinton – surely a sign he has reached the pinnacle of alternative chic.
In creating his art Hussein works with engineers, industrial designers, programmers, musicians, biologists and one would assume seamstresses to create what he terms an alien experience, or if you prefer clichés, other worldly. At first no one could categorise his work and this made him feel like an outsider and presumably frustrated Alexandra Shulman. But after a while, this inability to fit into a fashion category became exciting and now Hussein claims that what keeps him fresh, or his strategy for creative self-renewal, is to be a migrant – dislocated, never settled. He claims that it is inevitable that your art becomes some kind of therapy and there is a part of his life he is exploring in every video, item of clothing, sculpture or photo.
The story behind one of his more well known pieces – his amazing table dress – an icon of fash-art – makes it even more amazing. Yes I just made fash-art up. I was that inspired. His inspiration for the series of everyday objects, tables, chairs that turn into haute couture came from a photo series by Don McCullin of Cypriot women who had lived through extreme nationalists raiding and ransacking their homes. Hussein’s family home had also been raided in the 60s and this spurred an interest in finding ways to hide possessions from looters. Hence the haute couture disguised as everyday objects. Bloody Brilliant.
One of his more recent works, entitled place non place involved the design of ready to wear jackets, complete with labels, instructing the purchaser to bring themselves and their jacket to Heathrow 10 months later. The jackets were lined with a map to the destination and designed with many pockets, perfect for transporting keepsakes to talk about when you reached the destination, 10 months later. Hussein described how exposed he felt in doing this – would anyone turn up? I know how he feels. Hosting a party is stressful. One person turned up, a young German man living in London. This made me happy.
To me, Hussein is a designers designer. Someone who most people wouldn’t know existed. To my mind, they’re missing out. This is the interesting thing, this man could have been a successful and I would say famous artist in any art form. But he has chosen to pursue, what could be said, is the hardest to ‘fit’ into medium of them all. Fashion appears to be one of the hardest fields in which to stay successful, positive and away from illicit substances. The wondrous thing is that he seems to have leveraged his never fitting in to lead the pack. Maybe in fashion and art this is actually the ultimate in fitting in? Not so for the rest of us drones unfortunately. He closed with the comment that he participates in the world of fashion, but he does it differently and I think there’s something in that, even for the drones.