HUSSEIN CHALAYAN is known for being one of fashion's most experimental and innovative designers. Some of his best known designs include a coffee table which turned into a wooden skirt, paper dresses that can be folded into envelopes and looks inspired by the structure of aeroplanes.
Chalayan was born in Cyprus in 1970, before moving to the UK with his family in 1978. His desire to pursue a career in fashion design came naturally. "My attraction to fashion was very instinctive, and had to do with my excitement about anything to do with the body and the female form, which to me represents power and magic," he told the Financial Times in 2009. "It's the ultimate symbol."
He first began his design studies at Warwickshire College of Arts, and continued his training at Central Saint Martins, where he completed the BA Fashion Design degree. He graduated in 1993, the same year Alexander McQueen completed his MA from the famous fashion institution. "The differences in students created a really diverse environment and fellow students' comments about each other's work sometimes mattered more than some of the tutors," he said at a talk, held at the V&A in July 2011.
Chalayan's graduate collection comprised a host of silk dresses that he had buried in his garden and dug up again. Influential London store Browns bought it in its entirety. He fast built a reputation for being one of the industry's intellectuals - inspired by architecture, art, politics, nature and sculpture - and his designs are some of fashion's most experimental: with frock coats that build themselves (autumn/winter 2007-08); coffee tables that morph into skirts (autumn/winter 2000-01); dresses with wings to mimic those of aeroplanes (spring/summer 2000); and pieces that can be folded up into anenvelope (spring/summer 2000-01). "I was interested in investigating the idea of creating a cyclical scenario, where people react to clothes and the end result. I like the idea of it being interactive,' he told the Guardian of his origami envelope dress in 2001.
Chalayan calls his experimental looks his "showpieces" and asserts there is more to his label than just the avant-garde. "We've done so many projects, and those showpieces as I call them are not the essence of what we are," Chalayan told us in July 2011. "Our real clothes inspire more people. The showpieces, like the coffee table dress, are monuments of the clothes we make. It's the real clothes that take up the most of my time. As a journalist, you're interested in those big, experimental pieces but it is the real clothes that are really important."
In 1998 he was made a design consultant for New York knitwear label TSE. The collaboration lasted until 2001, when the brand didn't renew his contract. This caused the designer a substantial amount of financial difficulty, and he was forced into liquidation. He made his fashion return the same year, through a new licensing deal with Italian manufacturer, Gibo.
Chalayan has commented that many have misunderstood his work in the past, not deeming it commercially viable. In 2001, the designer was left "devastated" after Tom Ford - then creative director of Gucci and YSL - chose to work with Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen - rather than him, as Gucci Group's new acquisitions. "We met up a few times in posh restaurants," he told the *Sunday Times* in June 2011. "They started a business plan, but then dropped me a like a hot potato and started talking to McQueen and Stella [McCartney]. I was devastated. Tom doesn't even know that. It really killed me. He told me I was too avant-garde. I thought 'Tom you are so wrong'. He looked at it in too obvious a way."
His contribution to the fashion industry has been widely recognised. In June 2006, he was awarded a Member of the Order of the British Empire and the London College of Fashion named him an honorary fellow in July 2011.
Chalayan's work has been worn by the industry's boldest dressers - from Bjork, who chose his work for her 1995 European tour; to Lady Gaga, who in 2009 stepped out wearing a pair of the label's chiffon trousers and wide-brimmed straw hat.
In June 2011, Chalayan announced plans to launch a diffusion line, named Grey Label, in a bid to target a new customer. "It will all be sold online as well as in stores and we're trying to making it more accessible for a younger generation in terms of lower price points," he told us in July 2011. "It would be fantastic to show this line in London, as Paris Fashion Week is just too valuable for our main collection's sales." In the same month, the designer changed the name of his label from Hussein Chalayan to simply Chalayan.
Chalayan launched his first ever book in July 2011. "It makes you realise how much work you've done, you know; the volume of it," he told us. "There are timeless collections of mine that I like to look over again at, the work I did in the late Nineties for example. We adopt a timeless approach to design."
When he's not busy at work, the designer enjoys a busy social life. "I'm a very social person. I like to work on my own, but it's important to see family and friends. I like going to exhibitions and galleries. It's important to have a body of family and friends around you. I should do a TV programme on this," he laughed.