Chalayan Fall 1995 Ready-to-Wear

Editor’s note: This collection was originally presented in March 1995 in London and has been digitized as part of Vogue Runway’s ongoing efforts to document historical fashion shows.

World building is part of what designers do, but few have built universes with as distant poles (insider/outsider, East/West, etc.) as Hussein Chalayan. As a student at Central Saint Martins, Chalayan buried his graduate collection in the ground to age it. Call it a communion with nature. Machines for travel, communication, and war were among the subjects of Chalayan’s fall 1995 collection, Along False Equator. “I’m interested in the influence of technology and the way we feel lost and small in the endless possibilities of technology,” he said in a 1998 Vogue interview. “I’m interested in the loss of identity, the idea that exploring ‘the other’ can make you lose yourself.”

Chalayan’s use of antenna-like jewelry and the map-prints on a Tyvek paper (a dress made of which Björk wore on the cover of her 1995 album Post) all suggest that the collection was somehow also about navigation— among places, but also through life in all of its extremes.

Among the print motifs in the collection, besides the maps and weather charts, was a jagged heart monitor line. The flower-like explosions of dot-tipped arched lines that were printed, layered, and embossed were variously described by journalists as “flight paths,” circuit boards, and “missile fire.” Writing in 032c in 2005 historian Caroline Evans noted that the collection included “paper suits embedded with fiber-optics that flashed like aeroplane lights at night.” In hindsight, Chalayan’s interest in air travel predates his extraordinary remote controlled plane wing dress for spring 2000.

The show’s strictly tailored wool jackets featured sharp, even spiky, wing-like shapes. These shared space with sportier neoprene separates that contained the body and to-the-waist quilted jackets. Keeping in the sports vein, the long coats that opened the show were styled with sneakers, not a usual choice at the time. Softening things were wrap and slip dresses, some with rows of rouleau buttons, with a fluid ’30s-by-way-of-the-’70s feeling. Balancing this (relative) sweetness was a series of cobweb knits that had the appearance of shredded nylons.

The collection’s pièce de résistance was a carved and varnished wooden corset with metal fastenings. The grain of the wood slightly resembled that of some of the graphics in the show, and swelled around the area of the nipples. It was acquired by the Met’s Costume Institute, and the curators write in its catalog entry that this “essentially low-tech ‘bustier’ stands in contrast to much of Chalayan’s experimentation with unconventional materials, including some associated with aerospace technology. It does, however, relate to an earlier design from his 1993 Central Saint Martins graduation presentation and the later, beautifully rendered, ‘furniture’ pieces that transformed into garments from his fall/winter 2000-2001 collection.”

There are many ways to look at this piece. According to the dictionary, an equator (referenced in the show title) is “an imaginary line drawn around the earth, equally distant from both poles, dividing the earth into northern and southern hemispheres and constituting the parallel of latitude 0°.” If, as Chalayan asserted, technology is a creation of humanity,” perhaps nature is a creation of God, and something that cannot be controlled, no matter how many times it’s mapped, traveled over, or probed. Maybe Chalayan’s model is locked within a protective sort of “heart-shaped box” which (forcibly) tethers her to earth and prevents her from flat-lining.

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