Judith Clark, Archivist Editions 2014
I have written extensively about the clothes that appear here: the selection, following the ‘out of season’ criteria of this publication, are all dated between 1997-2010. Hussein Chalayan has had multiple major retrospectives that have looked at these again. More than most designs over the last couple of decades, they have been recovered every few years for review – to check they are still new, that their mirror to the world still might hold true.
Such has been the revision of Chalayan’s work that there is a huge vocabulary that accompanies even the most cursory of journalistic accounts. He broadened the conceptual bookends of fashion, and its language had to follow suit; it was not that fashion historians necessarily became more eloquent – there was more to describe. The pieces from his archive are presented here, therefore, not as a one-off opportunity to see the work again (after its catwalk presentation) but quite the opposite: their established flexible eloquence has been used as a starting point for something quite different and rather free. Free to underplay garments that have never been underplayed.
The selected garments from Chalayan’s past collections are photographed over these pages by Axel Hoedt. They form a kind of extended triptych organised around three faces, a ‘new face’; the recognisable face of a supermodel; and the expressive ‘real’ face of an actress. This is the full range of faces used by the fashion industry. The new face is Lida Fox, the supermodel is Kristen McMenamy and the actress, photographed recently for German Vogue by Hoedt, Bibiana Beglau: three women competing for greatest desirability form the myth of the Judgement of Paris.
Faces (and importantly their coverings) are an interesting intersection between the body of Chalayan’s work, that of Hoedt’s and the models themselves. The uncluttered aesthetic (no backdrops other than one interaction with what is a simple back panel, and very few colour photographs) means that the face is where all the action is, like the best version of portraiture. This makes the fact that so much of the series features masking even more interesting. Inevitably linked to theatrical traditions as well as armour, both associations are woven through the series of calculated self- presentation.
The faces create an important unifying theme, interspersed with the garments’ fibres under the microscope (but that could easily be skin, conjuring ideas about different kinds of beautician’s masks – surgical and non-surgical).
Hoedt’s interpretation here of Chalayan’s work feels easily continuous with his own preoccupations. Just as much as we think of Chalayan’s iconic collections that used masks to represent geographically specific rituals (religious and pagan) and the intensity of belonging, as much as the isolation of celebrity hidden behind hats and sunglasses, it also reminds us of Hoedt’s series of portraits exhibited at the Fashion Space Gallery at London College of Fashion in 2010, curated by Magda Keaney. The pictures, collected under the title ‘Fasnacht’ referred to the annual carnival that takes place in southern Germany, starting on the eve of the beginning of Lent. The sitters, dressed in their costumes, were wearing masks that are traditionally designed to frighten away the spirits of winter to welcome spring. None of their features were visible - in the same way that the photographer's famously secretive sitter, JJ Hudson wears surgical masks in many of his portraits. Hoedt shields faces through cropping, through arms folded above models heads and through editorial edits, heads cropped.
Chalayan’s work provides Hoedt with different opportunities. His ‘headrests’ are shot as rather clinical still lives - designed as references to airplane chairs, they remind us of the head’s weight and perhaps that of the contemporary need for individuality. His sunhat with embedded glasses ensures protection from both the light and the limelight; however, Chalayan named another collection Heliotrope – plants that always turn to face the sun, that are always ‘exposed’. Exposure (and sexual invitation) is controlled and transgressed.
It is the ‘famous’ model who wears the controversial 1996 Burka, which she, in turn, pulls down off her face, not only to reveal her famous features, but also to create an ecstatic pose – one form of ecstasy or another. The face has taken on the tension that in the original show was achieved by incremental crops of the burka’s length, from full length to revealing a naked body beneath it.
As a curator, grouping comes naturally, finding motifs that are transmitted through the work – not exhaustive patterns, not necessarily chronological, but patterns that feel somehow essential. It is about placing objects not under the titles of collections or seasons, but according to other affinities, be they formal or conceptual or allusive.
The shoot ends on three stockinged heads: a heist, Leigh Bowery, Irving Penn’s photographs of mannequins for Diana Vreeland, Man Ray? The round, black, drawn mouth reminding us of the image a few pages earlier of McMenamy in an ambiguous pose – here more Greek tragic mask than blow job- ready?