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Hussein In The Brain

Hussein In The Brain

Dazed has partnered up with the Design Museum to celebrate the new Hussein Chalayan exhibition and we go behind the scenes of Dazed's exclusive shoot with Hussein.

“A jewel-box of an exhibition” may be the best way to describe the new Hussein Chalayan exhibition that opens at the Design Museum today. How fitting then that it comes from the man of the hour, Hussein himself. Fifteen years of boundary-pushing, thought-provoking, cross-genre-hoping and quite-simply-exciting work has been lovingly edited by Chalayan and the exhibition’s curator Donna Loveday, and laid out in the small but flowing space of the Design Museum. Retrospective exhibitions tend to bask in an aura of ‘old-worldliness’, no matter how far back they reach, a decade or a century. It must surely say something about the irrefutable abounding talent of Hussein Chalayan that fifteen years of work seem as fresh today as when first shown, neither clichéd nor irrelevant.

Dazed Digital: Donna, what was it specifically about Hussein and his work that attracted you to the idea of staging this exhibition in the first place and do the big ideas he explores in his work like religion, politics, our society, make it easier for you?

Donna Loveday: I think there are a number of things actually, that drew me towards Hussein. Generally, that his work is so cross-disciplinary, that he is engaged by so many other worlds. That’s perfect for our audience here at the Design Museum, because we cover so many different areas in the museum with our exhibition programme. But equally, that he is fascinated and very interested and engaged by these bigger concepts and they very much inform the ideas behind this exhibition. So that was very interesting and I could see the potential for an amazing exhibition in the museum. Also, his own cultural heritage and background which I’ve always found quite fascinating and which he most definitely brings in to his work. So, there are many different things but I could always see the potential for a really dynamic exhibition here at the Design Museum.

DD: Hussein, when Donna first approached you with the idea did you have any reservations at all?

Hussein Chalayan: I’ve been coming to the Design Museum for years, I knew that there were very high level of shows here from the past so obviously it’s an honour to even be approached. I think the challenge has been to select what we’re going to show from such a large body of work, we had to be selective, it’s not like we’re showing in an airport… 

DD: Not a bad idea!

HC: Yeah! Of course, who wouldn’t be honoured? It’s a fantastic institution and Donna has been really great to work with and very accommodating and actually, I think it’s been a journey for all of us in that I think we all learned quite a lot from this, as to what could be done, can’t be done. It’s definitely has had its ‘moments’! It’s been a bit of a journey, hasn’t it?

DL: Yes, I’d agree with that. The whole concept behind the show is very much a journey through Chalayan’s work and I think it has been a journey for us.  It has been challenging but I think it’s been very much what a collaborative process is between so many different people.  

DD: For someone who never seems to look back for inspiration, is having a retrospective exhibition a strange concept or even a contradiction for you?

HC: No, it’s called a retrospective but it’s not really one in a sense that I’m not a 70-year-old guy about to die and this is my retrospective! It is my work up to this day and I feel that, as a lot of my concerns from the past have been timeless issues, I could take this collection here and work on it now, again, and it will still look relevant. There is a timelessness in my work I always strive for so I don’t see it as a regressive situation. I just think it’s a great platform to celebrate the work that’s been done throughout the years.  

DD: Did editing the collections make you look at different pieces from a fresh perspective?

DL: The show is broadly chronological and I see that everything has its place but I also see a progression. A lot of the earlier work seems very new to me, 1997 could be 2009, but the most exciting element for me in the show is the use of new technology with the laser dresses and the LED which for me looks at the future and the future possibilities for fashion. Maybe in 5 or 10 years time, who knows, we’ll all be wearing LED dresses! 

DD: What were the challenges of putting this exhibition together with such a variety of work, from the video installations to simply the dresses on the mannequins?

DL: The challenge for me was the limited space and wanting to pack so much in, there’s so much more we could have included! Going through that editing process was quite difficult for Hussein as well…HC: Selecting between your children! I had to be selective between all my babies and there’s so much work we’ve done over the years that yes, I have to say that part was tough. 

DD: Hussein’s work is so often described as ‘experimental’ and ‘innovative’, but do you think that sticking to these labels misses the entire point of each collection individually and the entire body of work so far? Do you think this exhibition will give people a different perspective?

DL: I think there has been a misconception in the press about Hussein’s work because it’s obviously these iconic pieces, ‘monumental pieces’ as Hussein refers to them, that attract the media’s attention but beyond that the collections are eminently wearable.HC: This show is not about saying to people “we make wearable clothes”, these are definitely iconic pieces but the wearable clothes that stem from them are more important in terms of the business. But in terms of inspiration, these pieces need to exist because this is what creates the basis for the rest of them.  

KG: Earlier you spoke about the coffee-drinking-future-telling culture you grew up with. The Design Museum café will also be serving Turkish coffee to celebrate that. How do you balance that very romantic, charming idea with the more refined and scientific approach to fashion?

HC: I have many interests, I can one minute enjoy a grandmother reading a coffee cup and next minute I can enjoy a computer game or whatever. I don’t think you need to be one kind of person or another. I think I’ve always been like this and I like these layers in life, I like the fact that we are these sort of complex creatures and we can apply our antennae to anything!

DL: And that’s what makes conversations with Hussein so interesting!

HC: (laughs)

DL: When we talk through this exhibition Hussein covers so many different areas you come away completely overwhelmed, inspired, motivated but that’s how it is.

HC: Thank you, that’s very kind. Oh no, sometimes it can do the reverse…

DL: It can get quite overwhelming!

For the Dazed & Confused February issue, Hussein Chalayan also teams up with Dazed to create and exclusive shoot shot by Mel Bles, styled by Karen Langley. The set for the shoot was created by Shona Heath and Sarah Durham went behind the scenes to create this video. 

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We have 25 tickets to the exhibition and 1 limited edition t-shirt to giveaway. Click here for more details.