SINGAPORE--Lauded British designer Hussein Chalayan closed Audi's Singapore Fashion Festival on Sunday night, the last of several international designers to show their fall 2013 collections during the week. While the clothes certainly wowed the audience--especially the convertible gowns that models dramatically unleashed while walking down the runway--it was even more fun to chat with Chalayan backstage after the show.
The deeply opinionated designer discussed everything from why he'll probably never show at London Fashion Week again, to his ideal fashion cycle.
Fashionista: How have you enjoyed Singapore? Hussein Chalayan: The food has been great. And the city—it's like a future city. If I sketched backgrounds for my models, this is what I would sketch.
On Thursday during your talk with the festival's creative director, [British journalist] Collin McDowell, you spoke a lot about the ups and downs of being an independent company. At one point, you were going to go into business with PPR [now Kerring]. Would you ever consider joining a conglomerate again? That kind of investment has positive and negative sides. You're put under a lot of pressure, but you feel safer as well. It's a peculiar dichotomy between feeling safe and being under pressure. I was with the PPR group for a very short while, and then the crisis came and we didn't do it. So I ended up just being the creative director of [PPR-owned] Puma for five years. My feeling is, I would only doing something like that if it was the right kind of deal. I don't want to feel like I'm in a prison. You could end up feeling that way. I'm sure you've heard of all of the designers under stress….
Do you think that, today, a designer has to do something like what you did at Puma to survive financially? It depends on the corner of the market you've carved out. I feel you don't have to be a part of a big company to gain visibility for your brand. It helps. I've done three big ones now. I was the designer of Tse—in New York, actually—then I became the creative director of Asprey. Then it was Puma.
So it's worked for you. It's worked for me, but it's also been quite difficult.
There's a lot of talk these days about the pressure of the fashion cycle--designers creating six, seven, eight collections a year. Would you be a "seasonless" designer if you could? I think that, this idea of seasons... as a designer you're a victim of that. Because it has a lot to do with the demands of the marketplace. It's chicken-egg, isn't it? If you don't offer those seasons, the market won't have them. The market will have to make do without you. If it was up to me, I would almost do one collection a year: spring, summer and winter all in one. I would have parts of the collection that were sort of "seasoned," so that if you live in a hot climate like this one you'll have something. Like tonight, I showed my winter collection, but it's too warm to ever wear coats here.
You show in Paris, and have done so for many, many years. Now that London, where you're based, is such an important stop on the fashion week schedule, would you ever consider showing there? I get asked this a lot. The thing is that I used to show in London before I went to Paris. I showed in London for seven, eight years or so. I've been showing longer in Paris. [When I left London], I felt like not enough people were coming through in those days. We make such a big effort, and not enough people were seeing it. Now, we've found our way in Paris. We have a slot—we think it's a good one. For me, to go back to London isn't so easy. The whole way that the collection is preprared, and the timing of it is for Paris. I would have to make big changes. I also feel like the kind of designers in London... I think there's a definite approach now. In the days that I was showing there, I was showing with McQueen. We did really amazing shows. We really pushed boundaries. These days, I think a lot of the designers just want to have a business. Which I respect. But in my case it was always about also doing something new. I would feel a bit weird showing in London now because I think the designers there are more commercial in a way. We are commercial, but I'm somebody who cares about novelty as well as having a business.