Monday, March 1, 2010

Hussein Chalayan

by Simone Miller

S 2000

“Hussein Chalayan, Fashon and Technology” : This article was first published in Fashion Theory, Volume 6, Number 4 in 2002 but was published again in 2009 in Design Studies, A Reader. Both are published by Berg, a company that publishes volumes of academics on and analysis of fashion. The article deals mostly with Hussein Chalayan’s Remote Control Dress from Spring/Summer 2000.

Author: Bradley Quinn is a journalist and author. Frequently, his writing is about fashion and technology, architecture or other aspects of design.

Chalayan's student exhibition The Tangent Flows, 1993, buried in his back yard then presented

The article’s approach is mainly to analyze fashion as a form, focusing specifically on Hussein Chalayan’s Remote Control Dress but also referencing other parts of Hussein Chalayan’s body of work. Bradley Quinn seems most interested in fashion, especially technologically enhanced fashion, and its relationship with the human body. Though not the article’s main focus, Quinn briefly discusses the fashion system as well.

F 2001

Cyborg: “a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality, as well as a creature of fiction” (388), when a human’s nervous system “[operates] in direct connection with the artificial intelligence of a machine” (388). The ability to be a cyborg does not rely merely on complicated or advanced technology; even something as simple as surfing the web can (momentarily) turn one into a cyborg.

Four categories of technological enhancements to the human body:
Restorative- the replacement of missing limbs, failed organs, defective bodily functions.
Normalizing- “a generic aesthetic while imposing technologized bodies as social or aesthetic norms” (389). In other words, establishing the technologized body as a normal form.
Reconfiguring- equipping the body with extra functions such as by adding extra limbs or communications systems.
Enhancing- using technology to enhance the body’s pre-existing functions.

F 2003

This article focuses on avant-garde designer Hussein Chalayan who combines technology and fashion in his collections. Quinn says that in doing so, Hussein Chalayan brings technology in direct contact with the body and hails Chalayan’s Remote Control Dress as “a high-tech triuph that married fashion to technology and technology to the body” (387). The Remote Controll Dress is made of fiber and resin and contains solar panels, wireless technology, electrical circuitry and automated commands. It was the first fully functioning garment containing a wireless device.

Though Chalayan brings technology almost uncomfortably close to the body, he maintains that any cyborgian references are “something of a side effect” (388). Chalayan’s main goal is not to explore the relationship between technology and the body but rather the relationship between the form of the garment and the body. Chalayan strives to extend clothing’s functions. Indeed by wearing the dress, the body can be connected to other machines, people, businesses, and governments. Quinn presents four categories of technologies in relation to the body: restorative, normalizing, reconfiguring and enhancing. Quinn says that in terms of fashion, the cyborg body is mostly made up of reconfiguring and enhancing technologies such as sunglasses, reading glasses, mobile devices and even athletic shoes.

However, Hussein Chalayan’s Remote Control Dress also has normalizing processes as it is involved in what Quinn refers to as the techno-sexualization of the body. That is to say that the dress has the power to reveal or hide certain parts of the body and to shape the female form, allowing the wearer’s body to conform to ideal standards of beauty. Thus the term ‘fashion’ in this instance is used not to describe the system or the garments but rather the process of shaping or creating something. The idea of revealing and concealing body parts is a running theme in Hussein Chalayan’s work.

Still, the Remote Control Dress and Chalayan’s body of work confront a chilling issue that has come up as society becomes increasingly technologically advanced which is the potential for humans to become controlled by technology. The dress is the epitome of scientific progress and challenges fashion norms. Fashion, Quinn argues, has always had interactive and communicative properties and the Remote Control Dress increases these possibilities. The dress challenges traditional aesthetics by blurring the lines between body and machine and marks a shift from defining the human body in terms of social values to defining it in terms of technology.

Quinn concludes by suggesting that Chalayan’s work allows him to be free of fashion system rules and create a discourse on the principles of clothing. Chalayan’s way of thinking is part of a more integrated approach to design that includes fashion, interiors and architecture.

S 2008

The author’s point of view is that Hussein Chalayan’s work is innovative and provocative. Quinn’s article makes clothing that seems totally unwearable at first glance seem progressive and appealing. Quinn suggests that the inclusion of technology is a natural progression in the evolution of clothing and its functions. Hussein Chalayan’s designs question notions of what can and can’t be worn as clothing. In terms of power, Chalayan’s technologically enhanced garments have the power to increase clothing’s and humans’ capabilities but also have a dark power to control the wearer. Still, this is not unlike the modern-day fashion victim who is controlled by clothing forms as trends come in and out. Chalayan as a designer has power because his line of work allows him to exist outside of the fashion system but he is still considered an important designer.

S 2009

How Can This Be Applied? This article is very pertinent because it explores our increasingly technological dependent society. Clothing seems to be an area that has remained relatively untouched by technology but it certainly has the potential to be. Chalayan’s Remote Control Dress represents how far fashion has come from just its original protective uses. While the Japanese Avant Garde designers’ designs represent working with the body, Chalayan’s designs represent a shaping of the body. The desire to shape the body to its ideal form is an idea that has held up for ages, so while Chalayan’s designs are technologically advanced, much of the thought process behind them are the same thoughts behind more traditional fashion. While the Japanese Avant Garde designers valued and referenced the past, Hussein Chalayan is focused on looking to the future.