When people start talking about Hussein Chalayan’s fall/winter 2014 collection, and one can be quite sure that they will be talking about it, I fear no one is going to mention the asymmetrical folds on the jackets, the geometric cutouts with contrasting fabrics, the shiny printed metallics, the large, gathered necks on the fur coats, or even the colorful fringed patchwork look on a set of dresses and separates that dominate the first 37 looks of the collection. What they’ll be talking about is fake finger nails.
I’ve seen a lot of different gimmicks and creative uses of non-standard materials over the years, but this is definitely a first. When one considers that it really wasn’t that long ago that solid colored nails were the standard and any deviation from a slick, even, solid-colored nail was a flaw, Chalayan’s treatment is even more amazing. There they were, first in black and white designs, then in various shades of red and pink and tan and silver, all lined up in neat little rows on top of a lightly printed grid. From a distance, it just appeared to be a cool texture. Up close, though, the effect is rather startling, as though one has mistakenly stepped into a beauty supply shop or a mobile nail salon (assuming there is such a thing as a mobile nail salon; now that I think about it, I’m not sure I’ve actually seen one). All those finger nails are very cool on one level, especially with all the intricate designs on the black and white sets, and still somehow a bit creepy, as in, just where does one find that many fake nails?
Back up to the front of the collection, though, because that’s where Chalayan’s real creativity and genius is on display. This is an amazingly well designed fall/winter collection, from the first few all-leather pieces, to the multi-fabric designs full of overlays and careful paneling. Chalayan has a natural sense of visual drama and through most of this collection brings it to bear in ways that, without any gimmicks, is worthy of note. There is an asymmetric chevron look where he inserts a contrasting color and texture in a most wonderful effect. His over-sized knit sweaters paired with shimmery metallic print skirts are both comfortable and contemporary. When Chalayan applies that metallic print to whole dresses, it feels as though he has put a layer of high-gloss shellac over the whole piece. These are wonderful, wearable, enduring pieces of clothing that are worthy of every ounce of attention one can give them.
Yet, all anyone is talking about is finger nails.
Using a strong gimmick can do a lot to bring attention to an unfamiliar label, and Chalayan certainly fits that requirement. However, gimmicks that totally overshadow the remainder of the collection can be counter-productive and I worry that may be the backlash facing the label. What is best and what is most enduring from this collection are the pieces most easily overlooked as one goes rushing to inspect all those finger nails. Please, try to stop yourself. Take a good look at the entire collection and enjoy the real genius that is Hussein Chalayan.