Sometimes it takes restraint to show you the world as it is, and sometimes it’s in this sort of distillation that you find truth. This was certainly the case at Hussein Chalayan’s Fall/Winter 2019 collection of menswear, shown on the first day of the London Fashion Week: Men’s schedule.
I say this because Chalayan is a challenging designer whose conceptualisms and ideas in the 2000s have set him up firmly as a cerebral creator. It’s an unfair pigeon hole, because the clothes that were sent down the runway struck a poised balance between ideas and utter wearable desirability. I’m finding these days that that is a difficult mark to hit.
Chalayan’s show notes cite the great outdoors as inspiration. The wild and the natural are wildly popular these days, and they’re perhaps a symptom of urban and cosmopolitan overdose. That great, dense cities have tired people out so there is a yearning and search for a break of freedom. Some designers would sooner look to the street and to casual codes as their antidote to the malaise, but Chalayan looked abstractly further and beyond, allowing the fashion to retain its elegance and rigour while letting loose in spirit.
Applicably, this came in details. Trousers with gaiters, usefully tucked to Wellington boots. English tweeds in classic check patterns, toggle drawstring fastenings. It gently evoked adventure and movement.
More critical though is the way the designer folded in his own codes of disciplined elegance. This season, the arc seemed to be folds of an origami sort. The silhouettes were mostly softly curved, and even the expertly tailored jackets and coats had a calm that hinted at Japanese zen. Standouts were the acid-yellow paint-splattered pieces. Corduroy trousers were paired with a jacket – simultaneously fitted to the body on the inside and cocooning and round because of the dropped shoulders on a layered wraparound. A precise push and pull of tension and release.
This Chalayan collection spoke to me because of the masterful way it managed that tension. In a subtle way, the designer seems to have proposed a best-of-both-worlds solution to the notion that men’s fashion is headed the way of the hoodie. And that, in a sense, is fashion's metaphor for the contemporary anxiety about masculinity’s evolving definition. There are a lot of big questions about what men ought to be in a world that now demands gender parity and accountability. Rather than clumsily appropriate streetwear codes – a style distinctly antithetical to his work – Chalayan has discerned the root problem and applied his own aesthetic to a solution. It might certainly seem a small answer to a big problem, but knowing what to wear usually makes for great comfort and an embracing starting point in times of change.