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Backstage at Versace Couture Fall 2013
Photographed by Lea Colombo

Hussein Chalayan, Between, Spring–Summer 1998
Clothing as a vehicle of ideas'I design as a way of dealing with themes from contemporary life. There are many themes to choose from, but the conditioning of human behaviour and the way it is culturally determined is what really interest me. How is a man supposed to behave? And a woman? You might call it an anthropological interest', says Hussein Chalayan.
The Turkish Cypriot designer finds the focus on the ideal female image and on sex appeal in fashion too limiting. He’d like to turn the spotlight on other dimensions of today’s culture, dimensions that lie right beneath the surface of fashion and daily life. One example is Between (Spring–Summer 1998), in which Chalayan brings the ambiguity of the ‘feminine’ gaze into sharp focus. He starts with a woman who is veiled from head to toe. With each consecutive model one layer of clothing is removed, until all that is left is a naked woman wearing nothing but a small mask over her eyes, as if an SM dominatrix has appeared. ‘The paradox of Islam is that it has women wearing veils to eliminate their beauty and sex appeal’, says Chalayan. ‘But the desire to remain anonymous and unseen has a boomerang effect. When you dress in a veil you become enormously conspicuous, especially in Western culture. And who controls the gaze? The Muslim woman peeping out from behind her veil, or the person who sees her?’ In Chalayan’s view, fashion is not only about clothing, but also about the real attitudes, poses and etiquette that exists in every culture. ‘Every culture has rules on the attitude we should adopt in particular situations. The way we open a present is culturally determined, but so is how we sit and stand.’
So for Chalayan, designing is a process of which clothing is only a part. ‘How can you turn an experience into something creative? That is what interests me, and in the end I use the body as a model.’
Knocking woman off her pedestal, José Teunissen

The Ideal Woman, published by SUN Publishers Amsterdam in cooperation with the ArtEZ Modelectoraat and kaAp, General Studies department, ArtEZ Institute of the Arts

Photo by Charlie Brophy