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Suzy Menkes

Vogue International Editor Suzy Menkes is the best-known fashion journalist in the world. After 25 years commenting on fashion for the International Herald Tribune (rebranded recently as The International New York Times), Suzy Menkes now writes exclusively for Vogue online, covering fashion worldwide.

#SuzyPFW: Chalayan — Cuba Calling

In Depth: the first of an occasional series in which Suzy Menkes looks at the thought process behind a designer's show.

5 Октября 2015


Two figures standing stock still in what looked like lab coats made up the backdrop of the Chalayan show. And 'drop' was the message, since anyone who has followed the designer's two decades of runway surprises knew that something was about to happen. And so it did: a shower that washed off the models' paper garments to reveal a pair of evening dresses with up-and-down hemlines and surfaces punctuated with 'water drops' of Swarovski crystal.

But the real surprise was that this dramatic episode was nothing compared to the depth and imagination of the show itself - the most brilliant proposition we have seen from this designer, and a standout in four weeks and four cities of the summer 2016 season.

Hussein Chalayan had gone to Cuba and found not just a cigar-chomping vision (although cigars did appear in pockets as playful accessories). Instead, the designer steeped himself in the country's colours — but above all he paid attention to its recent history and imminent embrace of America, now that President Obama has opened up Castro's world.


If this seems a heavy-handed introduction to something as lightweight as fashion, the show proved the opposite. It started with military clothes in a shade of tobacco brown emblematic of Cuba. Far from aggressive, the army angle was softened by portrait necklines, curving jackets and feminine shapes.

Chalayan lightened the spirit more by introducing patterns with not only printed statistics of Cuba's history, but also a cartoon character from the 1940s named Plonk.

As the show continued after the water shower, the clothes became lighter and more simple: little figures of dancing couples gave way to plain white - still sporty but suggestive of a new dawn rising over an open sea.


It is so rare to see such a strong show and then hear the designer's thought process. I recorded the tumble of words that Chalayan spoke to express his feelings. Every potential designer should see his comments below as a case study on creating an exceptional collection.

Hussein Chalayan on his 'Pasatiempo' collection:

"I spent a lot of time in Cuba. We wanted to see how people really make the best out of a situation, so we used this cartoon character that actually exists, but we took it over.

"We also had pockets with cigars as a sort of joke, and then I wanted to fuse this colonial element with the tropical element of Cuba, as well as the influence of the regime.

It was also a celebration of the place because why should it be validated by western values? Why should it be that if they don't abide by what everybody else is doing, that therefore they shouldn't be respected?

"I'm never one of those designers who go to a place like India and then does Indian embroideries. I really try to look at the place and see what I can get out of it. It's more of an exploration, so it was a really enjoyable project, but a lot of work.


"The shower was to represent Cuba's transformation from militancy to a more playful situation. And I liked the idea of using water, because Cuba is surrounded by all that sea.

"I thought, how can I fuse these elements together? So I liked the idea that the mountain can melt and reveal something more playful underneath. The dresses had a dancing palm-tree pattern, and the Swarovski crystals represent coconuts.

"It was a real challenge to be honest — a lot of back and forth. You saw girls slipping [during the second half of the show when the floor was wet]. You saw heels snapping. But who cares? You know you have to. I like taking risks."


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