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Hus­sein Cha­layan, de­signer, 48

The Observer Magazine - - Up Front - In­ter­view JU­LIANA PISKORZ Pho­to­graph ALEX LAKE

I was sent to board­ing school in the UK when I was 12 years old be­cause my par­ents were sep­a­rated so it was thought it would be the best thing for me. It meant that I be­came in­de­pen­dent at a very young age.

I’m eth­ni­cally Turk­ish Cypriot, but more than any­thing I feel like a Lon­doner. I think for me Lon­don is al­most a coun­try in its own right. I’ve al­ways thought that, way be­fore Brexit. We Lon­don­ers have a lib­eral world­view where every­thing is pos­si­ble. You can chal­lenge so­cial and sex­ual main­streams and you can be from any back­ground.

I think hav­ing a sense of oth­er­ness is a gift. Be­ing from a dif­fer­ent place, or hav­ing for­eign par­ents, or com­ing from a dif­fer­ent re­li­gion, ex­poses you to dif­fer­ent cuisines, dif­fer­ent ways of think­ing and al­lows you to open your mind in a very unique way. But it takes time to em­brace this dif­fer­ence, when you are a child you get bul­lied – imag­ine grow­ing up with my name.

I went into fash­ion be­cause I am very ex­cited about the body. In all as­pects of cul­ture, the body is the cen­tral theme, every­thing we do will fi­nally af­fect the body, every­thing we build and de­sign in a way re­flects the body. For me things are never as ex­cit­ing if they don’t con­nect with ex­pe­ri­ence or phys­i­cal­ity or thought.

The grey ar­eas and the things that have seemed im­pos­si­ble are the things I chase. My life has been about recog­nis­ing a prob­lem and find­ing a so­lu­tion to it.

Mu­sic is the most amaz­ing thing. It sur­passes all medi­ums for me. There’s noth­ing that cre­ates that vis­ceral emo­tion in some­one in the same way. If you can get close to that feel­ing that you get from mu­sic as a vis­ual per­son then I think that’s a great suc­cess. I started teach­ing fash­ion [at the Univer­sity of Ap­plied Arts in Vi­enna] be­cause I like help­ing young peo­ple. But it’s in­cred­i­bly tir­ing. You have to be su­per em­pa­thetic to teach, some­times I get a bit too car­ried away. Fash­ion is a very self­ish busi­ness. It’s all about me, me, me, whereas when you are teach­ing it’s not about you it’s about the other per­son. You’ve got to give them some­thing; they’ve got to get some­thing out of you.

You don’t know your­self at the age of 20, although I don’t think you’ll know your­self truly un­til you die. There are char­ac­ter­is­tics that you are born with as a baby and most of us top th­ese up with ex­pe­ri­ences, but our core re­mains the same. How­ever, there are some peo­ple who can’t change.

I’ve sac­ri­ficed a lot of my per­sonal life to fo­cus on my busi­ness. You never want to sound like a mar­tyr, but it was a de­ci­sion I made early on. There are some peo­ple who have one col­lec­tion and make a big splash and make lots of money, but that wouldn’t give me sat­is­fac­tion – longevity gives me sat­is­fac­tion. I want my brand to sur­vive me.

‘Mu­sic is the most amaz­ing thing. Noth­ing else cre­ates that vis­ceral emo­tion in the same way’

I don’t have any re­grets, I think every­thing that hap­pens for a rea­son and every­thing that I’ve done has been a les­son. ■

Hus­sein Cha­layan is the win­ner of the Pan­erai Lon­don De­sign Medal 2018, lon­don­de­sign­fes­ti­val.com

(15-23 Septem­ber 2018)

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