Trespassing Journal

Transnationalism and hybridity in the art of Hussein Chalayan

Damla B. Aksel


Ever since NASA disseminated The Blue Marble (1972), the famous photograph of the Earth taken from the space, the earth has become a smaller place. It has become much and much smaller with the increase in the mobility of goods, people or ideas and today, the accessibility across borders and transnationalism are not novelties. The transnational practices of people moving around the world make it possible to overhaul and erase the essentialist claims of modernity that have preoccupied and obscured the 20th century. These appear in a variety of forms, ranging from transnational political activism to cultural and aesthetic practices, and even fashion.

As one of the fashionable artists of our time, Hussein Chalayan has also become an agent of the counter-hegemonic discourse by fusing fashion and arts with cultural studies. Turkish Cypriot by origin but English by settlement, Hussein Chalayan brings together architecture, technology and music with fashion and clothing to articulate the contemporary phenomena and concerns, such as immigration, multiculturalism and identity. The artist positions people and his cloths in the framework of mobility in the triangle of Cyprus-London-Istanbul. Within the fictionalized and extraordinary worlds he created, Chalayan tests the moments of encounter, conflict and hybridity of different identities and cultures.

While positioning fashion within the realm of arts, he does not reflect the differentiative aspect of the haute couture that emerges from a master narrative of the elite. On the contrary, he uses the narratives built around the apparel (as the closest symbolic object next to the body) in order to renegotiate the existing discourses on nation-states and immigration. As a result, Chalayan’s work is significant in reflecting deliberately his own hybrid identity, his “transmigrant-self” (Bhabha 300) in his works.

Using the lens of transnationalism, immigration and hybridity I will be analyzing Chalayan’s three projects, namely Afterwords (2000), Temporal Meditations (2003) and Absent Presence (2005). My ambition in analyzing the works (“discursive practices” in the Foucauldian sense) of Hussein Chalayan is a means to reconcile the domain of fashion with the theories on migration, transnationalism and identity. In investigating his works, I do not only try to understand how he addresses to the contemporary concerns, but how the socio-political circumstances can be read by decentralizing the creator from the focal point of the artistic process. A certain emphasis is put on the character of artistic process employed by Chalayan, which basically comprises of the tools of fashion. By using the objects (garments, apparel and accessories) and the mechanisms (runways and collections) of fashion, Chalayan reappropriates the existing discourses of modernity, including the securitized logic against migration and the essentialist view for classifying identities. The article begins by the reconsideration of the previous literature on fashion, identity and migration and then focuses on Chalayan’s personal history in order to finally conceive the meaning of his artistic work.

Transnationalism, fashion, identity

As a challenge to the strictly bounded territories of the modern nation-states (Smith and Guarnizo 245; Portes et al. 55; Levitt et al. 568) the transnationalism occupies a significant place in various domains of the academia (including sociology, international relations, political science or anthropology) over the last few decades. It is conceived as an outcome of the neoliberal globalization which fortified after the end of Cold War and as comprising of a number of scopes, including the mobility of goods, people, ideologies, technologies, finances and telecommunications (Appadurai 296). It fabricated new and complex debates about identity, multiculturalism, integration or security.

The scholars of the cultural studies have celebrated the transnationalism as the “expression of a subversive popular resistance ‘from below’” (Smith and Guarnizo 5) and taken interest in the transnational practices of immigrants addressing economic, political, socio-cultural or religious sectors. The interpretative school, including the works of Hall (2005), Anderson (1990) and Bhabha (1994) discussed the meanings behind the narratives for illuminating the constant struggle of the immigrants in the process of identity production. “The narratives of displacement” have been analyzed for the articulation of the relationship between socio-political contexts, spaces and the cultural identity in movement (Hall 223). This has been dealt with in other artistic spheres i.e. cinema, arts, literature; however fashion has not been considered as one of the artistic spheres which can be representative of the cultural identity.

In fact, fashion has been neglected as a matter worthwhile of the modern literature on social and cultural sciences until very recently, since it has been conceived as socially frivolous and instable. It has been attributed to higher classes and luxury, and was criticized for generating distinction between social classes. The discourse of fashion was perceived as coming from “above” (i.e. the elite) and this refuted it from being representative of the social relations disseminated in the whole society.

Nevertheless, in this article I argue that the fashion as a “cultural manufacture” (Kawamura 33) also has a highly transnational character. First, the fashion process is managed by transnational actors, including immigrant designers and mobile fashion workers who pursue fashion weeks or runways held in the fashion centers of the world. Second, as the byproduct of the commodity culture the fashion process targets at reaching and accessing to the global scale. And it does aim not only the elite but also to the masses which might obtain the fashionable through imitation (Simmel 188; Veblen 72; Blumer 275-91). This second factor makes it become audible, therefore able to disseminate social or political messages on a wider scale. Third, fashion is about novelty and change (Benjamin 172; Lehmann 174). It necessitates the creation of new products each season and does not linger to a specific period in time. This continuous transformation of the fashion itself is in line with the postmodern identities which are bound to change, contestation, difference and similarity. Just as transmigrants’ hybrid identities mingle traits from their past and present (Hall 222), fashion also combines contemporary trends with the traits of former trends for making collages out of them (Lehmann 165). [1] In order to provide justifications to my arguments, I will provide brief background information on the history of fashion in social and cultural sciences.

From its beginnings, the study of fashion included its criticisms. In the 19th century, fashion discourse became a matter of argument between the proponents of urban high society such as Charles Baudelaire, Honoré de Balzac or Stéphane Mallarmé and those who criticized the inequality among people such as Jean Jacques Rousseau. In the 20th century, it has been much debated especially by feminists, who emphasized that it was a gendered phenomenon and by Marxists, who criticized it for privileging the over-consumption and commodity fetishism, and reinforced the cleavages between the bourgeois and the working class (Kawamura 9). Despite its criticisms, a certain number of recent literature took interest in the reflection of social structures on fashion (see, Craik 1993; Troy 2003; Vinken 2005) and fewer academics worked on the role of fashion as a political and economic phenomenon (see, Paulicelli 2004; Zdanty 2006).

The earlier theorists of fashion (Simmel 1957(1904); Veblen 1899; Benjamin 1927) stressed on the relationship between fashion and class distinction, and highlighted that it was a phenomenon of lower classes’ imitation of higher class. It was argued that fashion was a cyclical phenomenon, prioritizing the novelty and change. The elite produced new outfits and modes de vies that were not physically accessible to the lower classes, their more accessible imitations were created by the lower classes, which in return caused the elites to produce newer designs in the next season.

Some of the recent scholars such as Bourdieu (201) and König and Bradley (139) shared the arguments of the earlier theorists and acknowledged that fashion accentuated the exclusion of certain classes from the public sphere. According to this perspective the costumes engendered symbolic domination of the elite and the submission of those who were not allowed in the process of production. However, the modernist perspective on fashion also claimed that it was born out of the democratization process of the authoritarian monarchies and that it engendered social equalization at some point in time. Against the hereditary fixities of the previous social stratifications, the cyclical process of fashion enabled rapprochement. The fashion was a matter of modernity and the blurred distinctions between the social classes, and it nourished from the search of the modern persona for differentiating in a subtler way (Kawamura 17).

According to Lehmann (174), the meaning and the interpretation of the fashion narrative has been a matter of speculation since Baudelaire, and aside from their protective functions, the clothes and accessories were considered as representative of the cultural expressions. This led the way to the decodification of the fashion products, whereas in The Fashion System (212), Roland Barthes deconstructed the fashion discourse itself. Different from the previous accounts on fashion, Barthes focused in his analysis on the interpretation of the fashion discourse by positioning the fashion system and journalism under the lens of semantics. Barthes established a relationship between the fashion product as an object and the language functioning as symbolic and representative (Barthes 263).

In this article I am also interpreting the discourse which has been recited by the artist. I take into consideration his art in relation with his fashion and ask a number of questions for defining them, such as: How the garments, apparel and accessories are created? Where/under which conditions they are placed? What do they represent? What is their functionality?

My position on the fashion process regards to the artistic work/object as comprising of plural meanings and purposes. Leaning on post-structuralism and post-colonialism, it rejects that the author provides a single meaning. The aesthetic practice includes representativity of the social, cultural and political contexts, as an outcome of both intended and unintended processes of the creator. Therefore the article aims at interpreting the meanings of the narratives that are produced by Hussein Chalayan not as the creation of an alienated genius. It decenters the focus from the creator in order to reflect on other sources of meaning (in this article, the cultural and political norms and discourses built around the issue of displacement). Yet I do keep the involvement of the fashion artist within social structures and do not consider him as a passive narrator. I do believe that Chalayan self-consciously plays with his work as a strategic agent and reflects the binary oppositions (non immigrant (master)/immigrant (slave); included/excluded; self/other)-that he has been involved in during his past- using the tools of the master (fashion), in his own sphere (London).

The art of the trans-migrant self

Hussein Chalayan was born in Nicosia, Cyprus in 1970, at a time where the island was raveled by the constant struggles between the Greek and Turkish authorities. The island of Cyprus was a part of the Ottoman Empire until 1878, when it has been occupied by the United Kingdom. It remained within the territories of “the Empire on which the sun never sets” of the 19th century- and gained its independence in the name of The Republic of Cyprus in 1960. However the newly founded republic could not have a peaceful history due to the ethnic conflicts between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities, which eventually led into wars and acts of ethnic cleansing from the Greek side. As a response to Greece’s declaration about the annexation of the island to its own lands in 1974, the military of the Turkish Republic landed forces on the northern parts of Cyprus. In 1983, the Turkish Cypriots living on the Northern regions of the island declared their independence and the foundation of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a republic which is currently recognized only by the Turkish Republic (Müftüler-Bac 568-569).

The clashes on the island that started in the 1960s and continue up until today are basically as a result of the ethnic conflicts; however this does not mean that the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities were mutually exclusive. The ethnic métissage on the island –even though it is rejected by the essentialists [2]- is evidently been influential on Hussein Chalayan’s work. In an interview that he has given to Hint Magazine (2009) he acknowledged the role of the “mixed geography” of Cyprus on “[his] genetic pool consisting of so many different cultures”, hence his hybrid-self, which made him quest in his works for “finding out what we really consist of”. [3]

Continuing with Chalayan’s curriculum vitae, we encounter the impact of another multi-ethnic sphere, namely London. Chalayan migrated to London with his father at a very early age and lived most of his life in a city filled with diaspora communities from all around the world. The displacement from one “multi-ethnic place” to another was explained by Chalayan as one of the major reasons why he choose to work on issues such as identity, migration and displacement:

I have come from one multi-ethnic place, Cyprus, to another multi-cultural life in England. And here, there is a sense that immigration has happened much more recently. In Cyprus, immigration has happened over such a long period of time. We're really children of the Ottoman Empire, which was a very hybrid empire. The sultans were marrying Russian, Italian and Polish women. In the harems, women were exclusively non-Turkish, so already there was a hybrid culture happening then. Perhaps that will happen in England, too, in a few hundred years. (Interview in Hint Magazine 2009)

After graduating from Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, where he studied with prospective British fashion designers such as Alexander McQueen and Giles Deacon, he established his own company in 1994, Cartesia Ltd., and his ready-to-wear line, Hussein Chalayan (which he changed in 2010 to just “Chalayan” because of the oriental connotation of his first name, Hussein). [4] In his interviews, Chalayan usually stressed on the fact that since the beginning of his education in Saint Martins, his interest was never focused solely on fashion and clothing. The human body for Chalayan represented an object of interest, and fashion was the means for working with it.

In his fashion designs he integrated human body and clothing with technology, science and architecture, perversely playing with the narratives constructed around culture and anthropology. Chalayan has also produced artistic works in various fields which are exhibited in biennales or art galleries all over the world (Benbow-Pfalzgraf 120-122). Among his installations and sculptural designs are a number of artistic hits such as, Aeroplane Dress premiered at Hyères Festival in France (2000), Afterwords installation included in Tate Modern (2000), I Am Sad Leyla multimedia installation opened at the Lisson Gallery in London (2010). Chalayan has also been reknown for his short movies such as Absent Presence which has represented Turkey at the 51st Venice Biennale (2005) and Ambimorphous screened at Mode Natie in Antwerp (2002). [5]

The artistic works of Hussein Chalayan combine fashion with installation, music and cinema and narrate stories that bring together past, present and future. He has a perception of temporality and space which intrudes the current time and bounded territories. He uses technological devices for regenerating the hairstyles of 1960s-70s-80s (in Imminence of Desire, 2011) or combines the traditional Anatolian dress with modern black dress (in Ambimorphous, 2002). In the next section, I will be focusing on three projects (Afterwords, The Absent Presence, Temporal Meditations of Hussein Chalayan that speak about multiple facets of displacement from the viewpoint of different subjects. By analyzing these artistic works, I will argue that Chalayan’s own hybrid-self (which emerges both from his Cypriot background and immigrant position in Britain) develops a discourse that trespasses the fixity of modernity and nation-states.

Multiple facets of displacement

In Afterwords, Hussein Chalayan focused on the involuntary and dramatic aspect of mobility, and illustrated the sentimental impacts of the forced migration. The installation has been synchronized by the runway including Chalayan’s Autumn/Winter Women’s Collection of 2000. It presents furniture covered in grey clothes, which are worn later by fashion models that strip the clothes from the furniture to dress themselves. These fashion models, who represent the immigrants in dull clothing, fold the chairs later in order to make them into suitcases. One of the models transforms a mahogany coffee table into a geometrical and telescopic skirt, so that it becomes displaceable on human body. [6]

According to the official website of the artist, Chalayan was inspired by the forced internal migration of the Turkish Cypriot families in Cyprus after the 1974 events. Chalayan’s family is told also to be among those who had to quit their homes in order to escape from the ethnic cleansing. The project does not only reflect the wretched atmosphere of the unwanted displacement, it also addresses to how the immigrants try to adjust to the situation by not leaving behind the personal possessions. This is made possible through the transformation of the possessions into detachable objects; such as chairs made into suitcases or tables into skirts.

Afterwords speaks from the viewpoint of the subaltern (or the subordinate group), those who are obliged to leave their homes, possessions and identifications as members of a certain society. The displacement which is narrated in this project signifies the momentum of the creation of a nation-state, with all its particularism aiming for the homogenization of a society. The subaltern position of the immigrants emerges from the fact that they are debarred from their civil, political and social rights of citizenship and their possessions which have the (liberal) symbolic meanings of identification to a certain society. Since the artist designs the clothes as portable private properties, the immigrants can carry these items that define their identities and cultures during their unwanted journeys. In a way, the clothes go beyond their original functionalities of covering or protection and their new main function becomes logistical of possessions in both concrete and abstract meanings. In the end, the portable clothing helps keeping the constitutive aspects of the own identities, which would be eventually embedded to the newly formed hybrid identities.

Hussein Chalayan challenges the historical context in which the immigrants had to leave behind their possessions and lose their identity because of their un-portable quality of the objects. In the press release of the project, Chalayan affirms that he has “wanted to somehow turn a horrific situation into something poetic”, and henceforth intervene to the historical context by the creation of a new narrative- an emergent minority discourse. It reflects the symbolic process of challenging the holistic and totalizing language of the nation, which has been argued before by Bhabha (153) with references to Fanon’s subaltern discourse and Kristeva’s feminist claims. Bhabha affirms that the new discourse interrupts the existing narrations, not through negating them but via renegotiating the imagination which was solidified over time. In Afterwords, Chalayan recognizes the displacement and the subordinate position of the immigrants (reinforced with the abrasive atmosphere, dull colors and depressing music), yet at the same time allows them a relatively more active position where they can adapt the physical nature to the social context.

Image from The Absent Presence (2005). Source: Galerist Istanbul, Media Release on Hussein Chalayan's Video's

The Absent Presence, speaks from the viewpoint of the master-narrative. It stresses on the paranoia and the logic of securitization in the developed countries especially since the 9/11. The project is presented as an experiment held in the United Kingdom, a country with very high rates of immigration and asylum, and accordingly strict policies on immigration. The experiment is narrated by a British biologist who collects the biological data from the clothing of non British female anonymous individuals. All these individuals are immigrants who are living in London. The biologist is screened as realizing monotonous actions, such as cleaning the garments in water or ironing them. The cyclic movements and banal actions of the biologist reflect the somehow conservative position adopted by the citizens of the developed world, who are overwhelmed by the presence of “the other” in their own environment.

Using the extracted sells from the DNA sequences of the individuals, the biologist computes a series of hypotheses about the appearance and the social characteristics of the non British individuals. [7] By illustrating the misjudgments of the experiment about these women (one of the women is predicted to be a Serbian living in a rural environment, however she turns out to be of Turkish descent and living in an urban environment), the artist reflects on the stereotypes against the “other” which might actually be false. With the Arian scientist managing the experiment, Hussein Chalayan gives a pictographic account of the modern-time essentialist view, of what might become a biological racism in a radical atmosphere like Nazism. The movie ends by the desperation of the biologist, who recalls that it is not possible to truly understand the biological origin of the examined. The biologist starts questioning her own identity which is not as pure as she has imagined it to be, and as she accepts her own fragmentation her superiority against the unauthentic other starts to shatter.

In The Absent Presence, Chalayan challenges the realist aspect of migration created by the states that try to seek for “solutions” against the “threat” of unwanted flow of people. He does that by solidifying the master-slave dialectic in a laboratory environment; regenerating it between the Arian scientist and the immigrants. The scientist is the master subject who has created her own identity from the belief of superiority, for being the biologically authentic, unlike the other. Faced with the results of the experiment, she recalls that it is absurd to seek for the upmost origins- and hence fixed identities. This creates a sense of depression and self-interrogation, a reassessment of the history.

The narration about the tension between the (indigenous elite) self and the (immigrant) other can be found in Lévinas’ analogy between the other and death; Lévinas puts into perspective how the otherness is much related to the understanding of something as existent or not.  For Lévinas, it is not an emphatic relationship but en encounter with the unknown, based on the “exteriority” of the other’s being (Lévinas 43). [8] The public sphere provided within the host country, such as Britain, may either create a possibility of dialogue, and therefore positive identification or create more tension in the presence of othering attitudes from each party which eventually lead up perceiving the other as a threat.

The search for understanding the other (in the case of Absent Presence, understanding the exact biological origins of the unauthentic other), eliminates the exteriority of the other because it engenders a kind of dialogue and possibly empathy. At this point, Derrida’s reflections on Lévinas are complementary for understanding the differentiations of the perceptions of the other in time, depending on occasions of contact. According to Derrida, it is the discourse or the speech that creates the possibility for defeating the violence that comes from the anxiety that is created towards the Mysterious one. The violence is therefore in the beginning a non existence of the speech and peace is “a certain silence, a certain beyond of speech, a certain possibility, a certain silent horizon of speech”, “there is war only after the opening of discourse and war dies out only at the end of the discourse(Derrida 117). So even though the contact with the other in a geographical proximity may lead up to tension, Derrida argues that, only in the presence of the speech and dialogue it is possible to have some kind of resolution to the conflict.

In the multiplicity of others at a larger scale the war is inescapable but whether it would lead into violence or remain as “war of light” or a war of discourses is therefore very crucial in the collective identity formation and the formation of attitudes towards “the others”. This issue has also been treated by Chalayan, in another work entitled Temporal Meditations. In this project, Hussein Chalayan talks about the contacts between the othered groups, and points out to the intrinsicity of discourse and lack of communication between Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities.

Images from Temporal Meditations (2004). Source: Galerist Istanbul, Media Release on Hussein Chalayan's Video's

In this movie, the immigrant-self is exposed to biological search at the customs before entering a host country. His identity is recollected this time from an archeological talisman, “[…] which morph slivers of past and present, ultimately and perhaps paradoxically frozen fragments of their own archeological quest”. [9] The narrated history is in fact a history of conflict and war. Chalayan exposes the war through the use of a garment woven with an ancient scene of war, which is displayed as a collection during the movie and in his 2004 Spring/Summer Temporal Meditations collection.

The movie takes place in an airport, a non-lieu (non place) as conceptualized by Augé (127). In Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity (1995), Augé regarded the places such as airports, shopping centers or highways where it was not possible to read the social relations because of their temporal usage by people who remained anonymous. In Chalayan’s work, the non place signifies the positioning of the opponents on a neutral zone -such as in the United Nations-, not unfamiliar for the Cypriots. Different from Augé’s conceptualization, the non-place enable reading the social relations because of the interactions exhibited between the opponents, which abrogate their anonymity.

Furthermore, the self and the other are solidified as man and woman (the biological binary opposition), and they are observed during times of encounter with each other. In an effective scene the man and the woman play backgammon with melting pieces. The scene reminds the audience of the classical chess game at Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957); a mortal game for the man (Block) who could earn his life if he won against Death. The action of challenging and discoursing with the personified Death makes it possible for Block to recognize his opponent. In Temporal Meditations, the players physically, socially and culturally know each other but do not enter into empathetic discourse; the progress is lost when the pieces of the backgammon melt away.

The narrative criticizes the alienation and differentiation of the two communities which are in reality geographically and socio-culturally very close to one another. The displacement in here makes the subject recognize his own identity built up of this tension. What is problematic about the conflict is that the common spaces and objects are being distinguished for creating “imagined” authentic identities (such as the debate on whether raki/ouzo is Turkish or Greek). Even though these identities seem to be fragmented today, they continue to compose the rich and hybrid nature of our identities. And this richness is represented in the movie with the objects which, according to Chalayan, can be found via genetic anthropology.


So what are the commonalities in the meaning of the three projects? Chalayan uses the narratives built around the apparel in order to renegotiate the existing discourses on nation-states and immigration. His work is significant in reflecting deliberately his own hybrid identity, his “transmigrant-self” (Bhabha 1990, 300) on his works. By observing his projects, the spectator conceives the discourses about immigration and identity from the representation of anonymity (because the actors are representative of ordinary and unidentified people); but through reading his own itinerary, they also might experiment his own conscious speech.

More importantly, while positioning fashion within the realm of arts, Chalayan does not reflect the differentiative aspect of the haute couture that emerges from a master narrative of the elite. He evidently has a subjective perspective towards the issue of immigration which favors the “non-authentic” subordinate immigrants. And he reflects this position by using the tools of fashion, a phenomenon which has been considered as corresponding to the dominant elite during its creation. Therefore, in the works of Hussein Chalayan fashion becomes an instrument, a practice of the transmigrant/subaltern, as “counternarrative of the nation”, in order to erase the “totalizing boundaries” (Bhabha 300) of Anderson’s “imagined communities” in which the essentialist identities are produced and underpinned.

Finally, hybridity is both the subject of his works; but it is also the solution. Therefore it is both intentional and unintentional. Here it is necessary to glance at Bakhtin’s account on hybridity (361) in order to understand the distinction between the two. Bakhtin has argued that hybridity consisted of a doubled form, which makes it a significant dialectical model for cultural interaction. The unintentional or organic hybridity can be found in the historic life and evolution of all languages; and it creates an amalgamation and fusion of two or more cultures that merge into something new. The intentional hybridity, which can be found in the literary works, and as I argue in the work of the fashion artist, is contestatory. According to Bakhtin, it aims at taming/dominating one voice by speaking the two and for Homi Bhabha, it is an active moment of challenging the dominant cultural power (Young 18-22).

The first hybridity in Chalayan’s works is representative of the organic and natural course of life with includes fusions and “new world views, with new ‘internal forms’ for perceiving the worlds in words” (Bakhtin 360). The second hybridity is well intentioned by the artist himself. Chalayan highlights the necessity of perceiving the identities as hybrids and he does so by bringing together the symbolic objects, garments or “archeological talismans (“Overview” on Temporal Meditations in Chalayan’s official website) in his words, from different cultures. This pluralistic perspective accounts for the taming of the authoritative voice, in order to favor the heterogeneous.


Transnational practices of immigrants have been widely recognized by the scholars of the cultural studies and sociology disciplines, who sought to elucidate the meaning-making processes by reading the products of the artistic spheres, such as cinema, literature and fine arts. Having for long decades considered as the production of the elite, as well as frivolous and instable, the deconstruction of the fashion discourse has been neglected in the literature. In this article, my aim was to emphasize the possibility as well as the necessity of considering fashion as a transnational practice, due to its nature that enables the dissemination of reproduced or path-breaking concepts and ideas in the global scale.

The interpretation of the works by Hussein Chalayan touched upon a number of issues with this regard. Considering his own biographic past, Chalayan represents a transmigrant per se who has adopted a certain position in the fashion sphere of London, where the discourse of the dominant “western” fashion culture is being produced, reproduced and circulated. His presence in that sphere as a transmigrant -and of the “subaltern” of the past- enables him to introduce and disseminate a challenging discourse. The subjects treated in Chalayan’s works that were analyzed in this article were all centered on the dilemmas caused as a result of the modernist narratives of the nation-states; such as the fruitless quest for finding scientific accounts to the sources of genes. By using the language, objects and mechanisms of fashion, Chalayan touches upon the absurdity of such public transcripts, and produces new and more peaceful “counternarratives of the nation”.

The reading of transnational practices through fashion can be further investigated through the reading of other fashion designers with diaspora backgrounds who have established certain spaces in the cosmopolitan fashion centers of the world, such as New York, London or Paris. The comparison of the works that have been produced by these transmigrants can allow us to understand how the cultural, political and social linkages, struggles or tensions between the host countries and the countries of origin reflect to the works of art, and how through fashion the arguments against essentialist thought can disseminate around the globe.


[1] This characteristic of fashion is regarded by Benjamin as Tigersprung (tiger’s leap): Fashion generates a novel view on historical development. Through fashion it is possible to jump from the contemporary to the ancient, because it is a fusion of both (Lehmann 165).

[2] The term “essentialist(s)” here is used to denote the attempts by the actors of the either sides (“Greek Cypriots” and “Turkish Cypriots”) in the Cyprus issue who “frame and accredit particular cognitions of each other” for “demonizing, marginalizing or domesticating the other” (Constantinou and Papadakis 2001, 133-134). Constantinou and Papadakis (2001, 134) suggest that the essentialist perspectives have often emphasized the arguments concerning historical origins and continuity for denying the existence of the other. In the Cyprus case, both the Greek and Turkish regarded the other one as “historically ambiguous and ethnically pure”, while at the same time claiming their own identities/ethnic fabrications as “natural and historically given”. Such perspectives, juxtaposed with official discourses have impeded the cross-ethnic contact (2001, 147).

[3] “Hussein Chayalan: Sartorial Sultan”, Haidee Findlay-Levin, Hint Magazine, 2009, accessible at

[4] “Hussein Chalayan”, Designers, Vogue, 2011, accessible at

[5] “Hussein Chalayan”, Designers, Vogue, 2011, accessible at

[6] Rosa Martinez, “Afterwords, 2000”, Press release on Hussein Chalayan’s works, 2011.

[7] Hussein Chalayan, “The Absent Presence, 2005”, Press release on Hussein Chalayan’s works, 2011.

[8] “In death the existing of the existent is alienated. To be sure, the other (l’Autre) that is announced does not possess this existing as the subject possesses it; its hold over my existing is mysterious. It is unknown but unknowable, refractory to all light. But precisely indicates that the other is in no way another myself, participating with me in a common existence. The relationship with the other is not an idyllic and harmonious relationship of communion, or a sympathy through which we put ourselves in the other’s place; we recognize the other as resembling us, but exterior to us; the relationship with the other is a relationship with a Mystery” (Lévinas 1979, 43).

[9] From Hussein Chalayan’s official website, accessible at

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Suggested Citation

Bayraktar-Aksel, Damla. “Transnationalism and hybridity in the art of Hussein Chalayan”. Trespassing Journal: an online journal of trespassing art, science, and philosophy 1 (Spring 2012). Web. ISSN: 2147-2134

Damla Bayraktar-Aksel is a PhD student and Research Assistant at Koç University. She received her MA degree from Science Po Paris University, Master of Politics and Society in Europe with the specialty of Public Policy. For her master’s thesis she worked on “Europeanization of women’s NGOs in Turkey: cases of KADER and KAGIDER”. Her research areas include international migration, diaspora politics, social policy, gender studies and Europeanization.