Perfect Pairing: Hussein Chalayan + L.A. Phil
Photo Credit: Chris Moore For Getty Images
Courtesy of Hussein Chalayan
Courtesy of Hussein Chalayan
What does one wear when donning a disguise to tempt two sisters (one of whom is your fiancée) into unfaithful acts with a stranger? That’s the question faced by soldiers Ferrando and Guglielmo (and later by the sisters, Dorabella and Fiordiligi) in Mozart’s Così fan tutte, and also by fashion designer Hussein Chalayan who devised the costumes for the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s production of the opera—known for its gender politics—that takes center stage this May at Walt Disney Concert Hall. This is the third and final production of the trilogy of operas by Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte staged inside the Frank Gehry-designed hall (Don Giovanni took place in 2012 and The Marriage of Figaro followed in 2013), and it brings together another stunning cast of collaborators including Chalayan and also architect Zaha Hadid, whose firm Zaha Hadid Architects created sets. Both London-based creatives teamed up with Music Director Gustavo Dudamel—who wields the baton—and director Christopher Alden for the new production that opens on Friday, May 23. Chalayan, who was born on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, is known for designing structural looks and even created a collection of clothes that doubled as furniture, so it’s no surprise that he says he found the collaborative process with Hadid both interesting and inspiring. “I do feel that I speak a similar language to architects, therefore I found the collaboration with Zaha and her team relatively easy,” says the designer who studied at London’s Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design. Chalayan and Hadid met in London to discuss their plans, and Chalayan notes that the costumes and sets evolved together. He says that the clothes and props work to “harmonize transformation” throughout the production. And though Chalayan says the opera project wasn’t influenced by his previous collections, he notes, “the design of the costumes has a connection to my general language as a whole.” Here Chalayan discusses the transformative designs he created for the sold-out final—and silliest—Mozart opera in the trilogy.
By Elizabeth Varnell
Have you previously created costumes for an opera?
Chalayan: I designed costumes for a performance of Handel’s Messiah at Lincoln Center about 15 years ago. But this is my first opera.
You’ve used a variety of materials including wood in your collections over the years. What did you use to create the costumes in this production?
Chalayan: Cotton, silks, classic wools—there is a lot of texture, laser cut materials such plastic, special weaves, but a lot of the work is specially crafted for this project.
Così fan tutte is an opera buffa with many silly elements, did that influence your design ideas?
Chalayan: Yes, I had to consider some of the changes of the characters that at times were supposed to be deceptive. Also, the clothes were designed to be changeable during the scenes.
The opera has two acts, did you think about the production this way, or did you break it into scenes as you designed the costumes?
Chalayan: I thought a lot about the individual scenes and also the two parts, it was all considered as we spent time thinking how the second act would be different from the first.
Is there a character that you love in the opera?
Chalayan: I think there is something tricky about each of the characters. There is something to love and hate about all of them.
The production ends with a double wedding. What materials did you use for the costumes in this final scene?
Chalayan: Wait and see, but it certainly is not a white wedding.
Pictured: Hussein Chalayan created costumes for the L.A. Phil’s production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte held at Walt Disney Concert Hall and led by Gustavo Dudamel in collaboration with director Christopher Alden.
Photo by Chris Moore For Getty Images