I think the experience of feeling isolated, of not fitting in, creates the urge to explore.
—Hussein Chalayan

We’re social animals: we need to belong. And if we want to belong, we’d better fit in. Or at least that’s what we learn from the classroom and the office. But Hussein Chalayan wants to show us how not fitting in, despite common sense, is a creative virtue that may even expand our sense of belonging.

By his own account, Chalayan has never quite fitted in. He spent a childhood bouncing between war-torn Cyprus and the UK. Today he is known as a world-leading fashion designer. But his catwalk shows are intricate performances, and his collections extend to experimental films and gallery installations, troubling those who like to keep fashion away from philosophy and art, or prefer designers to settle into a ‘style’.

In this secular sermon Chalayan shares the projects that he calls his “life studies”, made to help him understand the world. One investigates how national events transform our personal identities, another changes disgust to an appreciation of beauty, and another probes the magical, inexpressible and hidden. His work is a category-defying series of provocations to question and transform what we take for reality.

So where does this exuberant curiosity and constant shape-shifting come from? Chalayan explains that the once-painful experience of not fitting in has liberated him as an adult. “My strategy for creative self-renewal,” he says, “is to be a migrant – dislocated, never settled.” He shows how this life philosophy lets him stay curious and questioning, and be much more than a fixed self. It allows us to be multiple, to be more than one thing, to transform and grow. And it frees us to belong to more than one culture, place and people at once.

This secular sermon from The School of Life took place on Sunday 10 February 2013 at Conway Hall.

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