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HEROES & VILLAINS: Hussein Chalayan on Kate Bush

The fashion designer (below) finds inspiration in a musical heroine
I FIRST heard her in the late Seventies when I was living in Cyprus. My uncle had returned from a trip to London with a video of a British documentary about Abba, and Kate Bush was the guest star. She stuck in my mind for years after, and when I came to London - at about 12 - I started to buy her records.

The first thing I bought, in the early Eighties, was the single from her Hounds of Love album, and then I started to rewind and buy all her old stuff - I think I've got everything now. Everybody just associates her with "Wuthering Heights". I'm not really into her very commercial stuff, I'm more into the songs that most people don't know about, like "The Ninth Way", which is a masterpiece, really.

I thought she was this amazing person that in some ways I could relate to. I felt that the work was such a bridge between fantasy and reality, and there was so much spirit in it. I just wanted to know everything about her work. I didn't become interested in her in that typical fan way; I didn't ever buy books about her, I was more interested in her as an artist and almost as a poet, rather than in a poppy "Oh I'm a fan, I want to put her picture up on my wall" way.

To me, she's an emotional thinker, she's somebody who made her emotions real through the music. There were so many references to emotions and to failure and to the good and the bad, your relationship to nature, and your relationship to other people and I just felt it was so much richer than most stuff that was happening at the time.

When I hear the music it makes me think that everything around me is wonderful. At times it's like almost like hearing a prayer, at other times it's like lunacy, and other times it's just incredible engineering. In my view she deserves a lot more credit, but maybe the fact that she didn't become too mainstream has made her remain more special.

And although she has a gorgeous voice what really struck me was the way she used it and the way it worked with other instruments. It animated everything else. She used these Bulgarian folk musicians on one of her albums, and then, later, I found some Bulgarian singers and used them for one of my shows, the one called "Afterwords", where I had the seats turned into suitcases, and the table into a skirt.

I listen to her music a lot when I'm working because I find that I know it so well that I don't need to think about it, but it does heighten my spirit. And yeah, of course I sing along, who doesn't? But she's not the easiest person to sing along with, so I sort of hum to it.

She's a heroine for me because she's never cared too much about public opinion. She's done her own thing and I think that in her heart she knows that she did well, up to a point. She was very experimental and before her time, and I think that can set an example for visual people like myself. I'm not saying that I based my career on her, but she inspired me to do my own thing and achieve something.

I think she was one of the first artists that made a connection between her visual work and her music. And then came Grace Jones, and then Madonna, and then Bjork. I think it became like a world, the ultimate Kate Bush world, where you heard the sound, and then you looked at the videos and the imagery that went with it. That's why I found it so convincing, because I felt like there was this genuine passion for ideas.

I'm not easily impressed. But she did with music what other people have done with writing. It's incredibly inventive and forward-thinking. I always wanted my work to have that level of openness.

I did write to her once, about 10 years ago. I was doing this project about women's roles in fairy tales. I really wanted her to get involved, although I didn't know how and I was much more audacious at that time about approaching people. I got a long message on my answering machine from her manager, saying "Oh, Kate read your letter, blah blah, but Kate already has a designer who she works with." And I thought, "Hang on a minute! I never meant to say I wanted to design for you, I wanted to involve you in the project." But, you know, I think in just writing the letter to her, it helped me articulate my ideas for myself. E

From 17 April to 4 September 2005, the Groningen Museum in the Netherlands will display the first large-scale solo exhibition of Hussein Chalayan's work.