In the fashion world it is impossible to avoid labels. One that has recently come into the global play does not stand for a single name but a whole generation of Turkish designers. Although beyond this generic tag each of them is individually branded, this new class shows some eye-catching common features. The young Turks of fashion are ambitious, internationally experienced and seamlessly blend traditional styles and patterns with a modern approach to clothing. Looking for their work in a boutique near you? The most promising ones are already there.
The past few months have been packed with international shows and presentations singling out the new Turkish approach to fashion. After decades of leading in mass production, which was primarily based on adapting international trends for the least demanding customers, there has been a radical change of focus. Standing out is the key to success, which, combined with advanced production methods, encourages country’s official support and publicity. “Turkey is trying to change its image and differentiate itself from other countries [known for mass production],” says Zeynep Tosun, whose collections have been internationally applauded. “What we’re trying to say is that we are designing, we are creating and there is something new happening here.”
In June 2013, Turkish designers had the opportunity to present their work at one of the most important fashion fairs in the world – Pitti Uomo in Florence. “The idea behind the project was to show the strength of new-breed Turkish designers,” explains Elif Cığızoğlu, whose design was part of the “Gentlemen of Istanbul” exhibition. “Turkey has been the production base for many of the world’s important fashion brands for more than 25 years. The country is now more focused on value-added production where design comes into the picture.”
Most of the successful designers, such as Cığızoğlu, gain education and professional experience abroad before starting to work on their own labels. She says that is the best way to learn about global design and production mentality. However after years at Donna Karan New York’s men’s line, Cığızoğlu returned home to open an atelier in Nişantaşı, which is best known among local celebrities for its outstanding couture pieces. “Turkey is a fast growing country and there are very good opportunities [for fashion designers],” she says.
Establishing a name in the local market is often not enough for those who already have certain achievements on the international fashion scene. Zeynep Tosun, who studied design in Milan and worked for Italian label Alberta Ferretti, has been presenting her collections parallel to London Fashion Week’s official schedule for the past few seasons. “The upcoming [spring/summer 2014] collection will be my milestone,” she says. “We show this a lot of importance by working with an English stylist.”
According to Tosun, it is easier to launch a brand in Turkey than abroad, where young designers tend to work for established names. “When you start abroad you have a chance to become the creative director of an old maison, which is a really big opportunity,” she says. “But also you have to wait for a long time.” In her opinion, the major advantage for a local designer who knows the market well is the ability to choose from among a qualified (and inexpensive) fashion workforce to create their vision.
Fertile fashion ground
Designers agree that Istanbul plays an important role in the creative process, regardless of their international aspirations and experiences. As opposed to fashion capitals such as New York and London, where inspiration comes in an original mix of colors, styles and patterns from around the world, Turkey-based designers use what they’ve been observing all their lives, choosing from the fabrics that are available on the local market. “French designers grow up with Balenciaga. We don’t. This is missing in our creative process,” Tosun says.
This is not necessarily a disadvantage. The centuries-old and crowded city of Istanbul provides enough daily inspiration. “Istanbul is a city where Western and Eastern cultures harmonize in a very positive way,” says Cığızoğlu. “When you look at my collection, you can see this harmonization. The straight cuts belong to the West and the gold details are from the East.”
For Nevra Karaca, owner of Nevra Karaca No. 7, which participated in the Istanbul Next program at Berlin Fashion Week 2013, Istanbul’s many ironies aid in the creative flow. “You can wrap yourself in different identities and have some unbelievable conversations with different people. You constantly come across different streets, buildings and objects that affect you,” she says.
Despite its size, Istanbul is far behind other major cities in terms of cultural mix, but the authentic local experience compensates for that. “It’s our lives that I find really inspiring,” Tosun says. “When I was living in London, I was not able to reach the local people. Here you can do that.” That local edge is reflected in designs and has become an undisputable element of the “Made in Turkey” brand, which has its followers among the locals, but primarily draws in foreign visitors. “I find it very effective if a designer is able to combine his own culture with modernity. The mixture attracts people,” Tosun says. “I want to make dresses that I want to wear, but I also have the Turkish element in me.”
Projects emphasizing local culture receive generous support from the authorities. The collective nature of the nation may also help Turkey be so effective in capturing international attention with group initiatives. “[Group projects] are very successful,” Zeynep Tosun said about her most recent Pitti Uomo experience. “You don’t feel the pressure. Instead, you feel lucky that you can be part of something really big. It’s not a competition, because everyone has different styles and every product has its own customer.”
But after special projects are over, everyone returns to building their own labels. Each year, the market becomes getting increasingly crowded as more young designers try to enter. However, hard workers like Zeynep Tosun have nothing to fear. “There are lots of up-and-coming designers. Their success is a mixture of hard work and talent,” she smiles. “We will see the results in the future.”
- London Fashion Week (February and September) features Bora Aksu (on-schedule) and Zeynep Tosun (off-schedule).
- Paris Fashion Week attracts some established Turkish designers, such as Hakaan or Arzu Kaprol
- Istanbul Next is an annual showcase of young designers presented during Berlin Fashion Week in July. Up and coming names are featured each year.
- Although Umit Benan considers himself an international rather than a Turkish designer, the inspiration for his menswear collection is deeply rooted in the local culture. His work can be seen at Milan’s Men’s Fashion Week.
- Istanbul Fashion Week serves as an interesting display of newcomers to the industry.