This week Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Istanbul (MBFWI) was set to show why more and more Turkish stylists are inching their way up the ladder of global fashion. Unfortunately, the event was cancelled after the terrible attacks in Ankara on October 10 as an act of unity with the victims and their families.
Turkey is famous for its large textile industry, but many ignore that it has also become a land of high fashion.
In 2006, several experienced designers decided to take Turkish fashion to another dimension and created the Fashion Designers Association of Turkey (MTD). The original members were Bahar Korçan, Ümit Ünal, Hatice Gökçe, Hakan Yildirm, Arzu Kaprol (one of my personal favorites), Özem Süer and Idil Tarzi. Their primary goals were to build on and go beyond the textile industry and to launch a fashion week in Turkey. Yet this development turned out to be an important means for increasing international awareness of Turkish fashion.
In order to prepare the next generation of designers, it also was crucial to establish design schools in Turkey with a more global outlook and reach. In 2007, the Istanbul Moda Academy (IMA) opened its doors in Nişantaşı, the epicenter of Istanbul fashion. Since then it has sought to create a savoir-faire à la turque in terms of fashion training design.
“One of the objectives of the Academy is to introduce a creative, innovative and future-steering workforce in the fields of textile and apparel, two pivotal industries in Turkey,” says IMA director Seda Lafci. Programs include fashion design and technology for men and womenswear, product development, leather footwear and accessories designs.
Apart from getting hands-on experience while maturing as stylists, the highlight of IMA’s curriculum is the opportunity to show a collection during Fashion Week.
“IMA is the only fashion school presenting at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Istanbul. And with our strong relations with Turkey’s fashion industry, our students can create a strong network within the industry during their education,” says Lafci. She adds: “The students have a chance to experience the good and bad of the industry before they actually take part in the business.” This season, IMA students Şebnem Günay, Saadet Yüksel and Merve Daya were chosen to make their runway debuts as stylists.
For Şebnem Günay, an undergraduate student in Fashion Design and Technology, taking part in MBFWI is a reward for her hard work: “When I first came they told me that if I was good I would be a part in Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Istanbul. It is a great opportunity for the students. It has always been a dream of mine and I have worked hard for it.” She explains that the purpose of her collection was to create a new style that is “casual, colorful, happy while mixing different types of fabrics”.
Saadet Yüksel created a menswear luxury sports collection called “Freedom”. When asked about her inspirations, she says that Istanbul “is the best city to be one step ahead”, and that she was also inspired by the mythological figure Ankakusu, the legend of the birth from ashes.
Merve Derya, an undergraduate in the Fashion Design Technology for Womenswear built her collection around the 90s iconic pieces using oversized colorful pieces and hand weaving. “My style is comfortable, free, colorful and ostentatious” Derya says. She continues: “Istanbul is full of energy and inspiring. Its rich culture helped me keep the variety alive in my collection.”
In general, the aspiring stylists who showcase their collections during Fashion Week also benefit from the mentoring of renowned names from the industry such as Mehtap Elaidi, President of the Fashion Designers Association of Turkey, acclaimed designers Hakan Yıldırım and Niyazi Erdoğan, and Elle Fashion Director Melis Ağazat.
The continuous effort from Turkish designers and fashion professionals played a major role in the emergence of a generation of talented young designers. Many of them have worked for well-established retail brands in Turkey (and sometimes abroad too) before launching their own brands. Mostly based in Istanbul, these young designers ideally represent what makes Istanbul such a fascinating city: modern, multicultural and yet still attached to traditions.
Among the plethora of brilliant designers in their early 30s, I have selected four young and gifted designers who are proving show after show that Turkish fashion has nothing to do with excessive embroidery and kitsch designs but modernity and edginess instead:
- Les Benjamins, a luxury sports brand founded in 2011 by entrepreneur Bunyamin Aydin, is a creative brand that uses international pop culture and events as their main sources of inspiration. Their innovative designs and active presence on social media have seduced many people, from Turkish and international socialites to famous actors such as Robert Downey Jr. and musician Travis Scott.
- Zeynep Tosun, who studied fashion in fashion in Milan, is a very well established designer not only in Turkey but overseas as well. Her unconventional, feminine, high-tailored couture designs have graced the runways of Istanbul and London Fashion Week since 2010. Lady Gaga, the Pussycat Dolls’ Nicole Scherzinger and Keri Hilson are among the many celebrities who have celebrated her looks.
- Asu Aksu, a former IMA student, launched her brand in 2010, and she is also part of the Istanbul Fashion Incube, which provides financial, technical support and mentoring to upcoming designers. She defines her style as “practical, uncomplicated and natty at once”, and likes to associate her minimal designs with high-quality fabrics, all of which are produced and manufactured in Turkey in collaboration with local craftsmen.
- After starting his career in women’s fashion, Serdar Uzuntaş changed his focus to menswear. Although he is based in London, he still likes to use Turkish culture as an inspiration for his collections. His designs are made for confident men who like chic, tailor-made outfits and who are not afraid to play with unusual colors and fabrics. In 2015, he was nominated for the Global Fashion Awards in the “Menswear Designer Breakthrough” category, and some of his clients include the singer Tarkan and the actor Murat Boz.
Who are some of your favorite Turkish designers?
Jennifer Migan is a contributor to Yabangee.