Placing Turkish Design Talent on the Global Fashion Map at Istanbul Fashion Week | Sponsored Feature, Fashion Show Review, Multiple

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ISTANBUL, Turkey — This October, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Istanbul, or MBFWI, will platform the collections of 30 designers from Turkey in its first entirely digital, seasonless and gender-neutral event.

“We’re all looking forward to evolving the runway experience. I’ve attended over 21 seasons of international fashion weeks and it does get repetitive,” says Seda Domaniç, founding editor-in-chief of Vogue Turkey who is now the strategic consultant to Istanbul Apparel Exporters Association, or İHKİB, which organises MBFWI in collaboration with Turkish Fashion Designers’ Association (MTD) and Istanbul Fashion Academy (IMA).

“Our designers are faced with the challenge of finding their unique voice and sharing their brand story with the right audience,” says Domaniç. “We’re trying to help them on this journey.” MBFWI has removed what Domaniç dubs “meaningless” seasonal restrictions, and “combined men’s and women’s shows to reflect the fluidity of gender.”

“Design, creating added-value and promotion, is critical for us to attain our objective of taking Turkey beyond its current identity as an apparel manufacturer and transforming the country into an important hub for the global fashion industry,” adds Mustafa Gültepe, president of İHKİB.

The event will be hosted on JOOR, the digital showroom. Through JOOR, MBFWI’s designers will then have their own dedicated space available for buyers’ reviews and orders. “International buyers and media used to attend our events, but the numbers and reach were limited. It was hard to convince people to come over and if they did, we had to compete timewise with the major fashion weeks,” says Domaniç. “Through a digital event, borders are lifted.”

Now, BoF shares some of the designers coming out of Turkey and their collections this season.

Mehtap Elaidi by Mehtap Elaidi

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Mehtap Elaidi left a career in marine insurance to pursue her childhood dream of creating a womenswear brand. Now, she sells her collection through two stores in Istanbul, an e-commerce site and international stockists including Harvey Nichols.

With a drive towards sustainable practices, Elaidi works with local production companies that offer fair wages and working conditions for employees. The brand sources 70 percent of their fabrics from sustainable sources, using organic cotton and Ecovero or Tencel as viscose alternatives, while leftover fabric is used in the dustbags their shipments travel in. “We think about each step of the lifecycle of our products, from the sampling process to production to packaging, and always search for better ways to serve the environment.”

“Living in a city with so many layers of culture and history gives you an endless source of inspiration [and] Turkey has a growing population of young designers who are looking to claim their unique heritage of culture and history,” Elaidi told BoF. “[But] you have to prove yourself and your brand to the market.”

Natalie Kolyozyan by Natalie Kolyozyan

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With several stockists in Turkey, Amsterdam and Japan, alongside her own e-commerce site, Natalie Kolyozyan’s namesake womenswear brand is designed around comfort to balance the busy, cosmopolitan city centre of Istanbul.

Using social media to connect with her clients, Kolyozyan prioritises two-way communication to better understand their expectations, which subsequently shapes her design approach. “We are designing timeless and trendless pieces, using durable, long-lasting materials to lengthen the life of garments. Being a designer not only means creating something new, but being creative with less resources.”

“Turkey has its own fashion language,” said Kolyozyan. “Combining Anatolia’s cultural diversity with the modern and dynamic life of Istanbul, brings a new breath to the fashion industry.”

Hakaan Yıldırım by Hakaan Yıldırım

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Hakaan Yıldırım founded his womenswear brand in 2001, designing custom-made pieces for his clients. The brand transitioned into two in 2009: Hakaan, the ready-to-wear line which debuted in London Fashion week; and Hakaan Yıldırım, the haute couture style label, which saw the designer win the ANDAM award — the only time it was awarded to a Turkish designer.

The first time showing at MBFWI, having mostly held his shows during Paris Fashion Week throughout his career, Yıldırım believes Turkey has now “acknowledged its creative power. I believe, if this continues, it will elevate the Turkish fashion scene.”

Dubbing himself a “late bloomer to digital,” Yıldırım has also only recently entered the online sphere. “I believe brands are living entities, like second personas, that can live in all kinds of spaces [such as online],” he says. “Much is yet to come.”

Nihan Peker by Nihan Peker

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An MA graduate from Instituto Marangoni, Nihan Peker worked for Frankie Morello, Colmar and Furla before launching her eponymous label, designing ready-to-wear, bridal and couture collections. She has exhibited at London, Paris and Milan Fashion week.

Preferring a “smaller but more attentive” core customer base, Peker is leveraging social media to communicate her vision and approach with her customers online — namely, sharing who is making their garments. “I am as transparent as possible, informing my customers about who makes the clothes, where the materials are bought and the supply chain. We focus on the quality and eliminating one-time-usage in fashion.”

The brand is utilising old stock and used clothing for packaging, such as dress covers and accessories cases, as well as more recently creating school uniforms out of dead stock fabrics. “I never claim that we are perfect by any means, but I feel responsible to do everything I can, not only in my brand also as a person individually.”

Y PLUS by Yakup Bicer

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With 30 years’ experience as a creative director in Turkey, Yakup Bicer’s unisex collections at his label Y PLUS received their international debut at London Fashion Week in February 2020.

“During the pandemic, digital platforms have become the backbone of brands. We have already increased our investments in these areas, with an emphasis on Gen-Z,” says Bicer. “The fact that content published on digital platforms is more likely to make noise, and purchasing platforms are moving online, is driving our digital work.”

Describing Istanbul as a “chaotic city that contains many different cultures,” Bicer is appreciative of the increased development and reach of MBFWI. “The organisation and Turkish designers receive greater recognition day by day in the fashion world.”

Nedo by Nedret Taciroğlu

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After graduating in Interior Design from Mimar Sinan University, Nedret Taciroğlu launched her eveningwear brand Nedo. Garnering coverage in the likes of Vogue, Cosmopolitan, L’Officiel and Harper’s Bazaar, Taciroğlu has dressed celebrities including Lady Gaga, Heidi Klum, Gwen Stefani and Jennifer Lopez at the Grammys in 2019.

“Until a decade ago, Turkey was known to be great producers, but our design capabilities were almost always overlooked. As a designer, I wanted to change this image,” says Taciroğlu. “Our gowns are created by hand and to endure, as we value quality and sustainability over cost. It wasn’t easy but today, we have reached a point where we are competing with fashion houses from Paris and Milan to attract A-list clientele.”

With the sudden end to red carpet events, weddings and receptions following the pandemic, Taciroğlu had to “rethink the best way to reach our clients in an era with no call for eveningwear.” After presenting at Paris Fashion Week for the last 8 years, the brand has shifted its focus from evening gowns to ready-to-wear, “expanding our reach to new clients across the globe while maintaining our bond with existing clients in their daily lives,” and returns to Turkey to launch the new line at MBFWI.

Özgür Masur by Özgür Masur

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Özgür Masur’s eponymous womenswear brand saw the designer win the “Star of the Future” award in Turkey.

“There are thousands of people who do this job and want to stand out on digital platforms. You have to know that in order to stand out among these creative brands. You have to be visually creative and have clear communication strategies. In this sense, I try to take advantage of what social media offers and form a dialogue there. You may not appeal to everyone, but you have to tell the right brand stories to your own customers.”

Alongside a more direct communication strategy with his clientele, Masur calls out the “biggest calling of the pandemic” that has seen consumers accept the need for greater awareness around sustainability — “and to value it even more.”

Sudi Etuz by Şansım Adalı

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Şansım Adalı studied in Brussels, before launching her own physical and digital stores and collaborating with brands including Coca Cola, Bobbi Brown and Reebok. Her work has featured in i-D, Forbes and vogue.com.

“As a local designer, I believe we are obliged to bring [Turkey’s] most special inspiration points [to a global audience]. Our fashion show performances are in venues that show two different structures in Istanbul: one of the Tanzimat Period, of Western influence, and the other a symbol of the production power in modern Turkey,” Etuz told BoF.

Presenting their SS21 digital presentation will be “Sui-d,” a virtual model that the studio has been working on for several months. “Fashion shows are a performance, and if this performance is not fed by other disciplines, it becomes too lean and unable to adapt to the new world. I’m happy that Turkey, in the digital design industry, is able to keep growing so fast. This season was a perfect start to bring the newest energies in fashion industry.”

T.A.G.G. by Gökay Gündoğdu

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Gökay Gündoğdu moved to New York to study Brand Management before attending Milan’s Domus Academy in 2007. Gündoğdu briefly worked in Italy before launching his label TAGG in 2014. Stockists include Luisa Via Roma and his own e-commerce site, launched during the pandemic.

“The pandemic made us all come together, be together and adapt to this new digital format, and I am so happy at what we all have done together in these hard times,” says Gündoğdu. “This gave us an opportunity to be exposed to the fashion world and international markets more than before. I hope it will lead to the Turkish fashion scene being recognised and positioned in a more prestigious level.”

Gündoğdu notes Istanbul’s “opportunities regarding fabrics and manufacturing” — but because the city is not recognised as a fashion capital, it is “challenging to keep the motivation high” as a designer.

New Gen Designers

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New Gen designers are chosen among the fashion students and graduates of Istanbul Fashion Academy, which is a prominent fashion school in Turkey, funded by İHKİB.

This year, fashion graduates Aycan Hakalmaz, Mehmet Demir, Selina Alp, Ezgi Yildirim, Tanyeli Erdem and Sureyya Suleymanoglu are shortlisted for the New Gen award and opened the digital this season.

This is a sponsored feature paid for by MBFWI as part of a BoF partnership.

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