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Capitalising on Creative Momentum at Fashion Week Istanbul

With pivots to casual-wear, CGI models and digital clienteling, Fashion Week Istanbul’s designers are embracing innovation to sustain momentum and global reach post-pandemic.
Özlem Süer design.
Özlem Süer design April 2021. FWI.
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Taking place from April 13-16, Fashion Week Istanbul (FWI) will platform the collections of 30 designers in the second iteration of its digital, seasonless and gender-neutral showcase, featuring emerging and established design talent along with live talks and discussions programmed for an international audience.

“Last year, a digital show or fashion video was a novelty. It’s crucial that we become more innovative with what we’re trying to showcase,” says Seda Domaniç, founding editor-in-chief of Vogue Turkey and strategic consultant to Istanbul Apparel Exporters Association (İHKİB) which organises FWI in collaboration with Turkish Fashion Designers’ Association (MTD) and Istanbul Fashion Academy (IMA).

“Previously, the organisation committee assisted in the production of all imagery and videos. This season, the designers have complete independence — it’s completely decentralised. We gave them total freedom so they can get as creative as possible.”

From creating CGI models and digital clienteling services to co-designing with consumers and supporting local garment workers, the Turkish designers have focused their attention on reaching wider markets through digital innovation as well as engaging Turkey’s local artisans and traditional craftsmanship.

However, the Turkish manufacturing industry — the sixth largest clothing supplier globally, third largest in Europe — continues to feel the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The sector was predicted to contract by 20 percent last year, as international clients cancelled or delayed orders as a result of closed stores across the globe.

“Resourcing, production and unsold inventory are key areas the designers have had difficulty with this last year. Nobody is really shopping in Turkey as a result of the pandemic. A key motivation for us this season is to stir up some excitement among consumers, to create desire,” says Domaniç.

There has to be organisations such as FWI to show young designers how important a role this country plays in global markets.

For a second year, FWI is partnering with digital wholesale platform JOOR, connecting its designers to the global buying community, expanding Turkish brands’ concentrated presence in the European and Middle Eastern markets to incorporate the Americas and Asia.

“Last season, many of our brands started to build much longer-lasting connections with buyers in a wider geography, like Korea, for example. All these geographic boundaries vanished,” adds Domaniç. “In a very short period of time, our designers have developed their DTC experiences and reached consumers in markets that were previously out of their radar. Digitalisation offered a life jacket to all designers, keeping their creative momentum alive.”

Below, BoF shares the collections of some of the most exciting designers showing this season in Istanbul — and discovers the innovative solutions they are using to drive their businesses forward in another tumultuous year for the fashion and retail industries.

Sudi Etuz

A look from Sudi Etuz by Şansım Adalı 2021.

Şansım Adalı studied in Brussels before launching Sudi Etuz, which now includes both physical and digital stores. The designer has collaborated with brands including Coca Cola, Bobbi Brown and Reebok, and her work has featured in i-D, Forbes and

During the pandemic, Sudi Etuz has reimagined its brand offering, shifting from couture-led designs to leisure — “our ‘street couture’ stance” — and began engaging buyers in virtual showrooms. But digital solutions are not new to the brand: “We have used virtual reality for our shows since 2017,” says Adalı. “We have a virtual character Sui-D, a CGI astrologist, and a new virtual model, Trinity.” The brand has also incorporated digital technology into its design processes. “Now, all our products are designed in 3D with digital assets before physical items. It gives us much more flexibility and reduces our carbon footprint,” adds Adali.

Adalı believes FWI and its partners play a crucial role in supporting emerging talent alongside the more established industry players. “Beyond social media and the internet, there has to be local organisations such as FWI to show young designers how important a role this country plays in global markets.”

Özgür Masur

A look from Özgür Masur SS21.

With ready-to-wear and couture-inspired collections, Özgür Masur’s eponymous womenswear brand saw the designer win Turkey’s design award, Star of the Future.

With a focus on e-commerce to maintain and grow their presence in the global markets, Masur’s attention is focused on showcasing design detail. “Our aim is to visualise every detail of our products in order to be more practical in terms of reaching the customer,” he tells BoF.

“Turkish fashion designers often do not have investors, but still deliver their stories to various places in the world with their own work. The convenience that the FWI platform has provided us shows that [fashion week] will be a different and more democratic communication [tool for brands] in the future.”

New Gen

A look from FWI New Gen designer Beyza Eyuboglu.

New Gen designers are chosen among the fashion students and graduates of the prominent Turkish fashion school, Istanbul Fashion Academy, funded by Istanbul Apparel Exporters Association İHKİB.

This year, fashion graduates Beyza Eyuboglu, Ezgi Yildirim, Essin Baris, Avishan Daneshfar and Aycan Hakalmaz are shortlisted for the New Gen award, and will open this season’s showcase.

Lug Von Siga

A look from Lug Von Siga 2021 collection by Can Dağarslanı.

After completing a major in English Language & Literature, Gul Agis studied a BA in fashion design at Istituto Marangoni and an MA in fashion design at Politecnico Di Design University in Milan. She worked in both Milan and Istanbul before launching her ready-to-wear brand Lug Von Siga (LVS) in 2010, sold in the UK, US, Europe and the Middle East, through the brand’s website and the likes of Net-A-Porter and MatchesFashion.

Looking to expand their global distribution channels while remaining cautious of the pandemic’s after-effects, Gul Agis tells BoF how last year was like “rediscovering my hidden creative side,” igniting a new approach to design: “I have promised myself not to create any collection because it is compulsory. After that change in mindset, the collections have become more vivid and creative.”

The brand celebrates Turkish culture and heritage, from its embroidery techniques and print details showing in historical locations including the baths, Pera Palace and Venetian Palace in Istanbul. Agis is also conscious of the environmental impact of her business. “With every item sold at LVS, we plant 5 trees. We have also added an aromatherapy line to the collection, which is 100 percent natural.”

Dice Kayek

A look from Dice Kayek SS21.

After graduating from Esmod Paris, Ece Ege and her sister Ayse launched their brand Dice Kayek in 1992. Based in Paris, the label became part of the Fédération Française de la Couture in 1994. In 2013, the brand won the Jameel Prize III, an international award for contemporary art and design inspired by Islamic traditions, hosted by the Victoria & Albert Museum. The label is stocked in 45 countries and with 90 global stockists.

“Oscillating between French retail and Turkish craftsmanship,” Dice Kayek seeks to champion and protect the artisanal approach of both cultures. “We decided to expand our showroom and atelier into a fully functional base [in Turkey],” creative director Ece Ege told BoF. “Empowering the female professionals of Istanbul has been a driving force of our operation. Using the artistic skills of Turkey’s past, the scene can revive trades and techniques which would otherwise be forgotten while stimulating the country’s employment.”

Today, the sisters are aligning the brand with a more sustainably conscious ethos — from using deadstock fabrics to bespoke pre-orders and smaller collections — and deepening their digital presence and language. “As early as 2013, we were making fashion films to allow us to bring together our designs, architecture, literature and even history through a cinematic gaze relatable to anyone. Return on investment is higher than for fashion shows and less wasteful, environmentally speaking.”

Zeynep Tosun

A look from Zeynep Tosun's collection 2021 by Mustafa Nurdoğdu.

Zeynep Tosun studied Fashion Design BA and MA at Istituto Marangoni in Milan, graduating in 2006 and going on to work for Alberta Ferretti and Ece Ege at Dice Kayek. Tosun established her eponymous brand in 2008, focusing on couture as well as ready-to-wear and capsule collections. Her designs have featured in international editions of Vogue, i-D and Elle Italia.

Tosun’s brand aims to shed light on Turkish craftsmanship within modern design. “We believe in fair trade, local production, sustainable and conscious production. Almost 90 percent of our products have hand embellishments, which are done by women in need in different regions of Turkey. We partner with UNDP and GAP (Güneydoğu Anadolu Projesi) to educate these women in the workplace and we are working on an online platform that enables designers to produce more handmade garments, locally,” she says.

Due to the current economic crisis in Turkey, Tosun explains the brand has a “limited international presence,” instead focusing on “local strategies, local collaborations and growing our online business. We noticed that our customer wanted to reach our products immediately and they want [it] to feel exclusive, [so we are] doing capsule ‘see now buy now’ collections exclusively online.”

Hakaan Yıldırım

A look from Hakaan Yıldırım collection April 2021.

Initially founding his custom-made, womenswear brand in 2001, Hakaan Yıldırım transitioned his line 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 won the designer an ANDAM award — the only time it has been awarded to a Turkish designer.

Yıldırım tells BoF how this last year has “really changed the way I focus, having been able to think, create and connect in a calm head space, which has enabled me to tell my story on a deeper level” — and to embrace digital in a more organic environment. “I was hesitant in the beginning to translate the work of emotion into digital threads. But now, I’m finding my voice online and more able to authentically speak digitally, the way I can speak in fashion and art.”

As global lockdowns saw less demand for evening wear and couture designs, Yıldırım and his team pivoted to design a loungewear collection during the pandemic — “not only to focus on the needs of our tribe, but also on our DNA of avant garde couture.”

Hatice Gökçe

A look by Hatice Gökçe 2021.

After graduating of Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts, Hatice Gökçe established her eponymous atelier, designing men’s and womenswear with multiple points of sale in Turkey and an e-commerce site. A co-founder of the Turkish Association of Fashion Designers, Gökçe also serves as a consultant to local fashion institutions.

This year, Hatice Gökçe has begun contributing to a podcast, put together a special collection for Turkey’s Pera Museum, which includes several paintings by Turkish artist Ergin Inan, and designed a capsule collection for the Baksı Museum to showcase Turkey’s cultural heritage — which will be referenced in the fabrics used by Gökçe at FWI this season.

“I was worried at first, but I had a very productive year,” says Gökçe. “Things have been business as usual despite the pandemic and I haven’t had to make any compromises. My secret: designing things that are permanent, true to our heritage, of quality, and timeless.”

Nihan Peker

A look by Nihan Peker FW21.

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.

“My business has definitely evolved with changing dynamics and consumer needs. It has changed my perspective,” says Peker. “I am asking myself, ‘do I want to grow?’ I think I only desire growth if it comes naturally. I have realised what matters is quality rather than quantity.”

In the last year, Peker has made the digital pivot, providing her couture service through digital clienteling — as well as launching a new label. “It was really good to stop suddenly whereas before I was running too fast. I took it slowly and I had a very creative time. I prepared a fully-handmade bridal collection, creating another label under my brand.”

Mehtap Elaidi

A look from Mehtap Elaidi FW21.

Starting her career in marine insurance, Mehtap Elaidi transitioned to the fashion industry to launch her namesake womenswear brand. Today, at least 60 percent of the brand’s collections use organic or sustainable fabrics and is sold through stores in Istanbul, an e-commerce site and international stockists, including Harvey Nichols.

Using deadstock fabrics and localised production, Mehtap Elaidi is looking to engage the end consumer by drawing them into the design process. “We started a project called #designwithME during quarantine, where we offer our Instagram community design options with illustrations, like ‘shirt or blouse, classic collar vs. 70s collar,’ etc. Their answers create a design and we produce these in limited quantities so they get to own an item they co-designed with us and other ME women,” Elaidi told BoF.

The brand is also looking to expand their creative output, exploring media offerings of essays and articles from the team and its consumers. “We offer more than clothes to our customers,” adds Elaidi. “We have also been working on our first home collection to fill an increasing demand from customers to invest more in their homewares after this past year.”

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

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