Take a quick tour of your wardrobe and take a good look at the labels on your clothes: there will inevitably be an article that’s “made in Turkey” and, I’m willing to bet, you wouldn’t have expected that. Multi-centennial crossroads of the Silk Road, the Ottoman Empire was also, for much of its existence, a hub of European and Mediterranean trends. Textile manufacturers, like jewelers, had to compete in creativity and talent to succeed in seraglios where social competition knew no respite. With such DNA, it is no wonder that Turkey is today one of the largest textile producers in the world, the third largest supplier to the EU and sixth worldwide. Its industrial capacity allows it a competitive position in the ready-to-wear sector, but also in leather goods and accessories.

It therefore goes without saying that Turkey is also home to its own brands, a lot of them are mass production fashion, like LC Waikiki (848 stores in 38 countries) or Koton, or Oxxo, or the shoe label Desa, founded in the early 1970’s by a young chemistry student, and which exports the majority of its production to the United States.

Labels like Vakko create classic fashion, including knits and precious textiles, with a surprising twist. Many niche brands are also spreading, such as the precious little label Nefes, founded by three young mothers, Ceyda, Karel and Süzet, to reflect an art of living “that allows you to breathe” and whose pieces can be found in the major seaside resorts of the Turkish Riviera. All this has led to the emergence of a strong local design scene.

The conceptual king

When talking about Turkish fashion designers, the first name that springs to mind is Hussein Chalayan, although he was born in Cyprus and then based in London where he went to college at Central Saint Martins. Let’s talk about the universality of this artist, one of the first of his generation to treat fashion, body and clothing as concepts. Announcing his journey with his graduation collection “Buried Dresses”, his pieces were created from fabrics and wires that he placed into holes in the mud to oxidize.

At only 25, he was already on show at London Fashion Week, with a collection based on mathematical formulas. In the spring of 1998 he paraded a series of models, the first of which was completely naked, and the others gradually wore a little more, until the final one was in a hijab. In the fall of 2000, he designed a rigid telescopic skirt like a canteen cup, named the “Coffee Table skirt”. In the spring of 2000, his models were engulfed in balloon dresses made of tight bouquets of pink tulle, and in 2001,  his models wore rigid dresses and tops that were then broken up with pestles, revealing them to be nude. In the spring of 2007, a model was literally undressed on stage by the blast on her self-destructing dress. The same year, he also designed a dress that served as a screen for a video projection.

Each time, the creator, given an OBE by Queen Elizabeth, said to himself that these extreme experiments had to be stopped, but his audacity prevailed. A multidisciplinary artist, Chalayan is part of the collections of leading fashion and costume museums around the world. He has collaborated with Björk, and has also created several dresses for Lady Gaga, including an “egg” dress from which the pop star hatched on the stage of the Grammy Awards on February 14, 2011.

Japanese influence

The name of Ece Ege may not ring a bell, but when you learn that this Franco-Turkish designer is the founder of the Dice Kayek brand, your eyes might widen. Initially, Ege thought of going into architecture. As she likes to manipulate materials and explore structures, in the summer of 1992, she created a small collection of poplin shirts which quickly became all the rage, to the point that the following year, helped by her sister Ayse, she founded her brand in Paris.

In 1994, the brand, which was barely two years old, became a member of the French Federation of Couture. “We show another face of Muslim women. Women who are creative, who are women open to the world,” explained Ayse, in 2016. Connected with the Japanese fashion scene since 1996, when she launched her “Pink Label” in Tokyo, Ege took over the creation of the Hanae Mori brand in 2002. In 2013, she won the coveted Jameel Prize from the Victoria & Albert museum, where an exhibition of her most iconic creations was held in 2014, attracting more than 150,000 visitors. Under the influence of her multiple cultures, Turkish, European, Japanese, as well as her architectural vision, Ege creates structures from heavy fabrics which she then melts into fairy tale atmospheres, adorning them with dreamlike embroidery.

Ottoman DNA

In Istanbul, Atıl Kutoğlu is an address for connoisseurs. The 54-year-old creator began his professional career by embarking on studies in business administration in Vienna. Attracted by fashion, he completed internships at Vakko and Beymen before creating his eponymous brand, and from there he would participate in fashion weeks in Vienna, Munich, Düsseldorf, Milan and New York.

His collections are distinguished by a certain contemporary Turkish and Ottoman DNA, particularly through variations of bayadère stripes. Elizabeth Jagger, Jermaine Jackson and Alexandra Richards take part in his fashion shows. He hung his first sign in Nişantaşı, in Istanbul, where he returned to live in 2009, while remaining attached to Austria. His connections to, and love of, Austria continue and he was awarded the medal of honor of the Austrian Order in 2013. His order book includes celebrities, political figures and international artists and he has dressed such names as the Austrian princesses Camilla and Francesca of Habsburg, Naomi Campbell and Karolina Kurkova.