16 Jun Fashion forward in Turkey
The Mod-inspired suits are fashionably cropped and double-breasted, the shirts printed, the knitwear outsized, the high-tech fabrics stretchy and lightweight. Small wonder that rock stars Ringo Starr and Liam Gallagher, and footballer Thierry Henry are fans. More surprising is that the label, Tween, does not hail from Milan, London or Paris, but from Istanbul.
Tween’s creative director Günes Güner Isik says: “All the creative arts are coming together in Istanbul right now”, noting that this year the city is a European Capital of Culture. “The city seems especially able to give a fresh fashion dynamic, especially for a consumer culture which constantly seeks the new. Now it’s Istanbul time.”
In some ways, it has been Turkey-time for a few years already, at least when it comes to fashion manufacturing: Hugo Boss, Burberry, Donna Karan and Paul Smith, as well as high-street names such as Next and Marks & Spencer, all happily display “made in Turkey” labels in their clothing. This month Harvey Nichols and Demsa, a leading retail group in Turkey, signed an agreement for the development of a Harvey Nichols store in Ankara.
Turkey’s production techniques and easy access to global distribution points have helped it to export more than £7bn of clothing a year. The difference now, as Burak Celet, chief executive of the Turkish leather goods company Desa, says, is : “Turkey is moving beyond manufacturing.”
Turkish designer Hatice Gökce, a founder of the Association of Turkish Fashion Designers, says: “Traditionally, Turkey excelled in manufacturing but did so without understanding the design process. That changed with the recession, which has had the opposite effect in Turkey to that which it had in most countries: it has not only encouraged many more young designers to set up business, but it has woken manufacturers up to design’s importance.”
Turkish designer Bora Aksu, whose work blends the contemporary with an appreciation for his culture’s handicraft and love of colour, agrees. “The whole industry has had a wake-up call,” he says. Aksu launched a diffusion line last year, and shows his main line collection at London and Paris fashion weeks. Desa, a leather house , has 70 stores across Turkey and last year opened its first international outlet in west London’s Westfield shopping centre, with three more to open (including one in Hampstead and one in Westbourne Grove) by the end of this year. It has been joined by Ipekyol, a middle-market women’s wear brand specialising in a feminine working wardrobe, and Machka, known for romantic florals and printed dresses, both of which have opened London stores. Tween, which is launching its men’s wear in the US, Japan, Spain and Hong Kong this season and women’s wear in the winter, is also to open a London store by the end of the year.
Spring/summer 2010 designs from Tween and Desa
Spring/summer 2010 designs from Tween and Desa
The move by both brands and designers into international markets has in part been assisted by Turkish government incentives. Its five-year “TurQuality” programme comes to fruition this year (and is likely to be extended next year), and has seen approximately 500 retail brands apply for subsidy and training, of which 57 have been accepted so far, including 30 fashion brands. Meanwhile, Istanbul fashion week is growing, with February’s event showcasing 24 designers and attracting 31,000 visitors. This year also marks the opening of Tekstil ve Hazır Giyim Ar-Ge Merkezi (the Textile and Prêt à Porter Research and Development Centre) in Istanbul, and the first foundation degree course of international quality from the Istanbul Moda Academy, a fashion school created in 2006 by the Turkish government and the EU.
Lynne Hammond, lecturer in fashion at the London College of Fashion and co-founder of the Istanbul Moda Academy, says: “Turkey is really set up to produce a generation of high quality designers, and I think we’ll see an explosion of talent in the next three years. More production from big brands is moving to Turkey, but that manufacturing strength also means that much design training here can be work-based. In the UK, much of it has to be simulated.”
Turkey’s reputation as the go-to place for designer brands to outsource their manufacturing will remain, believes Desa’s Burak Celet, as long as those brands don’t move to cheaper production venues in Vietnam or Bangladesh. “Offering design as well as manufacturing to these brands is another service. But ultimately we have to reach out to the consumer with our own collections.”
Turkey’s location at the crossroads of east and west may be a real asset in this quest, as it provides an understanding of both markets. Some believe Istanbul fashion week has the potential to become a major fashion week alongside Paris and Milan within five years, precisely because it could prove the ideal location for global fashion buyers. “Istanbul is a hub for different cultures, and the same could be true for an increasingly global fashion marketplace,” points out Tween’s Güner Ikik.