Istanbul Fashion Week Has Got It All

For a fashion week that features only about 25 designers, Istanbul’s four-day runway rundown, staged Feb. 8–Feb. 11, boasted massive variety. Unlike last week’s Stockholm Fashion Week and its uniforms of sleek, wearable blacks, there’s no singular aesthetic that dominated the catwalks of Istanbul. Perhaps this boundless inventory of styles is in keeping with the city’s multi-faceted history and culture. A city that sits on two continents and has been the focal point of three different empires (Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman), Istanbul’s fashion, too, can’t fit in a neat little box.

The week’s most widely attended and high profile event was none other than Atil Kutoglu‘s, a show that had both Jermaine Jackson and Elizabeth Jagger on its runway. On opening night, the Vienna-based designer showed off why he is the biggest name to come out of Turkey with the kind of collection that plays up to his strengths of creating beautiful and uber-glam pieces for his red-carpet-attending, mostly European clientele.  Those lunching ladies will certainly gravitate to the deluge of flowing silk dresses rendered in vibrant Turkish prints, leather catsuits with Swarovski Elements embellishments, armor-like paillette tops over sequins, and shaggy furs in keeping with one of the night’s theme: Brigitte Bardot. But for the less formal, there are also patchwork wool dresses and separates that may have seemed out of place but proved to be an interesting break from all the glitz and bling.

Opening night was capped off at the W Hotel, in the chichi neighborhood of BeÅ?iktaÅ?, where Günseli Türkay and Zeynep Erdogan staged a joint presentation. Both designers offered up a very different aesthetic from Kutoglu’s, with wildly whimsical fare. During Türkay’s run, where most of her models were accessorized with feathered chokers, she presented a range of dresses (long, flowy chiffons and short, sassier cocktail versions) in unusual prints derived from Ottoman Muqarna architecture. Türkay, who worked with up-and-coming Turkish architect Alper Derinbogaz to produce these prints, which showed up in greys, blacks, reds and whites, explains: “I like to work with other artists from various disciplines to create these experimental patterns.”

Erdogan also focused on just one inspiration—racoons. A cream, long-sleeved dress (the designer’s favorite and the first item designed for this collection) had a quirky raccoon embroidered on it; silk shorts, shirts, and jackets featured a digitally produced print of raccoon tails; and some items had an extra bit of sex appeal with raccoon-eye cut-outs right at the collarbone. Equal parts fantastical, sexy, and maybe just a little bit creepy, Erdogan presented clothing that should have people talking—and hopefully, buying. The following day, Ozlem Kaya offered up an innovative collection made mostly of neoprene. The blue and black dresses, jackets, tops, hoodies and skirts were divined from scuba gear, something Kaya, a one-star diver, is often in.  “You’ll need to wear them during cold weather, because it’s very hot in there,” the designer says of the material. Kaya’s sporty ensembles were made just a bit less rigid and more show-stopping with adornments and details in the form of laser-cut hems and studding, most of which were pulled from patterns found on Ottoman kilims. “I don’t usually like ethnic references, but I think the laser cut technique makes these kilim patterns more modern,” Kaya said.

Another standout collection came from first-time IFW presenter Nihan Peker. The 26-year-old is making waves with her less-represented (in Istanbul) minimalist style. “I would like to say my words without shouting,” the designer claims. “And I am really happy that people started to understand my style.” While almost everyone was showing off sequins, leather, and beads, Peker’s dresses, trousers and jackets in lightweight black or white crepe boasted only clean lines and wearable silhouettes. Some were then made fancier with gold stud buttons, tonal quilted paneling and asymmetrical cuts. The best of the bunch, a white sleeveless dress with two collars, a couple of studs and figure-creating quilted insets, may not be the ideal cold-weather garb—but when paired with someone else’s heat-trapping furs, it could be the perfect winter white.

For menswear, Istanbul had one shining star: Tolga Turan’s capsule collection for Studio Kaprol. Comprised of only six looks, Turan’s lumberjack-inspired (a couple of the models were wearing fake beards) uniforms made a very strong impression for clothing any young dude would want to wear—whether or not Paul Bunyan is his hero. In addition to a clever double-breasted-cardigan-scarf combo and sleekly tailored wool pants, we loved his fresh take on men’s jackets: a wool blazer, for example, was fitted with sharp shoulders while another was cropped and worn over a denim, zip-up shirt and suspenders.  It’s his cheeky twists and attention to detail (Kaya’s daring use of an non-traditional material, Peker’s surprising austerity, etc.) that should make everyone believe that Istanbul could soon be a major player in the international fashion scene.