Each season Bora Aksu embarks on an historic adventure, in search of inspiration. With his trademark enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity, the Turkish designer explores the styles and fads of foregone times, subsequently turning them into a backdrop for his timelessly chic collections. So far, his research has taken him from the 19th century, with its flouncy bodices, to imaginary encounters with Marie Antoinette and even Edward Scissorhands. The results are always a beguiling combination of fresh originality, a modern interpretation of vintage and wearable designs.
‘I like the cosy, knowing feel of things from the past,’ explains the designer, who trained at London’s prestigious Central St Martins College of Art and Design and has won the British Fashion Council’s New Generation Award four times. ‘It’s like they come with their own set of memories. But then I challenge myself and add a little punk or gothic element to it, and this is where things start to change.’
Postcards of inspiration
What makes Aksu special is that he flamboyantly bridges historical elements with an utterly contemporary spirit. His spring/summer 2012 collection is based on a series of postcards he casually discovered at an antiques market in London. ‘I was drawn to an eccentric woman pictured on one of them, and then picked several other cards at random. I later realised they were all written by the same person, a lady named Rose to a gentleman called Charles in 1905.’ The exchange was in French, so he had it translated and tracked the address down to a place in Geneva. Unfortunately, this is where the lead trailed off. ‘But I’ve been captured by the idea of what happened to their love story ever since.’
In homage to Rose and Charles, Aksu named the collection The Unknown, where light rubs shoulders with darkness, creamy tones turn to navy, and early 20th century austerity mixes with romance. The result is a powerful look, and Aksu is clear whom his creations are for: ‘The Bora Aksu woman was a tomboy when she was little,’ explains the designer with a smile. ‘She still thinks of climbing trees, but wants to look feminine in a pretty dress.’ Aksu’s dresses are his signature pieces, and in particular those for evening occasions. ‘A dress is the perfect platform for me. It allows me to work with textures, colours and layers all at the same time.’
Clashes bring fresh results
To add another element to the look, the designer has come up with a seductive line of patterned hosiery. ‘Tights are an amazing tool. They carry on as part of the dress, yet are more approachable. Any woman can wear them at any time.’ Such thrilling combinations, which the style contingent has come to call ‘demi-couture’, provide the perfect splash amid the uniformity of little black dresses. Aksu relishes such vivid contrast. ‘It’s part of my culture,’ he explains. ‘In Turkey society is so varied, and this creates amazing looks. The same is true for London. Clashes bring fresh results.’
This is one of the reasons why he recommends that young Turkish style enthusiasts draw from their own heritage and do not look towards the West. Although he is based in London, Aksu recognises the talent in his native country. ‘Turks are very, very good craftsmen, they just need to find their own design language.’ To emphasise this, the designer has just collaborated with design brand Armaggan for a capsule collection that is in stores this season.
Armaggan works with some of Turkey’s most skilled fabric weavers, needle workers, leather specialists and other artisans, who produce limited edition collections while respecting Turkish heritage and craft. ‘Each fabric is handmade from natural materials, just like they did 100 years ago. It’s so well done I wanted the fabrics to do the talking.’ Aksu’s collection for Armaggan comes in 40 pieces and consists of body-conscious jackets and loose dresses in a whole range of textures, from knobbly knits to liquid silks.
The international fashion map
With a fashion week of its own, and with a rich heritage of craftsmanship, it is not surprising that Istanbul has found a permanent spot on the international fashion map. ‘When I left Turkey 15 years ago there was no concept of fashion design. Now, a study has revealed that the younger generation ranks designing among the most desirable jobs. The country is boiling with creativity.’
Aksu isn’t resting on his laurels. A new line of bags is on the way, and the Bora Aksu Resort Collection will be in the shops in the spring, followed by the Rose and Charles-inspired collection. With so much on his plate, does it ever get too much? ‘Hardly,’ says Aksu. ‘It’s exciting, never exhausting. And since I don’t think of designing as work, it feels more like a hobby to me.’