‘Perhaps in real life I’m a very unromantic person’ seems an unlikely comment from Erdem Moralıoğlu. If he were a storyteller rather than a designer, he might be placed in the Paulo Coelho genre of magic realism and modern fairytales. His designs are the perfect fantasy wardrobe for a modern day Little Red Riding Hood: double hem-lined, appliqué lace-dresses with nipped-in waists and slash necklines, and delicate-yet-textured embroidered fabrics and laser-sharp prints.
‘I always feel that each season is a narrative. We have our girl and different things happen to her – I see each collection as a new chapter in the same book of her life. I am not interested in trends,’ he says. Born in Canada, with Turkish and British parents, Moralıoğlu is Turkey’s trendiest export. But don’t ask him about being cool – he’s charmingly modest and courteous. ‘Fame isn’t something that I ever thought would happen and I try not to think about it too much. Life still feels very much the same.’
Moralıoğlu’s clothes fuse a beautiful aesthetic with genuine wearability. They are enviably artful concoctions of beauty and craftsmanship that translate into gorgeous, grown-up creations. It is a formula many other designers fail to get right. His unique talent was picked up when he was awarded the first Fashion Fund last year, an initiative from Vogue and the British Fashion Council. ‘He makes beautiful clothes that have a recognisable stamp that is his alone, as well as designing dresses that a lot of women want to wear,’ says Alexandra Shulman, editor of UK Vogue. These women include Michelle Obama, Keira Knightley, Kirsten Dunst and Claudia Schiffer.
Moralıoğlu studied at London’s Royal College of Art in 2000 before working with Diane von Furstenberg in New York. He then returned to London to set up his own label, Erdem. ‘My upbringing has affected my work hugely,’ he says. ‘I grew up in the suburbs of Montreal with parents from two very different places. I think that it’s this contrast of cultures and the fact that I constantly felt somewhat unrooted that makes a collection kind of dreamlike. I always had to dream up everything.’
This season the dream is the Ballets Russes. The designer spent a number of weeks carrying out research at the Victoria and Albert Museum archives in London, studying costumes including those worn by Vaslav Nijinsky. ‘I was inspired by the fluidity and structure. It was so beautiful to be surrounded by ghostly calico-covered costumes.’ The juxtaposition of strong structure and a dreamy sense of whimsy and movement makes the ballet the ideal metaphor for his well-honed craft, which marries a thoughtful approach with exuberant bursts of colour.
Focus plus passion is the successful equation and he can thank his Turkish roots for that. ‘Turkey as a culture is very colourful. I remember growing up and visiting Istanbul, it always felt so exotic.’ While he is not a man to take literal references from his background, he is certain that this exposure to his father’s homeland was influential. ‘I had a wonderful upbringing and I feel very connected to Turkey as I have so much family there still.’
Traditional Eastern ideas of handmade clothes and craftsmanship are also very much a part of his work. ‘I've always been obsessed with clothes that have a very human hand. To me it’s important that the wearer feels as if they’re wearing a dress that’s the only one in the world.’
What’s next for the designer? ‘I'm looking into the prospect of collaborating with a ballet company, I would love to work with the Royal Ballet in England.’ An Istanbul-based venture is also a possibility in the longer term. ‘Istanbul is a really important market for us and there’s so much coming out of Istanbul at the moment in terms of art, culture and design.’
A reluctant romantic who is grounded in reality or a highly focused realist (‘never take no for an answer’ is his motto) with an innate sense of beauty? Let’s hope he keeps us guessing.