Istanbul is rapidly developing a compelling presence on the global fashion radar. The international success of Turkish designers such as Bora Aksu, Dice Kayek and Atıl Kutoğlu has strengthened the country’s fashion industry, while, on the home front, a rising crop of local designers and brands is coming into its own. Istanbul has increased its profile as an artistic and cultural destination, thanks in part to the buzz generated around its current status as a European Capital of Culture. All these developments are enhancing the city’s fashion kudos.
The past year has seen the launch of two significant Istanbul fashion events. The first, Istanbul Fashion Days, organised jointly by local designers and industry groups, took place over three days in August 2009. Eighteen Turkish designers and brands took part in runway shows that drew crowds of some 25,000 people.
The event was renamed Istanbul Fashion Week (IFW) for February this year. Over four days, IFW hosted shows by 22 local designers and high-street brands, alongside two shows featuring young designers. IFW showcased a selective yet wide range of talent. This ranged from Turkish designers with established, international reputations, such as Bahar Korçan and Arzu Kaprol, to designers known primarily in Turkey up to now, including Gamze Saraçoğlu and İdil Tarzı. The list of up-and-coming, young designers included Simay Bülbül and Özgür Masur. Internationally known Turkish brands, including Mavi, Koton and Desa, also showed their autumn/winter 2010-11 collections.
Though these first Istanbul fashion weeks are far smaller than similar events in the world’s more established fashion capitals, they have nonetheless been an important step for the Turkish fashion industry, which aims for Istanbul to eventually take its place in the worldwide line-up of fashion events. Designer Özlem Süer, whose romantic women’s clothing lines and wedding gowns have gained her an international following, showed her ‘Crossing Streets’ autumn/winter 2010-11 collection at IFW. ‘Istanbul Fashion Week is a labour of love for Turkish designers and their fans,’ says Süer. ‘I know it will grow and give space to more designers. Every day the event takes on more international dimensions and we are all ready to put our energy into making it happen.’
Between these two events, October 2009 saw the launch of Fashionable Istanbul, a three-day event during which five major foreign labels held shows. Gianfranco Ferré, Salvatore Ferragamo, Roberto Cavalli, Missoni and Vivienne Westwood Anglomania all took part. Fashionable Istanbul was a first for Turkey due to its international scope and the stature of the designers who took part. Its location on the Bosphorus, just steps from elegant Dolmabahçe Palace, a major Istanbul landmark, was spectacular. The runway was inside a tent erected on a purpose-built temporary platform that floated on the water. Adding to the glamour quotient, supermodel Bar Refaeli was the face of Fashionable Istanbul’s advertising campaign, while top models Jessica Stam and Lily Donaldson were among more than 30 international models who took part in the shows. Fashionable Istanbul also included a group show that featured work by dozens of students at Istanbul fashion design schools. However, despite this nod to nascent designers, the event seemed less focused than IFW on cultivating local talent. Though the organisers are hoping to hold a second Fashionable Istanbul sometime in 2010, its long-term vision and what it will bring to Turkey remain to be seen.
Hakan Baykam, one of Fashionable Istanbul’s organisers, believes in the increasing appeal of Istanbul as a destination. ‘Istanbul is very cool at the moment; Istanbul now is a capital of fashion,’ he says. ‘Fashionable Istanbul is really something new. The future is to continue this project, to bring international designers, as it’s an international project. We don’t like to call it an Istanbul fashion week; it’s a worldwide fashion week.’
A couple of fashion weeks can help to place a city on the fashion map, but what about the other 50 weeks of the year? There’s no clearer sign of Istanbul and Turkey’s increasing influence as a fashion nexus than the launch of Vogue Türkiye, which premiered in March 2010 with Jessica Stam on the cover. Many have pointed out that this is the first edition of the influential fashion magazine to be published in a predominantly Muslim country. It seems the old cliché about Turkey being a bridge between East and West is still part of its appeal. But if that helps the world discover Istanbul as a fashion destination, it’s no bad thing.