Perhaps it’s fitting that Özgür Masur – whose first name means ‘free’ – designs women’s clothing that projects a strong sense of independence. Yet, from chiffon gowns in pretty colours to form-fitting black pieces with carefully arranged layers, his collections also show off sexiness and elegance. Masur’s extraordinary success seems to lie in the simple understanding that ‘what women want’ is to be at once feminine and liberated.
The rapid rise of Masur’s career closely parallels developments in the still nascent Turkish fashion industry. Born in Istanbul in 1979, he studied fashion design and worked for several textile companies before designing his first collection in his own name in 2008. When it was shown at GalataModa – a seasonal festival organised by local fashion designers that had started the previous year – the entire 85-piece collection sold out. With the money and recognition he earned, the designer opened a showroom in the fashionable Nişantaşı neighbourhood. In 2009, the Turkish fashion community launched an event that would come to be known as Istanbul Fashion Week, in which Masur has shown a new collection every season since the beginning.
Masur is a thinking man’s – or rather, woman’s – designer, who seems as focused on the narrative and structure of his collections as on their aesthetics; he spends months researching ideas before putting pen to paper. In describing his process, he uses the word mathematical repeatedly, commenting that he looks at things with ‘a mathematical eye’ and that ‘a collection is above all about the mathematics of a woman’s body’.
If there appears not to be a single recurring theme, motif or look that runs through his work, what makes Masur’s style recognisable is its defining attitude: femininity with an edge, a sense of defiance under all the gauzy, cascading fabric. ‘I have always designed my collections for women who have both feet on the ground, who have a stance, a philosophy of life, who like to debate. They are always chic, but even if they appear romantic, underneath that romanticism there is a rocker attitude,’ says Masur. ‘They are women who know how to express themselves.’
The designer’s autumn/winter 2010-11 collection encapsulated this stance perfectly. Comprising mostly all-black pieces, along with a few white numbers, it featured slinky dresses with rolled strips of fabric, tight pants with short jackets and frilly, layered dresses. On the catwalk, the mood bordered on sinister, with models wearing mysterious black eye-patches. But the eyewear was not there simply for effect; rather, it was part of a serious narrative.
‘From accessories to shoes, when I am designing a collection I never use elements at random; there is always a story behind everything,’ Masur explains. He used eye patches in the A/W10-11 collection to protest about the fate of Bergen, a popular Turkish singer of Arabesk music in the 1980s whose jealous husband blinded her in one eye with nitric acid and later took her life.
As Masur’s style evolves, he is experimenting with how much of his Turkish background to incorporate in his work. His spring/summer 2011 collection, which revisited the sexy, pastel-coloured designs that have won him many admirers, seemed as if it could have come from anywhere in the world – a point not lost on foreign observers, who suggested that Masur dig more deeply into his Turkish roots. The designer was initially dismissive of the idea: ‘I have a story to tell and I never thought that there had to be “Turkishness” in the story I was telling,’ he recalls. But while attending a Beirut wedding at which he heard only Western music playing, Masur had a revelation of sorts: authentic local colour was not something to be avoided but an asset.
The result of his epiphany was one of the most wildly original collections of the autumn/winter 2011-12 season in Turkey. After taking lessons in traditional Turkish paper marbling, known as ebru, Masur created several distinct patterns using the technique: beautiful, naturalistic swirls incorporating traditional Ottoman motifs like the elongated tulip, featuring a colour palate of grey, black, and bright reds and yellows inspired by 1920s Erté. The patterns were reproduced on silk and used in skirts, dresses and blouses, to which Masur added a variety of disparate elements including black leather, flapper fringe, ostrich feathers and lace. Stunning ensembles were created that looked distinctly Turkish while not appearing ‘traditional’.
Thanks to such impressive collections, Masur is also beginning to get noticed outside his native country: boutiques in Kuwait, Dubai, Greece and Germany have carried his pieces and he has private couture clients around the Middle East. The designer hopes to one day show his work in the major international fashion capitals, but he is not the sort to rush into anything. He in fact turned down an invitation to show in New York Fashion Week, preferring to wait until he felt fully ready for such an endeavour. But with so much creativity and talent, Masur can surely continue to dream big.