Chic women in Turkey are not shy about flaunting their strong, sultry beauty. In Istanbul, skin can signify sophistication and women prefer the power of an arresting appearance rather than looking delicate or demure. As designer Gamze Saraçoğlu explains, ‘Turkish women like to look sexy. They aspire to an Italian Riviera style. They love big hair and nails. Black is a favourite and lots of shine. Women like to wear Roberto Cavalli and Versace. These are strong women with big personalities and they want to show off.’
Although Saraçoğlu appreciates the impact of high-gloss glamour and Turkish women’s penchant for ‘shiny, sexy, strong colours, powerful prints and man-eating looks’, her own style offers a subtler image of feminine allure. The 30-year-old graduate of Parsons design school in New York and Central Saint Martins college in London prefers an artistic take on the signature Turkish emphasis on folding, pleating and manipulating fabric. While Saraçoğlu shares a love of asymmetry and unconventional cutting with her peers at Istanbul’s Fashion Week, her inspiration derives neither from nightlife nor the red carpet, but from her everyday office experiences as she designs for various lines across Turkey’s fashion spectrum.
After earning a business degree from Istanbul’s prestigious Işık University, Saraçoğlu began pursuing a pre-MBA degree at Marmara University before deciding to take time to train in the Parsons programme. Once she started designing, she used her keen management savvy to support her artistic aspirations and offer unprecedented style opportunities to Turkish shoppers. Her designs for the Cottonbar label are casual and cheerful. She applies her pretty palette to blouses, pleated trousers and accessories that are relaxed yet professional. Her silk scarves, breezy tote bags and flowing fabrics provide busy women with a realistic range of basics.
During last season’s Istanbul Fashion Week, Saraçoğlu presented a collection of stunning, pressed silk mini-dresses inspired by the balled-up paper sketches she’d thrown away while awaiting a muse for her new collection. The origins of these origami-like forms might have been humble, but they created usual and captivating textures when made up in Saraçoğlu’s high-end materials, in a palette that runs from airy pastels to turquoise, jade, steel and ruby. Her cuts were short and flattering but remained girlish instead of vampish, and showed off her wearers’ thoughtful style rather than merely their physique.
Saraçoğlu launched her eponymous label in 2004. Her atelier in Istanbul is a dainty, second-storey showroom in a fashionable, busy area of the city, where Saraçoğlu’s team of young assistants, picked from classes at the Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts, work on her various lines. Gamze Saraçoğlu Fashion Design Studio is currently sold in Paris, London and Copenhagen, as well as Istanbul. However, the real scope of Saraçoğlu’s ambition is evident through her collaborations with various accessible, mass-market labels including Zara, Marks & Spencer, NafNaf and Apple. In 2008, she became the designer and creative director of womenswear for Boyner’s Plus Size line and its organic collection, Cottonbar.
Throughout her collections, Saraçoğlu remains remarkably sensitive to women’s potential worries about their shape or size. The slinky, body-conscious styles preferred by polished Istanbul ladies are inaccessible to women with lusher builds. However, Saraçoğlu’s use of fabric and colour compliments fuller figures. Her draped, tulip-shaped skirts, flowing evening-length dresses and juicy jewel tones provide a graceful and gracious silhouette for a broader range of women.
‘I am not interested in just making precious things that only a few people can wear,’ Saraçoğlu explains. ‘A lot of my private clients only want evening dresses. Women in Istanbul attend many glamorous functions and they want a lot of special dresses to wear to all the weddings, parties and receptions. I love to offer these styles but I also know that there are a lot of women looking for more casual and affordable garments. They should look pretty too.’
Although her garments are neither loud nor flashy, Saraçoğlu’s sculptural looks perfectly express what she aptly describes as Turkish women’s ‘desire to be seen’.