Burying one's fashion collection in the back yard might seem preposterous to anyone outside the fashion industry, but when London-based designer Hussein Chalayan did just that back in 1993 for his graduate collection from Central Saint Martins, the industry took notice. Here was a true innovator.
Since then, Chalayan, who hails from Nicosia (Lefkoşa in Turkish), has continued to push the boundaries of fashion and is currently considered one of the most conceptual catwalk designers. American-born Zac Posen, who is similarly proud of his Turkish heritage, is meanwhile making a name for himself in New York with his modern take on historical silhouettes and intricate cutting techniques.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, international journalists and buyers are looking to Turkey for the next big thing. Designer Atil Kutoğlu is developing a considerable reputation on the international stage. One of the more famous Istanbul-based designers, Kutoğlu has exhibited in Milan, Tokyo, Venice and Munich, and his designs have graced princesses and celebrities alike. He recently opened a new boutique in the Nişantaşı shopping district and feels it's very important to retain his relationship with the Turkish community while continuing to develop an international brand. 'I've introduced my talent and creativity to London, New York, Paris and Vienna but I felt that I had to come back to my hometown to open a store in Istanbul. I'm happy, but there are many more stores to be opened very soon,' says Kutoğlu.
Umit Unal is another Istanbul designer to watch. His collections, which are sold in 13 countries, often focus on Turkish legend and culture. Despite international recognition, he believes the secret of his success is his domestic following. 'My designs are admired in Japan, Hong Kong, Amsterdam, Kuwait and Paris. Of course this is flattering, but at the end of the day I am just one amongst a million others. I agree that there are many Turkish designers known worldwide but few became known whilst they were living in Istanbul. Most were based in London or Paris at the time they became famous.'
Success does seem easier for those based in traditional fashion capitals such as London, New York, Milan and Paris. The French fashion house Dice Kayek, owned by two Turkish sisters, Ece and Ayse Ege, is gaining international acclaim. Its spring/summer 2009 collection was a feminine take on structural 80s styling, in a clean palette of ivory and black with touches of peach, tomato and citrus yellow. While the brand is internationally focused, it retains its Turkish heritage; details such as embroidery, sequins, beading and appliqué hint at Turkish craftsmanship.
Bora Aksu, who graduated from London's Central Saint Martins in 2002, was born in Turkey. A repeated recipient of the highly prestigious Topshop New Generation award, his collections sell in 15 countries and celebrities such as Tori Amos are fans. Aksu recently designed a special capsule collection for the People Tree fair-trade organisation and worked with the Cathy Marston Project, a London dance company, on costumes. Aksu says his inspiration has no boundaries, but acknowledges the influences of his homeland. 'Turkey is a country with such raw cultural heritage and this has obviously had a huge effect. Relatively recent cultural and economic changes in Turkey had a huge impact on the fashion and creative industries; the industry used to be much more isolated. I know being Turkish has its effects on my inspiration, sometimes visible, sometimes hidden, but always there.'