Following Fashion Week you signed an agreement with the Chinese brand Ilchi. Did you previously engage in any negotiations?
Yes, indeed. We had our first negotiation in November. A Chinese committee visited me. They then invited us to Urumqi. There we got to meet the entire Ilchi team. We visited its stores in Beijing and Shanghai.
Couturiers generally aim to carry on a business in the West. However, your name is always mentioned alongside the East. You were born in Şanlıurfa province and you work as an advisory designer to Argande, a support project for women in southeast Turkey. Now the Far East is on your agenda. Is your agreement with Ilchi a planned part of your inclination towards the East?
No, this would never come to mind. I would rather call it destiny. What is interesting is that it perfectly suits what I am trying to do. For a long time I have wanted to move towards the roots of men’s clothing and to offer a style for Turkish men. It is very interesting that I came together with Ilchi on such a common point. I will have a chance to visit Urumqi and the region, situated on the old Silk Road. If we consider we are a nation originating from the Middle East, it will be an interesting experience for me to go to the Far East and become well acquainted with this firm in Xingjian.
Isn’t this the first designer being ‘exported’ to China?
Sure, we can put it that way, too. I think it will be a big opportunity for everyone. It is important for Turkey, too, because it indicates that the support and encouragement we have received has come to fruition with this deal. It also shows the extent of Turkey’s achievement. It is very crucial to understand that the West is not the only direction we should look in.
We always say that only quality design can compete with cheap Chinese products. Is this an indication of the fact that we have become a brand in design?
I definitely think so. It is very interesting that everything in Turkey draws the attention of the Chinese. Many of our TV series and films, whether we realize it or not, are important to them. For instance, the TV series Kurtlar Vadisi (Valley of the Wolves) is a favorite. Renowned Turkish actor Kenan İmirzalıoğlu is also very popular due to the TV series “Acı Hayat” (Bitter Life) in which he stars as a member of the Kervancıoğlu family. This interest in İmirzalıoğlu resulted in a brand of clothing named “Kervanchi.” Chinese interest in Turkey determines the trends there, especially in terms of women’s and men’s clothing.
Will the products you design for Ilchi be sold only in China?
At the beginning, yes, they will be. An expansion of the brand in London is also considered, but it will take some time because their primary goal is expanding in the Middle East.
In Turkey your expertise is in men’s clothing. However, for this collection they want to work with you on women’s clothing.
Actually, they want both. However, they do really want to focus on improving women’s clothing. They have more deficiencies in women’s clothing. They want to use satin fabric, which is their trademark, in women’s clothing. Afterwards, the men’s collection will follow.
You are the first designer to really make a name for yourself in men’s clothing in Turkey. So I am curious about your background. Were you always interested in this field?
I have always been interested in fashion design. I studied textile at a vocational high school and I wanted to study the same subject at university. I entered the department of textile and fashion design at İstanbul’s Mimar Sinan University. By the time I entered this department I knew I wanted to work in men’s clothing. My style suits men’s clothing. I have a masculine style. At that time men’s clothing was not very vivid. As soon as I graduated in 1998, I started my workshop. I was aware of the difficulties that I would encounter. 2003 marks a milestone for me. I had the opportunity to present my collection in Düsseldorf at the CPD Trade Fair.
Men’s clothing is very vivid, but it is as if it does not seem very open to new trends!
Yes, I agree that it is still not very open to different styles. If I only wanted to focus on the commercial aspect of my business, I wouldn’t choose men’s clothing. I want to show experimental fashion for men. My aim was to make the deficiencies in their clothing apparent to men. I hope to make them more flexible. My goal is to create a new style for Turkish men. I am aware that it will take time. I was aware of all this when I began.
What was your family’s reaction to your career path?
They neither supported nor discouraged me. However, since I started this business I have partnered with my sister Zehra Zülfikar. We do everything together. She takes care of issues regarding the workshop and trade and I take care of design.
‘I wish I lived at the time of the Young Turks’
You say you were inspired by history while designing. Which historical period speaks to you?
The period of the Young Turks (a general name for Turks who favored the reformation of the Ottoman Empire and who worked to spread occidental thoughts among the Ottomans) influenced me a lot. I already made a collection about it. Whenever I look at that period, I see a creative environment that was very amenable to changes and even ended with clothing reform. There was an importation of foreign clothing styles. Although we could have come to present day in a different way, we developed in a different way with that importation. We can speak of English and Italian styles, but we can’t speak of Turkish men’s style. Therefore, I really wonder what would happen if the Young Turks movement had carried on. Everything belonging to that period really attracts my attention. If I had a chance to live in a historical period, I wish I lived at the time of the Young Turks.
This reminds me of the movie “Midnight in Paris.”
Yes, certainly. That film had a wonderful scenario. I wish we could travel to the past and see previous periods just like in that film. I wish we could live those past moments. The past is just like a handsome men’s club compared to the singular image we have today.
If the Young Turk period had been able to continue, what do you think the current men’s style would be?
You know, I often hear, “Why can’t Turkey come up with a unique brand?” This is all about the fact that the existing styles were wiped away. People always create new styles based off of past ones. Due to the Turkish clothing reform, we have to start everything anew. If Europe has 100-year-old long-established brands today, it is because they are building upon their past. It is for this reason that there is resurgent interest in Ottoman style. We realized the richness of their fabrics, patterns, models and way of expression very late. I now wonder how clothing would look like had Ottoman influences persisted through the clothing reform. But we’ll never know. I’m sure we would be making very different styles and creating world brands had we been able to update Ottoman clothing. However, we did not make proper use of this cultural richness.
There are men who think your designs are too extreme even though you have a very masculine style. Why do you think people have a hard time getting used to it?
Men perceive every new thing they see as if it belongs to a different species. They are sometimes scared of being exposed to different views. However, only when new things are tried and are given some time can they be accepted.