Istanbul is very much a city of contrasts. It upholds a unique position in both Europe and Asia, lying at the intersection of two very different worlds. This diversity between east and west has continued to influence those creatives working in the city, from acclaimed novelist Orhan Pamuk to a new generation of artists and of course, designers. For the first edition of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Istanbul, a selection of these often overlooked designers were given an international platform to showcase their work. As the five day event progressed, it became clear that these creatives are developing their own unique and innovative visions. Many of them experimenting with unconventional fabrics and conceptual designs, whilst still showing a concern for local traditions and artistic processes.
The location of the shows reinforced Istanbul's alluring diversity. Situated in the Beyoğlu region, the industrial show space stood opposite the Nusretiye Mosque, a building that despite its islamic elements has retained its Baroque style, making it unique to the city. “I think the light is really special here,” explained artist, Ryan McGinley of the surroundings. “I arrived yesterday during magic hour and just thought about how blue the sky is against all this stone.” Next door, inside a converted warehouse is Istanbul Modern, a cultural institution that contains the work of contemporary Turkish artists. This very juxtaposition between old and new is so typical of Istanbul, and as an outsider it provided an enchanting backdrop for the shows.
Inside, the work of designers including Nihan Peker, Ayhan Yetgin and Ozlem Kaya were showcased through intimate studio presentations and on the runway. The schedule also featured the multidisciplinary collective, Studio Kaprol - a platform of thirteen practitioners mentored by womenswear designer Arzu Kaprol. Working with live models and instant video streaming, their presentation challenged the traditional role of the contemporary show space. Instead, they created their own unique context, placing their work in an endearing narrative that reflected the collaborative nature of their design process.
In many ways, Istanbul is still a city filled with traditions. Ryan McGinley confessed to us, “I love the tradition of drinking tea. I think that that is beautiful.” As we visited the studios of designers Nihan Peker, Ayhan Yetgin and Ozlem Kaya, it became increasingly evident that this still a concern for the new generation of creatives. “I really enjoy strolling around in historical places,” explained Ozlem Kaya in her studio. Similarly, Nihan Peker took us to a local dye house, whilst Ayhan Yetgin invited us to a traditional, family-run fabric shop, where he sources all his materials. In a city with such diversity and increasing innovation, it seems that Istanbul's unique history will continue to reverberate through its streets and influence its creatives. “It is such a city of contrasts,” reinforced Jefferson Hack, who attended the shows. “It is very powerful, very romantic and it is also very futuristic as well.”
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