Designer Erkan Çoruh

The Turkish designer delves into the inspirations behind his unusual collections and his very special muse, Iranian artist Shirin Neshat.

Fashion Rise
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The conflicts over what Muslim women living in the West should wear often spawns endless debates on the pages of newspapers and magazines. Religious and political issues are usually explored in connection with themes such as civil rights, repression and freedom, causing further frictions and misunderstandings. Inspired by these debates, Turkish designer Erkan Çoruh tries to find, through his collections, a balance between Islamic attire and Western elegance. In his Autumn/Winter 2010 men and women’s wear collections, entitled 'The Men & Women of Allah', Çoruh mixed Islamic traditions with Western styles by rethinking the burqa, integrating it in jackets and shirts, using the draped motifs that characterise this garment for dresses and pants, matching skinny trousers with long robes in a gender-bending game to discover new balances through traditional garments.

In July this year, Çoruh won the 'Who Is On Next?' competition for womenswear with his Spring/Summer 2011 collection 'Radical Beauty'. It was inspired by a very special muse, Iranian artist and film maker Shirin Neshat, famous for her award-winning film 'Women Without Men' and iconic photographic series 'Women of Allah'. Neshat’s life helped Çoruh find the perfect synthesis between Islamic traditions and fashion and Western culture and urban trends, taking the burqa and mixing it with a jacket Chanel style or creating decorative appliquéd 3D motifs, inspired by the burqa on sleeveless tops. Fear not, though, this is not the next incarnation of 'Islamic chic', but it’s definitely an attempt to break all the rules, tackling vital political, religious and social topics and challenging many established beliefs, prejudices and preconceptions.  

Dazed Digital: How did you feel about winning the ‘Who Is On Next?’ competition?
Erkan Çoruh: I felt happy for myself and for my Milan-based team, but we took the competition results as an encouragement to get on with our work. I launched my brand with one main idea in mind, believing into what I do and this is what my team and I have been doing, creating garments that we think can spark up a dialogue between people.  

DD: What does Iranian artist Shirin Neshat represent for you?
Erkan Çoruh: She is a very special and inspiring muse. I first heard about her when she presented her “Women of Allah” project at the International Istanbul Biennale and, from then on, I’ve always followed her work. I thought it was interesting to use her as my muse because she is an elegant and spontaneous woman with a very strong vision of femininity in mind. I felt she could have helped me developing a new image for my womenswear collections and, through her, I could have explored issues like feminism in Islam as well.
   
DD: In both your men and women’s wear collections elements of Islamic dress are combined with Western attires: is this a way to reach a balance or break boundaries?      
Erkan Çoruh: I was born in Istanbul and moved to Italy where I studied and worked. I got used to life in Italy and found a balance between my origins and the country where I moved and I tried to represent this balance in my collections. I developed my womenswear also as a sort of celebration of Muslim women living in the West and in Europe who have found stability and balance in other countries. I think that the main aim of my garments, though, is to spark a dialogue: in my Autumn/Winter 2010 collection there is a jacket in Chanel style that can be transformed into a burqa. I considered the latter in my collections as a garment out of a woman’s wardrobe without any political connections and developed it in an innovative way, trying to prove that even two radically different garments can create one and only amazing dialogue. I also developed a burqa that turns into an elegant dress or shirt. I consider these garments as ways to ponder about elegance and style.

DD: Who are your favourite fashion designers?
Erkan Çoruh: Comme des Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo and Martin Margiela. I’ve always been fascinated and inspired by Kawakubo and Margiela’s honesty, integrity and sincerity, because these values reach out to the wearers and create a dialogue with them.

DD: Previously ignored by the global fashion scene and sadly famous for its trials against freedom of expression, Turkey is currently considered as a vibrant country with many young and innovative artists. Do you feel that Turkey has truly changed in the last few years?
Erkan Çoruh: Istanbul is currently European Capital of Culture, so there is a lot going on there, and, in my opinion, after the Orhan Pamuk case, many things changed over there. What’s most important is that there is a stronger and braver intellectualism in art and culture. When I first started working on my collections also my mother was worried, but I think we must go on working along these lines, push forward in our work and develop new cultural paths.  

DD: What projects do you have in mind for the future?
Erkan Çoruh: I have a very small team in Milan and, while we don’t want to become too commercial, we would like to develop our work and start important collaborative projects with different artists and musicians and maybe focus also on visual arts. In fact I think it would be truly amazing if we could do something with Shirin Neshat herself!
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