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Dilara Findikoglu SS17 presentation
Dilara Findikoglu SS17 presentationPhotography Lillie Eiger

Exploring Dilara Findikoglu’s punk feminist fashion

Inspired by the ways different societies have viewed women, Turkish designer Dilara Findikoglu is the LFW breakout you’re going to be hearing a lot more about

A Soho strip club might not be the type of establishment you’d expect to swing by bright and early on a Saturday morning, but that’s where Central Saint Martins grad Dilara Findikoglu chose for her London Fashion Week debut this weekend. Descending the narrow stairs from the neon-lit bar, guests took their seats in a tiny theatre-like basement, complete with a chequerboard stage lined with candles and covered in the kind of ephemera that might make up a Renaissance still life. Like a moving tableau, the gang of models wore punkish, opulent clothes that careened wildly between decades – there were glam rock separates, 18th-century corsets, Victoriana collars and Tudor sleeves, styled by Another Man fashion director Ellie Grace Cumming.

Gurls Talk founder and activist Adwoa Aboah prowled on stage in a reclaimed version of a silk pimp suit, while one voluptous model had an intricately beaded uterus and ovaries embroidered onto her briefs (a motif that Findikoglu employed in her last collection). Pink was the dominant colour – its feminine associations both a tribute to girlhood and subversion of it. Of course, the venue choice was deliberate too – as you sat in the well-worn seats (and wondered just how many men had sat there before you) you looked up at the models, elevated on the stage. While these muses may have worn PVC boots and flesh-flashing corsets, they weren’t there to be consumed by your gaze. They stared right back at you, in full possession of their own sexuality.

“It's not really about history,” Findikoglu explained, considering the collection’s time-travelling nature. “It’s about how women's bodies have been treated in different societies – what they were wearing and what they were doing, what the limitations on them were.” The references underpinning the collection were diverse and confrontational: from suit-clad Victorian female criminals to the treatment of women at the hands of Mexican gangs and the way that only men were allowed on stage in Elizabethan England. But it was Çilem Doğan, a woman who was, remarkably, freed from jail in Findikoglu’s native Turkey after murdering her abusive husband in an act of self-defence, whose story struck the most personal chord. The designer says her country is becoming so conservative that it feels increasngly alien, and that violence against women is rarely taken seriously. In tribute to Doğan’s freedom despite this bias, Findikoglu named the collection “Dear past, thanks for all the lessons” – the phrase she wore on a t-shirt when going into prison.

Growing up in Turkey, the young designer fought to assert herself as a woman in a household where she was the only daughter and subject to double standards when it came to things like boyfriends. Perhaps unsurprisingly, her parents weren’t thrilled when she began immersing herself in subculture as a teenager, and fell in love with the work of John Galliano and the idea of studying at Saint Martins. “They weren’t super strict or relgious but they are traditional. I guess they never thought I would be a rebel. When I started getting tattoos… They thought I would be like a fuck-up,” she recalls. (Findikoglu’s models also had ink, albeit temporary – the designs were created for her by cult London artist Liam Sparkes). After stumbling across images of Galliano’s designs in a Turkish magazine and reading that he went to CSM, Findikoglu became hell-bent on convincing her parents to let her move to London to attend. She succeeded. And when, after years of study, her work didn’t get selected to appear in the graduate show, she simply staged a protest presentation outside at the same time.

“It’s about how women's bodies have been treated in different societies – what they were wearing and what they were doing, what the limitations on them were” – Dilara Findikoglu 

Findikoglu, it’s clear, is not the kind of person who expects that what she wants will just fall in her lap – she makes things happen. It’s thanks to a youth spent as something of an outsider, having to look beyond her surroundings for what inspired her – immersing herself in heavy metal and spending hours researching spirituality, parapsychology, aliens, other dimensions and other worlds. “I had to teach myself everything – find my own music taste, find my own way of dressing, find the best thing for myself,” she remembers. As a result, her fashion is deeply personal, an extension of herself – it’s there in everything from the music references to the colour red she uses, the same bold shade as her hair. “I don't just want to make pretty clothes,” the designer asserts. “It's not about that – this is my story, I come from this background, this is my world.” At a time when feminism has been co-opted into slogan t-shirts ironically stitched by women overseas and flogged for £6.99, Findikoglu’s collection was a refreshing reminder that the politics of female power can be transformed into clothes that are both beautiful and rebellious.