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Koral Sagular Huis Clois Turkish macho designer
@koralsagular

The ‘Turkish Macho’ exploring BDSM, Baroque, and Jean-Paul Sartre

Designer Koral Sagular’s wildly flamboyant collections have seen him labelled the enfant-terrible of Istanbul’s burgeoning fashion scene

Inspired by 20th century Turkish Tango singers and the theatrics of Lucha Libre wrestling, designer Koral Sagular has spent the last four years fashioning his own fantasy world. The self-professed ‘Turkish macho with Baroque tastes’ creates elegant, sexually charged garments for a community of daring outcasts, clashing old romance with contemporary sexuality in the process – his gender-blurring, ornate corsets, devilish face masks, and wildly flamboyant silhouettes all undershot with a sizzling sense of homoeroticism.

Born and raised in Istanbul – a city widely known for its conservatism – Sagular gained a reputation for being something of an enfant terrible among his peers while studying at its Bilgi University. His graduate collection, Huis Clois, was named after the existentialist play by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, and paired BDSM-inspired jewellery with impeccable corsetry, while previous offerings have seen tradtional undergarments emblazoned with phrases like ‘I like your red cum face’, and ‘You are my antidepressant’.

On seeing it, his tutors were less than impressed. “If you tried to push boundaries with your style, things got annoying,” he laughs of their disapproval. When the new head of department, who had not yet been introduced, suggested he change the positioning of his garment to make them more modest, his response was simply: “Sorry, do I know you?” An unwillingness to compromise is clearly something that defines Sagular’s work.

Since then, drag superstars like Aquaria and Violet Chachki have made their love for his work known – labours of passion that have been cut, burnt, ripped, and painted on, or thrifted from second-hand bazaars and antique shops, before being covered in Ottoman embroidery and beading, as part of his transgressive, no hold's barred vision. And with a polaroid series for Gucci under his belt, you could say things are going pretty well for the young designer, who’s currently working on his second collection.

Here, we catch up with Sagular about studying in Istanbul, what inspires him, and his love for the authenticity and talent of Amy Winehouse.

What’s your earliest memory of fashion?

Koral Sagular: I remember that when I was three or fours years old, I would dress up in my mother’s fancy dresses and lose myself in her closet, which was full of vintage pieces from around the world. She would also give me her handbag of colourful lipsticks and make-up to keep me busy when she took me to the barbershop for a haircut, because I was afraid of the sound the hair clippers made!

How has your approach to fashion changed while studying at Istanbul’s Bilgi University?

Koral Sagular: Studying there wasn’t what I expected. I became my own teacher, practising techniques like leather work, beading, and embroidery in my spare time. It was through working and experimenting with these materials that I found my own aesthetic.

Can you describe your creative process? And what inspires you?

Koral Sagular: Concepts are the building blocks of a collection so my creative process always starts with researching ideas, which takes time. Afterwards, I start collecting materials from secondhand bazaars or antique shops and paint, cut, or burn them to fit my designs. There’s so many different elements that inspire me, from 1930s and 1940s Turkish Tango singers, to Lucha Libre and vintage entomological illustrations.

Your graduate collection, Huis Clois, is based on an existentialist play by Sartre, what drew you to that?

Koral Sagular: A year before the graduation show, I was reading a book by Umberto Eco called On Ugliness and a quote by Jean-Paul Sartre caught my attention, "Hell is other people!” By following this reading of hell, I decided to imagine an ‘artificial hell’ which is directly about human relations.

How did you interpret that in your collection?

Koral Sagular: I used lots of objects and motifs that symbolise the themes of nature and instinct – two things that have lost importance in modern society. The primary materials in the collection are insects and human portraits made of ceramics, including wild botanics, mythological creatures and a reproduction of Dante and Virgil in hell by William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

The most experimental look in the collection is a black suit, featuring a double-headed albino bird – a reference to the anomalies in nature. On my long-sleeved snakeskin printed jacket, there is a portrait of Amy Winehouse between imagers of tarantulas and scorpions, with the lyrics of a Turkish Tango song, “Mazi kalbimde bir yaradır”, which translates to, “The past left a pain in my heart”.

“On my long-sleeved snakeskin printed jacket, there is a portrait of Amy Winehouse between imagers of tarantulas and scorpions, with the lyrics of a Turkish Tango song, ‘Mazi kalbimde bir yaradır’, which translates to, ‘The past left a pain in my heart’” – Koral Sagular

Why did you choose Amy Winehouse?

Koral Sagular: I’m such a huge fan. Her poetic expression and sincerity moved me, not to mention her incredible voice. She never pretended to be anything else other than herself. She translated all the pain she experienced into music, so it’s authentic.  

You studied fashion in Istanbul but you also took part in a short course at CSM. How different was the experience at these two institutions?

Koral Sagular: It’s incomparable. At CSM, you’re free to create what you want without the pressure of censorship. Teachers give you direction without intervening on your aesthetic.

Two years ago, I was making a sketchbook for a module and included some nude paintings of Hans Memling in my collages, along with some homoerotic male drawings. After I presented the work to my lecturer, the head of the department called me on the phone to say I should change the subject of my work and start a new sketchbook.

How has growing up in Istanbul influenced your aesthetic? What do you like about it?

Koral Sagular: Turkish culture plays such an important role in my aesthetic, especially the more traditional parts of Istanbul where I can observe classic styles of dressing like the Turkish macho. Having the opportunity to see examples of Ottoman embroidery and beadings whenever I want is also handy because hand embroidery is such an important part of the creative process for me.

In your Instagram bio you describe yourself as a Turkish macho with Baroque tastes. Where did that idea come from?

Koral Sagular: I’ve never been a person to choose only one inspiration to follow. I love mixing ideas together and finding the hidden connections between them, like Baroque and Macho. I grew up in a Muslim country so there’s plenty of opportunity to see what traditional men wear in their daily lives like white socks, pointy-toed black patent leather shoes, tesbih and wet-looking hair. But I elaborate on this with Baroque-inspired details, with a homoerotic twist.

What’s next for you?

Koral Sagular: In my graduate collection I had the opportunity to work with two friends from Istanbul, Melek Ege Ozen, a painter and conceptual artist, and Naz Oztuma, a ceramic artist. There are so many people whose aesthetic I admire in Istanbul and I want to try to collaborate with as many people as possible.