JOURNALISM

Prestige | Runway | ERDEM MORALIOGLU | Autumn/Winter 2013

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GARDEN OF ERDEM

Designer ERDEM MORALIOGLU’s printed fahrics and appliquéd dresses grace the wardrobe of some of the world ’s most elegant women, from Michelle Obama to Keira Knightley. ALISON CATCHPOLE meets the designer at his London studio.


IT SEEMS SURPRISING but somehow appropriate to be in a cinema in East London taking a lift up to the studio of the highly successful Erdem Moralioglu. It’s exciting to meet a designer whose prints and precision cuts defined a new flower power and featured in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Ballgowns exhibition.

 

Moralioglu is lean from running and swimming, and oversized glasses emphasise his warm, intelligent appearance. His small office to one side of the studio space is library-like, with books — mainly about art — lining the walls. Trophies representing his prolific success are neatly arranged in front of the volumes. They sit comfortably next to an array of old pictures — a postcard of Charles and Diana celebrating their engagement; black-and-white school photographs. The desk is an orderly creation zone with embossed leather Smythson sketchbooks and pots for pens and scissors.

 

“I’m constantly looking at imagery, like food — that’s why I obsessively collect books,” the 36-year-old designer tells me in his soft Canadian accent. “This is where I think and read and draw. By the time a collection’s finished, I’ll have 500 sketches of outfits and ideas or thoughts. It becomes kind of quite mathematical, like you’re resolving something.

 

“When you’re creating it’s almost a Darwinian process, and then the strongest ideas survive and that’s what makes up the collection, I always think. Certainly, illustration is always the way I begin and then from there I’m working on the stand, working with pattern cutters upstairs. I always start by sketching and drawing. But I always keep my eyes and ears open.”

 

Moralioglu’s observational skills were honed in the childhood he shared with his twin sister Sara in Pointe-Claire, a suburb of Montreal, where his father worked as a chemical engineer. “My sister and I were the only Canadians in our family. My mother was English and my father was Turkish. There was a big, beautiful lake at the end of our street, so it was a great place to be brought up.”

 

Access to French television channels and programmes such as Tim Blanks’ Fashion File fuelled his early interest in clothing.

 

“When I was a child I was always obsessed. I remember my parents taking me to The Nutcracker and I made paper dolls of the cast. I sewed a dress for my sister’s Barbie, all those typical things that you hear fashion designers say. So I just lived and was obsessed by fashion from a very, very young age. I ate it. I took in Saint Laurent, those red lips. I watched Galliano’s first collections, it was all black jersey; Bjork walking the Eskimo collection for Gaultier, all these things, early ’90s, late ’80s even. It was just something that I immediately felt: this is what I want to do.”

 

After a liberal arts degree at Toronto’s Ryerson University, he did an internship in the London archives of Vivienne Westwood.

 

“It was kind of a big shock for everyone when I decided to go to fashion school. I think everyone expected me to go into law or something like that, or some more academic subject maybe. I really decided that if I were going for a career in fashion I would have to study in London. I started reading about the Royal College of Art and I found out about David Hockney and Ossie Clarke, so I applied. Looking back I must have had guts to apply to just one school, but I got in.”

 

After his graduation in 2003 and a short time working for Diane von Furstenberg in New York, Moralioglu won the 2005 Fashion Fringe competition, which meant sponsorship and collaboration from brands such as rainwear manufacturer Mackintosh, crystal house Swarovski and French lace couture supplier Sophie Hallette. In 2010 he was awarded the first V0gue/ British Fashion Council Fashion Fund, enabling him to triple his work force overnight from five people to 15. These days, he’s planning an online shop — a whole new direction for the company — and is busy decorating his new home just walking distance from work in the East End, London’s buzzing creative hub.

 

Moralioglu is warm and enthusiastic, and his love of London is infectious. “I’m constantly looking for visual food and it can come in so many different formats,” he tells me. “That’s one of the great things about living in London. You can go to the Tate Modern and visit William Klein, or take in the new Matthew Bourne at Sadler’s Wells, or go to the Victoria and Albert Museum and see the Hollywood Costume exhibition. It’s endless, there’s too much to see, and it’s so exciting, I love it. I go to Sadler’s Wells a lot; I’m a young patron there, I’m so happy to give to them and I love the talent on display, like the work of Pina Bausch and Sylvie Guillem.”

 

Little surprise, then, that his very favourite outfit is a three-piece bespoke tuxedo from local tailor Mr Start. “I feel really nice wearing it. With that I have lovely little Lanvin patent shoes that I wear, and a bow tie. Can’t go wrong in a tux.”

 

Yet social-network technology is also a key inspiration. “I think things like Tumblr and Instagram have changed our relationship to imagery, in the way that you can have the most random thought, type it in and find something interesting. Any of that can be a catalyst for my work; it can be the corner of a photo or a woman walking down a street that tripped — anything. So I’m never focused on one thing. It may well come from a film I see on YouTube.”

 

There is, too, a narrative to his London Fashion Week shows. Spring/summer 2013 was particularly dramatic, staged in a specially constructed geodesic dome. The show had a remarkable source. Moralioglu had looked at one of the most interesting yet neglected female fantasy writers of the mid-20th century “I was really inspired by this author I’ve discovered named Zenna Henderson. She was one of the first science- fiction writers, kind of feminist, in the 1940s and ’50s. She was from Tucson, Arizona, in the middle of nowhere: a schoolteacher by day and a secret sci-fi writer by night. She wrote a lot about cloning and groups of women coming to Earth and taking over. So I imagined this army of women. I was exploring things I hadn’t really explored before that I found really interesting, like snakeskin.

 

“I’d done a lot of research at the Victoria and Albert Museum into their textiles and found all these wonderful old wallpapers. I liked mixing this ’50s, very familiar motif in with python, real python, and this idea of toxic pastels — these pastels become so saturated that they almost become neon — and then re-embroidering plastic into a beautiful lace. I was so inspired by the idea, this story I’d made up in my head.”

 

Another new departure from the signature vivid floral prints already favoured by style icons such as Emma Watson, Anne Hathaway and Kate Middleton is a stunning autumn/winter collection, unveiled at a fashionable London art gallery. Unusually for Moralioglu, the show featured mainly black, but it was his own kind of black: lace, organza, and even the wetsuit fabric neoprene, much better known to divers than fashionistas. Once again there was real narrative in his head here. Theme music from Alfred Hitchcock thrillers and shoes from fashionable cobbler Nicholas Kirkwood made the collection not only romantic but also very sophisticated and edgy.

 

The Erdem label is no stranger to Hong Kong. “I love Hong Kong," he says as I follow him past the studio floor. “I thought it was amazing. I love the colours, the food. And I love Lane Crawford. We work with them and they’re wonderful.”

 

I quiz him about the range of his clients. Typically, Moralioglu remains modest, and charming with it. “I think it’s wonderful to be in a position where you’re able to dress lots of different, extraordinary women — young, old, and everything in between. It’s the ultimate compliment to see someone who has so many choices put their trust in you: to allow you to do that. It’s one of the many joys of my job. To make them look great, I love that.” 

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