The atmosphere backstage is frenetic. In one corner of the vast ballroom serving as a temporary changing area, a make-up studio has been set up; designers scamper past clutching strips of brightly coloured fabric, their mouths overflowing with dress pins; stylists blow-dry and models primp. The hazy aroma of warm hair fills the air.
Ankara’s 23rd Annual Fashion Week in Turkey’s capital is a collaborative effort between art director and choreographer Yasin Soy and the Ankara Clothing Industry Association (AGSD). It was originally scheduled to run over the course of three days but, in a last minute change of plan, and for a reason nobody really seems able to fathom, the program has been condensed into just two shows, seven hours apart.
No one is asking for passes, there are no security checks, there is certainly no issue with names being on lists: New York this ain’t. Yet, despite a rather improvisational approach to the whole affair, there is a sense of anticipation and optimism among those prepping behind the scenes, both in relation to today’s event, but also in regards to the future of the wider industry in Turkey.
Istanbul has become synonymous with Turkey when it comes to all things fashion. When one talks about fashion and Turkey, it is likely the subject matter originates in the 2012 capital of culture. But even in Ankara, where the output has traditionally been more ready-to-wear, tastes overall are becoming ‘more sophisticated,’ says Sim Sorian, a designer who has been in the business for 17 years and who today has produced the collection for Secil, the Ankara-based clothing brand. During his career, Sorian explains that he has often been frustrated by not having the same opportunities he would have perhaps had were he working in a different in a place and time, and has sometimes felt constricted. ‘I have not been able to express my soul. In the past, people in this country have not appreciated fashion as art. This has made it difficult to get sponsors for more experimental work, however, things are getting a lot better for up and coming creatives.’
Things are changing very quickly agrees Soy, who has been running the Ankara show every year since it began. ‘Turkey is really changing rapidly in terms of fashion,’ he says. ‘The rest of the Middle East is not really playing a significant role in shaping the evolution of Turkey’s fashion scene, but women are increasingly dressing in a European style and all the biggest global brands have a base here,’ he says, with the implication being that the improvements are occurring as a result of the country’s integration with the western market. ‘A new generation of designers are coming through and they are blossoming, some of which are now making their international debut.’
As Turkey increasingly turns to Europe and the United States for high-end, the trend is also moving toward a more Western look in the models hired for jobs. Stylist Yasemin Gurun has witnessed a gradual transformation in the girls she has been working with over the past decade and a half, claiming ‘as we have gotten closer and closer to Europe, there has been a shift away from shorter and more curvaceous figures toward taller and slimmer models.’ External influences as to what is considered desirable here have been reflected in an increase in the number of models coming from abroad to work, she adds.
Indeed, the models on set comprise various nationalities, including German, Spanish and Bulgarian. Although they don’t share a common language, the girls appear to be getting on well. Miming the words to Moves Like Jagger playing on repeat over the loud speakers during the rehearsals as they warm up for the main event, they pass through the steps of the various routines, high-fiving each other and laughing. Thanks to the rescheduling, most of models had fittings until 2am and have been on call since dawn. Unsurprisingly, they are tired, and there have been issues with clothes not being the right size and shoes not matching. Nevertheless, it is hard to feel too sorry for people who remain so unfeasibly glamourous in the face of such adversity.
Apart from a few organisational issues, the consensus between the foreign models is that working in Turkey is much like working anywhere else. Kristin Schoening, an 18-year-old German model who has been in Turkey for six weeks says: ‘my family was surprised when I said I was coming to work here. I think they thought that it would be hard to do what I doing in a country they considered to be more conservative, but these types of people don’t exist in the fashion world.’
While not the subtlest turn of phrase, this is perhaps rather a succinct summation of an observer coming from outside of the Middle East. To somebody who has been educated with stereotypes regarding Turkey, there is something beautifully contradictory with the image of Sinem Murat as, wearing a headscarf, she places the final touches to an elaborately revealing outfit on one of the models. Murat is one of ten young designers working with the concept of rare species, each creating a manifestation of an animal nearing extinction; the garment was inspired by a species of endangered fish, she says. Using materials and shapes inspired by rare creatures, the clothing range aims to draw awareness to the ecological effects of global warming.
The challenge for Turkey now will be keeping both eyes on the runway to creative greatness, nurturing new designers and, importantly, keeping them; investing in its own development so as not to be consumed by the concepts coming from a PRADA daubed elsewhere.
Photographer: Aydan Cinar