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A 'Turkish spring' flutters its way into the fashion world

A 'Turkish spring' flutters its way into the fashion world

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Turkish fashion is coming into bloom -- and many see it is as part of the same movement that gave rise to the protests in Taksim Gezi park.

FLORENCE, ITALY -- The Pitti Uomo 84 men’s fashion conference in Florence in mid-June had, as expected, many European attendees. More surprising was the Asian showing: The 870 Japanese buyers were the second largest foreign contingent there, and China, South Korea and Southeast Asian countries all had increased attendance.

Given the East/West mixing, it was fitting that Turkey, which straddles Europe and Asia, was the guest nation with a special exhibition of work by seven designers. As protests in Taksim Gezi park propel the country into the international spotlight, many say that the youth who oppose the shopping mall that may replace the park are also driving a Turkish fashion renaissance.

A stretch? Consider that Turkey is a young country. Its average age is 29, compared to 37 in the United States, 40 in the United Kingdom and 44 in Italy. What's more, a number of up-and-coming designers have studied and lived abroad and have now returned to mix Turkish culture with new influences.

These factors have fostered a cultural “Turkish spring” over the last decade that touches not only fashion but also the visual arts and film. During that time, new art museums and fairs such as the Istanbul Modern and Contemporary Istanbul have opened, and up to eight times as many Turkish films were produced annually in recent years compared to the 1990s. Istanbul's own Fashion Week launched nine years ago. Turkey's youth are less about consuming and more about creating.

“Turkey has a new generation of designers that studied abroad for many years who are now mixing and harmonizing Western and Eastern cultures,” says Tahsin Ozerden, husband of designer Elif Cigizoglu, who could not attend Pitti because she was pregnant at that time. Cigizoglu studied in France and the United States and worked as a designer at Donna Karan in New York City. In 2007, she launched her own line in Istanbul, although she still has couture clients in New York.

In an email, Cigizoglu notes, “Turkey has been in the textile production since a long time, and Turkey is the leading producer in most of the quality textile products. It is preferred by many global brands as a textile production and distribution center.” She agreed with her husband that this tradition, plus fresh outside inspiration, is leading Turkish designers to a new vision.

Similarly, Zeynep Tosun, whose mother is a knitwear designer and whose grandmother is a tailor, studied abroad -- at the Istituto Marangoni in Milan -- and then worked with Italian designer Alberta Ferretti. Four years ago, she returned to Istanbul to launch her label. She now designs haute couture and pret-a-porter collections, has presented her work in London’s Fashion Scout showcase for the past three years, and sells in Milan, London and Istanbul.

Tosun has a decidedly millennial, Western outlook: “I always just do the dresses I want to wear, how I want to be,” she says. “Because I like oversized [clothing], most of the collection is unisex and I like to mix different concepts to make [the clothing] more strong, to make the woman more dominant.”

Sisters Deniz and Pinar Yegin, the founders of rumisu, which specializes in illustrated scarves, both lived and studied in the United States for six and 10 years, respectively. Their silk and cotton scarves give traditional Turkish and Ottoman design elements a modern, playful twist.

They began with the cotton voile scarf that Turkish women wore picking cotton or tilling soil. “We really ran with it and modernized it all the way and brought it to a format where you could wear it on the beach as a pareo,” Pinar Yegin says. “And we used some ancient techniques -- traditional scarves are edged with oya [Turkish lace], used to decorate the edge of headscarves to show your handicraft talent. But instead of floral motifs, we used Ottoman figures with humor, which is very unusual, because in Islam, you don’t ever use figures -- no animals, no people, no eyes.”

Deniz Yegin adds, “They’re funky and funny because in one corner of the scarf, there’s an Ottoman emperor, and on the other other edge is a harem woman with boobs, and the ladies that made them -- who also make traditional ones -- at first were shocked. Then, they were giggling.”

Photos in collage, clockwise from top left: Hatice Gokce collection (Courtesy of Hatice Gokce); photo of Niyazi Erdogan at Pitti Uomo (Sweet Seventeen); Necklace by Deniz Kaprol (Courtesy Deniz Kaprol); Emre Erdemoglu show (Courtesy of Emre Erdemoglu); Rumisu scarf (Courtesy of Rumisu)

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Laura Shin

Features Editor

Laura Shin has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, and is currently a contributor at Forbes. Previously, she worked at Newsweek, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and LearnVest. She holds degrees from Stanford University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure