Why Erdem stole the show at London fashion Week

There was no escaping Brexit at London Fashion Week – except at Erdem. The royal designer of choice created clothes to take our minds off the turmoil, writes Paul McLauchlan.

Why Erdem stole the show at London fashion Week

There was no escaping Brexit at London Fashion Week – except at Erdem. The royal designer of choice created clothes to take our minds off the turmoil, writes Paul McLauchlan.

Brexit is coming. Political turmoil is everywhere you look. Enter Erdem Moralioglu: one of today’s brightest fashion designers.

With one snap of his fingers, he orchestrates a fashion wizardry. He designs clothes to take your mind off things.

When Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle count you as one of their go-to labels for public appearances, you can say something worked.

The Canadian-born, London-based fashion designer is not only favoured by two of the most high-profile royals in the world, but copious others around the globe, not to mention the aristocracy and political figures who have been spotted in Moralioglu’s whimsical frocks.

With an air of feminine whimsy and dreamy mystique, Moraligolu’s dresses belong in the rarefied world where costume meets clothing.

Perhaps more than ever before, his escapist prerogative is perfect for right now. Troubled as they are, the fantasy of fashion is a salve to the times.

In an interview with The Business of Fashion in 2017, he said, “I guess I’ve always had a distorted view of what casual is.

"I think we live in a strange time and the idea of people wanting things that feel special is more important than ever.”

Far from casual, his work skewers historical references and feats of artistic expression - rich embellishment and delicate embroideries abound.

They might not read as capturing the quotidian but as tensions surrounding Brexit escalate and as the British Parliament suspends operations for five weeks, fanciful clothes act as an apolitical tool to take your mind off things.

Born in Montreal, Canada in 1976 to a British mother and Turkish father, Moralioglu studied fashion at Ryerson University in Toronto before moving to London to intern at Vivienne Westwood.

After his internship, he pursued a master’s degree at the Royal College of Art, securing a place in the prestigious graduate showcase.

When Moralioglu first broke onto the London Fashion Week scene in 2006, he emerged around the same time as Roksanda Illincic, Peter Pilotto, and Mary Katrantzou, designers who reshaped the way the international press perceived London.

Previously, London Fashion Week was the breeding ground for eccentric talents and outlandish displays.

When Moralioglu and his peers arrived so too did a chorus of cocktail dressing which would safeguard the meteoric rise of their career trajectory.

Of course, Moralioglu’s years of experience didn’t come without learning curves.

In 2005, the British fashion critic Sarah Mower wrote about Moralioglu’s spring/summer 2006 collection for Vogue.com, “If he stops fretting about historical narrative and gives in to his soft side… it’ll be easier to clarify what he has to offer”.

A model walks in Erdem's spring/summer 2020 fashion show at London Fashion Week.
A model walks in Erdem's spring/summer 2020 fashion show at London Fashion Week.

Fourteen years later, referring to his autumn/winter 2019 collection, Mower said, “Richness, gorgeousness, formality and a touch of darkness — it was an Erdem character-led fantasy at its best”.

The autumn/winter collection is beginning to roll out into stores. Inspired by Princess Orietta Pamphilj’s visits to London in the 1960s, Moralioglu was fascinated by the juxtaposition between the Swinging Sixties and Renaissance Italy, expressing himself with 60s volumes and gorgeous patterns.

Available in Brown Thomas for the coming season, Fashion Director, Shelly Corkery simplified the collection for the customer.

Take a diaphanous silk-blend blouse with a textured finish, enriched with subtle accents - ruffling on the shoulder and discreet keyhole detail at the back.

She covered the base of formal attire too, selecting a Prince of Wales cocktail dress with regal crystal-embellished button-down placket and gathered asymmetric shoulders. Forever pieces riffing on the runway’s best.

Corkery, who first started buying Erdem in 2012, said, “Erdem designs elegant, feminine dresses in sophisticated shapes and uses a bold, powerful mix of colour and print.

"He is very clever as he allows his collections to cross between femininity and contemporary dressing, allowing a very broad and diverse fashion customer to buy into the collection.

"Erdem is an incredible artist and I love how he develops his collection in an ideal world of the delicate mixed with the bold.

"His collections always have a strong feminine feel and his silhouettes drape away from the body, often in gorgeous trapeze shapes.”

Moralioglu once told Australian Vogue, “I never think about what’s sexy. I don’t agonise over whether her bum will look big in something. I focus on the silhouettes and the proportions and hope that takes care of everything.”

Kate Middleton wearing Erdem in 2014. Picture: Tim Roche
Kate Middleton wearing Erdem in 2014. Picture: Tim Roche

In an Erdem collection, you won’t find overt sexuality.

It might bubble under the surface but the appeal of an Erdem dress is rooted in a cross-generational understanding that femininity and sexiness aren’t mutually exclusive terms in fashion.

No wonder he’s quickly snapped up by duchesses and princesses from all four corners of the world.

Over the years, his reach stretched further than runways and royalty - he released a spate of successful collaborations with H&M on clothes, online retail Net-a-Porter with a capsule collection, and a range of make-up with Nars.

He boasts a close relationship with the National Portrait Gallery, one of the most prominent art institutions in London, who allow him to close the space for a day to showcase his seasonal collections at London Fashion Week.

Having emerged during and survived the economic crash in 2008, Moralioglu along with other British-based designers face the challenge of Brexit.

Based on export figures from 2018, sourced from the UK Fashion & Textiles Association, it is estimated that switching to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules would cost the fashion industry between £850 (€960m) and £900m (€1bn).

While the effect of this on independent businesses like his, this has yet to reveal itself and only time will tell how the story unfolds.

Despite the uncertainty, Erdem counts 170 wholesale accounts across the globe, and while there is plenty at stake but the designer showed no signs of slowing down and retails clamour to have him in their space.

Perhaps the growth was accelerated in 2010 when Moralioglu was the recipient of the inaugural British Fashion Council & Vogue Designer Fashion Fund.

The £200,000 (€225,940)windfall and yearlong mentorship contributed to the rapid growth of his business.

With the prize winnings, he opened a flagship Erdem store on Mayfair’s South Audley Street in 2016.

Designed by his partner and collaborator, the architect Philip Joseph, the space reflects the brand’s vision, evoking a Mayfair pied-a-terre.

At the time, he told Vogue, “it blurs the line between a shop and a living space”.

Similarly, his fashion blurs the lines between fantasy and reality. But Moralioglu designs more than pretty dresses. He welcomes you into his world and invites you to make it your own.

From Italian an principessa to women in desolate prairies (spring/summer 2016) or the fictional tale of Queen Elizabeth II swapping clothes with jazz singer Dorothy Dandridge, and with influences ranging from John Singer Sargent portraiture to Dame Laura Knight’s impressionism, one can indulge in escapism and render themselves as a regal, elevated version of themselves.

Escapism continued to define his vision for spring/summer 2020, the dawn of a new decade.

It unfurled at his biannual showcase at London Fashion Week last Monday.

The crisp morning air served as a backdrop to his outdoor show at Gray’s Inn Gardens.

Fourteen years since his debut standalone presentation, Moralioglu flexes his growth as a designer with his approach to fabrication and narrative.

A model walks down the catwalk during the Erdem Fashion show at Il Bottaccio SW1 as part of London Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2007. Picture: Gareth Cattermole
A model walks down the catwalk during the Erdem Fashion show at Il Bottaccio SW1 as part of London Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2007. Picture: Gareth Cattermole

One could argue that Moralioglu alluded to Brexit, talking about Tina Godotti, an Italian Communist activist and agent, whose life “suggests a restless search for meaning in a world of social turmoil and political chaos”.

Sounds familiar, eh?

Godotti assumed many roles in her life from active agent to political activist and photographer.

Skewering Old Hollywood, Victoriana, and militaristic utility, Moralioglu towed the line between femininity and fierceness.

With a smattering of billowing shapes — prairie dresses and ruffled gowns by way of subtle flamenco influences — and a lineup of fine tailoring, it came in bold shades of apricot, candy floss, lime, and muted tones of navy and black.

Flat top, wide-brimmed hats and brooch accented scarves complemented looks.

Moralioglu said, “her story is not about fashion, but about the power of dressing as a form of self-expression to communicate something far deeper.

"She dressed to become who she felt she was meant to be”.

Come spring/summer 2020, you can too.

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