Last weekend on the banks of the Bosphorus, Istanbul played host to a series of catwalk shows by some of fashion’s biggest names - Cavalli, Westwood, Ferre, Ferragamo and Missoni. The event - which went by the somewhat clunky title of Fashionable Istanbul - was organised with the intention of putting the city on the international fashion map.
There are two ways seemingly to ’create’ a fashion week. The first is to work with the grass root scene (students and small, local labels) and any heritage companies of the same nationality in the hope that as it develops year on year the more interesting it becomes. This relies quite heavily on the city having cool credentials in the first place and a vibrant, young creative scene. Like Berlin.
The second is to transplant elements of existing fashion weeks - designers, models, journalists - and this was Fashionable Istanbul’s tack. Although the city has a thriving luxury retail scene and a considerable wealth of student talent, not to mention one of the world’s finest textile traditions, big (foreign) names and models on the catwalks were what mattered more first time round here. It might sound a bit phoney, short-term and a narrow-minded approach by comparison with option one, but it was a tactic that worked very well.
For the international fashion crowd this had more to do with the setting than the shows themselves. The collections shown were all A/W 09 (except Missoni, who showed S/S 10), seen earlier in the year - but it was the first time anyone had been on a catwalk, floating on the Bosphorus, in the shade of the Dolmabahce mosque. The spectacular views made everyone a bit giddy and quickly it mattered neither here nor there that the collections weren’t ’new’ and this wasn’t the first time they were being seen.
For the Turkish crowd, enthusiasm was high for the fact that five of fashion’s biggest names had flown specially to inaugurate the gala and didn’t just make it a flying trip but stayed, partied, boat-tripped and generally enthused about what an enchanting city Istanbul is and what a slick event Fashionable Istanbul was proving to be.
Proof that it wasn’t purely a flash in the fashion pan though came in the form of a student catwalk show from two of Istanbul’s three fashion schools. Of the forty-odd students who showed, a winner will be selected by a panel and offered an internship at one of the fashion brands who showed (further details are yet to be announced).
The organisers Hakan Baykam and Maia Guarnaccia of Baykam and RBM were very honest about their intention and approach. "We get a little fed-up with people always talking about Istanbul as ’the bridge’ between east and western culture. We want to make this a destination in itself, not just a gateway." Quizzed on why they’d chosen to ’transplant’ rather than ’grow’ their fashion week, they explained, "models, designers and journalists create this fashion world."
"Turkey is a bit like Italy was in the 1960s - we have a very strong textile industry but weak branding and marketing. ’Made in Turkey’ has no association with luxury." Building the city as a destination for fashion and opening people up bit by bit to what we have here - students, young designers, textiles, a retail scene - is how we can start opening the country up, getting people to take interest and building a dialogue."
Year one was indeed a good start in getting people excited about Istanbul. Year two will need to present more in the way of Turkish names and brands though for ’Fashionable Istanbul’ to develop. If the event is the same as last year it runs the risk of being seen as just an extravagant venue for international designers, which would be a shame, given the Turkish heritage, industry and talent, established(albeit abroad) and new, that clearly do exist.
Read our interview with Roberto Cavalli