The fifth Istanbul Fashion Week closed yesterday, and while the front row might not draw the same luminaries as Paris, Milan or New York, it has one thing that the other international fashion weeks currently lack: the backing of a robust economy.
There was a palpable sense that IFW had reached its stride this season, no longer trying to play catch up with the big four, choosing instead to go its own way and develop a formidable regional presence. “We’ve stopped attempting to imitate what goes on in London or Paris,” says designer Bahar Korcan, president of Turkey’s Fashion Designers Association and founder of IFW. “Fashion isn’t decided in four cities anymore – the world is changing and there’s a lot of interest in the East. We’re a bridge between worlds.”
The global recession may have brought Turkey’s European neighbours to their knees, but it’s had the opposite effect here, and the country’s manufacturing sector is booming. Turkey is the second biggest textile producer in the world, with clothing exports of €8bn in 2010, and designers are finally turning this to their advantage. “We’ve always excelled at understanding the manufacturing process but design has been slow to catch up,” says Korcan. “This is changing now, and we’ve a really exciting community of young designers who also understand material processes.”
Turkish fashion labels tend to be far more integrated than their European or American counterparts, running their own factories as well as design studios. Multiband store Beymen expanded its in-house production of fabric by 40 per cent last year to 14 million metres, whilst design store Armaggan cultivates a famously close relationship with their artisans and workshops across the country.
The government has been somewhat slow to recognise IFW’s potential, but with the recent success and expansion (it will double in size next season) the signs are good for future funding. With a budget of 2m liras (€818,000), the event is still run on a shoestring compared to other international fashion weeks. “We have to be very strategic with our spending” says Korcan “but luckily, this is a Turkish strength.” The city is well placed to reap future financial benefits however, with Turkey providing an attractive cultural and commercial package for the oil rich Gulf States – a key part of the IFW’s future strategy.
Commercial to the core, IFW is stepping up to the challenge of articulating Turkey’s manufacturing might into a globally marketable industry. “We’re aiming to join the Istanbul Art Biennale as an event of real international significance within the next three years,” says Kerem Yilmaz, the recently appointed head designer of Tween, one of the relatively few Turkish labels to have found international success. By combining the thrust of an Asian economy with more accessible design sensibilities, this doesn’t seem as outlandish a claim as it may have been a couple of years ago.