On the Verge
By OSMAN AHMED
In just over a year, Dilara Findikoglu has established herself as one of London’s most rebellious designers. While studying at Central Saint Martins, the Istanbul-born metalhead organized a guerrilla fashion show for the students who failed to make the shortlist for the press show. (She staged it, intentionally, at the exit of the official one.)
The collection featured violently slashed, heavily embroidered red-black-and-white garments, which have become her signature. This led to a capsule collection that caught the attention of the buyers at Selfridges. Most designers would take that as a cue to make an immediate splash at London Fashion Week and apply for support from the British Fashion Council. But Findikoglu saw it as an opportunity to release a capsule collection of standout pieces by way of a look book she produced herself, and to quickly get to work on a new collection. It will be shown this Sunday — but, in keeping with her anti-establishment ethos, it isn’t part of the official London Fashion Week schedule.
Findikoglu’s aesthetic is unmistakable: she combines ’70s tailoring with embroidered motifs borrowed from rock ‘n’ roll iconography, religious symbols, tattoo mythology and the femme fetish art of the midcentury illustrator John Willie. “It started with the idea of girl rock stars with male groupies,” she explains in her studio in Hackney, East London. “I love metal and glam rock but when you look at how all those straight male stars treated women, it’s disgusting. I wanted my girls to be the bosses and the boys to be in the band T-shirts.” Much like the illustrated motifs on her clothes, Findikoglu is covered in tattoos. There’s a detail from an Ottoman tile on her wrist, a crown on her forearm, song lyrics trailing around her hand and several more inked all over her body.
It’s a far cry from her conservative Islamic upbringing. The daughter of a businessman father and a traditional mother, Findikoglu grew up watching once-secular Turkey veer toward religious ideology. She sees her work as an evolving criticism of her country’s government. “It has really affected me,” she says. “Religion is something personal — it shouldn’t be used to create wars or exclude people that don’t fit into it. The political situation has gotten so bad and it’s getting worse.” She subverts traditional national symbols: A Turkish carpet has been remastered as an overcoat with silver leather sleeves and embroidered badges, sitting alongside rock band T-shirts that have been repaneled into form-fitting styles with conical busts.
Findikoglu is adamant that her collection is a response to wider social and political issues. “I’m looking at how women’s bodies are represented in different eras and different cultures around the world,” she says. “Everything from Brazilian girl gangs to Elizabethan and Shakespearean costumes.” For spring/summer 2017, she is taking an aesthetic U-turn: A glimpse at her mood board indicates that it will be a rose-hued collection, with lace and frills. “It’s going to be a lot more girlie, but also sexy and very much about showing and celebrating skin rather than covering it,” she says, before adding that the venue will be a SoHo strip club. “That’s where you see the most of women’s bodies, so I’m going to show them a real take on women’s bodies.” But die-hard fans of Dilara red won’t be disappointed; the designer says that there will always be one look in her signature hue. “Red is such a powerful, flashy color — I love it,” she says. “Think of a Ferrari or Christian Louboutin shoes — it’s vulgar and fearless.”
Findikoglu is adamant that she wants her business to remain financially independent — a virtue she picked up from her father and came to value following her rejection from the show committee at Central Saint Martins and her subsequent success despite it. “I grew up being independent, and that’s what is most important to me,” she says, adding that she doesn’t see herself as a “proper” designer. Instead, she looks up to Vivienne Westwood and her rule-breaking sensibility. Already, Rihanna has worn one of her designs: a monochromatic checkerboard fox fur coat from this year’s fall collection. “I don’t want to be a part of a group or be told that I have to go a certain way,” Findikoglu says. “People have told me to do an M.A., apply for certain things and to go in certain directions. To be honest, I just want to make clothes and sell them!”