There is just under a month until London Fashion Week, without a doubt the most hectic time in a UK-based designer’s calendar, so I am somewhat surprised Erdem Moralioglu has agreed to an interview. If he is in any way inconvenienced by our meeting at such an inappropriate time, he is doing well to keep it from me. “I mean we have the show in a few weeks, but I’m okay, don’t worry,” he laughs. “It’s just that horrible time of the year when things can getquite intense.”
A modest-looking man, all understated in a cool way, Erdem is widely recognised as an intricate craftsman, a man who makes dresses that women hold on to. There is a timelessness about his work, laced with a supreme sense of luxury and romance, and certain fascination with the human hand that resonates with women around the world. Unlike many of contemporaries, he has no time for trends, anymore than he has for fast fashion.
With a father from Eastern Turkey and a mother from Birmingham, Erdem (along with his twin sister Sara) was born in Montreal as part of a – as he puts it himself – “rather conservative family” just about as far away from fashion as one could be.
“I’m very much a product of my parents. When you have two people who come from two very differing parts of the world, you’re surrounded by a kind of eccentric contrast. You grow up with a sense of rootlessness. It’s a difficult thing to explain but I think that rootlessness is exactly what propelled me in my work.”
Certainly, he says, there was an expectation from his parents that he would do well. “They believed that whatever you do, you give 100 per cent. My father was a chemical engineer, so perhaps in their minds they had hoped for me to do something more ‘practical’ but they were always supportive of my decisions.”
After graduating from Ryerson University in Toronto, Erdem moved to London in 2000 to take up an internship with the Dame of British fashion, Vivienne Westwood, before gaining a sought-after place on the MA course in Fashion Design at the Royal College of Art.
“It was an extraordinary time in my life. I spent those two years figuring out who I was as a designer. It was an incredible time of cross-pollination and experimentation, a very happy time in my life.” And certainly one that was to have an extraordinary impact on him both as a person and as a designer.
Sadly, his father never got to fully witness the fruits of his labour, “He passed away when I was at Royal College just before everything began to propel for me.” Thankfully, his mother got to see his first collection under his own name (four years later) before she too passed away. “She knew I was on my way somewhere”.
In 2004, following his success at the Royal College (his final collection was selected to close the show – a huge honour from the famed graduate programme), he moved to New York, to work as a design assistant with Diane von Furstenburg.
In 2005, the designer set up his eponymous label, becoming the second recipient of the Fashion Fringe prize, (founded in 2003 to help emerging designers launch their label in London) which helped him with much-needed funding for expansion. It was to be the first of many breaks for the designer over the next five years, culminating in his being named the first recipient of the BFC Designer Fashion Fund award in 2010.
“It meant the world to me. I didn’t have a proper team or anything really, I was still pretty much on my own. To be acknowledged by the British Fashion Council was simply incredible.”
Passionate about the arts, his current line of enquiry revolves around the work of artists such as Anne Collier, “who is a wonderful photographer” and Candida Höfer among many others he talks passionately of. I tell him I find it interesting all are female. “It’s strange, I collect a lot of art and most works by females, not consciously I don’t think, it seems I am just drawn there. As a child I was fascinated by femininity, I have always found it interesting.”
Perhaps growing up with a twin sister – Sara, who makes TV documentaries – impacted his approach as a designer? “I think it definitely has, it would be impossible to avoid. We are very close and I often wonder if there’s something about her and my approach to how I view women that affects my work.”
What he is adamant about, is that any type of woman should be able to wear his pieces.
"I think it’s one thing to create a sample for the show and another thing to create something that’s beautiful and real. I think that’s the greatest pleasure for me as a designer.”
Despite his success, he still gets into the studio every day before anyone else, and remains very hands on. “I’m a perfectionist and I like things to be done exactly the way I want them.”
He talks of his team with genuine admiration and it is telling that his managing director, Jennifer Baca, has has been his right-hand woman from the outset. I ask how they would describe him if he wasn’t in the room? “Oh dear, probably that I am control freak. And probably a perfectionist and well, I don’t really want to think about what else,” he laughs.
For the full story, pick up the September issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia, on sale now.
Styling: Sally Matthews. Photography: Susanne Spiel. Shot on location at One&Only Royal Mirage, Dubai