Erdem’s romantic heroines often look like they’ve stepped straight out of the pages of a 19th-century novel in their pretty toile de Jouy flowers and puff-sleeved empire-waist dresses. It’s a singular look that the London-based designer has crafted over the better part of two decades by immersing himself in art exhibitions and fashion archives, including the world’s largest fashion collection at the British museum. decorative arts and design, the V&A. And it’s one that couldn’t be further from Gen Z’s predilection for bra tops and hip cutouts that over the past season have permeated so many other runways. But from the mononymous creator’s perspective, that doesn’t mean he’s stuck in the past. On the contrary, it is only by looking back that we can hope to make sense of the present.
Erdem’s Spring 2023 collection, on display in London today among the British Museum’s Greek Revival columns, of course comes at a momentous moment in British history. London Fashion Week coincides with the laying of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey, which is expected to draw up to a million people to the British capital, including hundreds of members of the royal family, from heads of state and heads of government. – to pay tribute to the late monarch ahead of her funeral tomorrow. All Monday shows and presentations have been canceled and some brands, such as Burberry, have chosen to reschedule until later in the month. But Erdem and most of his compatriots, including JW Anderson, Simone Rocha, Christopher Kane, Harris Reed, Chopova Lowena and Nensi Dojaka, believe the show should go on this weekend as a tribute to the monarch who has long championed the industry. of British fashion and honored rising talent with the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design.
The Queen’s life and times have often been a point of reference for Erdem; its Resort 2023 collection is inspired by the arrangements of its longtime florist Constance Spry for her coronation in 1953. “It is an extremely sad time in London – Her Majesty The Queen has been an inspiration and I greatly admire his sense of duty and service,” says Erdem. “The best way for the industry to support British designers is to attend the shows, photograph the collections and buy the collections. It’s a tough time, but it’s also brought a real sense of solidarity to London . »
Dedicating the collection to the Queen’s memory, Erdem began his show notes with an epigraph “Grief is the price we pay for love” – the Queen’s famous words of condolence in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. . It looked further back in history to find its reference points this season, sending out a range of black-faille corset dresses with remnants of 18th-century embroidery and burst etched Old Masters prints. Many looks featured a trailing black ribbon, black netting veils or jagged detailing referencing a historical mourning dress, while the closing look – a corset dress in optic white with a full skirt and elongated train and a skirt covered in black couture netting and flower-embroidered tulle – looked like a photo negative of the Queen’s coronation robe.
More broadly, Erdem has drawn inspiration this season from the artwork restoration process, including seeing an 18th-century embroidered dress come to life with intricate tulle under the structure and a damaged 15th-century oil painting brought back to life based on a 17th century painting. engraving. “My studio team and I spent a lot of time behind the scenes with curators and restoration teams from the British Museum, National Gallery, Tate Britain and the V&A,” he recalls. “I was thinking about the forensic passion it takes to dedicate your life to bringing a work of art back to life, how some restorers can work on a work for up to twenty years. It’s about obsession and dedication, about how the lines between dining and living can become blurred.
These last words—obsession and dedication— sounds a bit like Erdem’s own creative process, which is intellectual, painstakingly researched, accretive, and always in search of greater understanding. The Montreal designer, whose parents are British and Turkish, championed diversity and inclusion long before they were industry buzzwords. He was the first designer to collaborate with stylist Ib Kamara, even before Virgil Abloh, and now works with Gabriella Karefa-Johnson.
Erdem creates silhouettes – long in skirt and sleeve and high in neck – that appeal to a modest fashion client in the Middle East, without this being their exclusive intention. Fans include Nicole Kidman, Michelle Dockery, Alexa Chung and Catherine, Princess of Wales, and many women around the world who don’t want to give it all away. “Fashion should always be inclusive,” says Erdem. “Why create something that only certain body types can wear? When something is well designed, it should work for everyone. Last year Erdem made the decision to stock their full collection in sizes ranging from UK 6 to UK 22.
“At the end of the day, fashion has always been a mirror of what’s going on in the world,” Erdem says. Never was that clearer than in her Fall 2022 collection celebrating pioneering artists from Weimar, which premiered in London on February 21, three days before Russia invaded Ukraine. In a fashion season where Instagram feeds would become a surreal juxtaposition of women and children fleeing rockets launched at Kyiv and fashion as usual in other European capitals, Erdem’s show was the first – and one of the few – to seriously confront the existential threat of authoritarianism. Forgoing its signature florals, Erdem showed an almost entirely monochromatic range with Sally Bowles-style bustiers over midi dresses and a lace dress, paired with elbow-length black studded gloves and a sequined boa.
“I saw an incredibly powerful exhibit at the Barbican called In the night in 2019 that documented cabaret culture and the groundbreaking art that emerged from the shadows of impending war,” Erdem says of his inspiration for Fall 2022. “There were so many parallels between the current situation and the past. Ultimately, I found it fascinating that in the face of oppression, extraordinary female artists like Jeanne Mammen, Madame d’Ora, Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler, Anita Berber and Valeska Gert became pioneers in their particular vein of avant-garde expressionism. It was their form of protest.
How does Erdem find his starting point each season, I wonder? “I think it’s important to keep evolving, as a brand and as a person,” Erdem replies. “My creative process is always to start with research, build the narrative and the collection starts there. Sometimes it takes you to unexpected places. Unexpected, but not unknown. “In terms of themes ranging from my latest catwalk collection to this one, they’re chapters in the same books, so they will inevitably be linked to each other,” Erdem adds.