By  on September 8, 2010

ISTANBUL — Turkey’s campaign to expand its authority in the fashion world stepped up a gear with the country’s third and most ambitious fashion week. Organizers, who invited 1,000 buyers along with 500 foreign journalists, acknowledged that the project is at an early stage, with buyers mostly here to observe.

“It’s all to do with perception,” said Cem Kaprol, the event’s chairman. “The key buyers and journalists are just a bunch of people. When they come and watch your shows, see your designs, know you, and talk and write about you, then that perception starts to form. And after that, sales multiply.”

Istanbul Fashion Week offered 24 catwalk shows presenting works by the best-known Turkish designers, including Arzu Kaprol, Bahar Korçan and Bora Aksu, who is on the official list for London Fashion Week and has won the New Generation award four times in a row. An added attraction for buyers was a simultaneous trade fair showcasing 213 companies from 29 countries.

For buyers such as Ukraine’s Olga Podvoiskaya, whose company — like others from Russia, Tunisia and Azerbaijan — plans to buy from the Gizia collection, it’s the price-quality balance that distinguishes Turkey. “In this fashion week, we observe how much Turkey is developing,” she said.

The government has identified building brands as a key goal. Trade Minister Zafer Caglayan said Turkey aims to move “towards a kind of production which we call lightweight, heavy value.” Caglayan also pointed out that textiles and ready-to-wear clothes increased as a proportion of Turkey’s exports last year, even though the overall pie shrank about 23 percent because of the global crisis. In the first seven months of this year, clothing exports jumped 12.5 percent to $8.3 billion.

Organizer Kaprol asserted that Istanbul Fashion Week will help the government move toward that goal. “Branding means promising something to the customer, and the customer pays a difference for that promise,” he says. “The perception of Turkey changed a lot in Europe and the U.S. in the last five years. Europeans, especially, are very keen on the ideas coming out of Turkey.”

Kaprol said the move toward a multicentered global economic structure means buyers with money are no longer exclusively in the West. While 80 percent of ready-made exports still go to Europe, the absence of economic growth there coupled with entrance barriers mean “Europe is a long-term plan” for Turkey, he said.

Russian buyer Kineva Irina said she found Turkish designs “unusual, oriental and attractive,” though she considers the country’s ambition to become a regional hub ambitious. Turkish textiles are everywhere in Russia because they’re cheap, she said. Anis Lajnef from Tunisia said about 25 to 30 percent of clothes sold in that country, where “price is very important,” come from Turkey, and predicted that the dynamism on display in Istanbul will soon help the country’s designers find wider markets.

Paulo Borges, who organizes the São Paulo fashion festival in Brazil, told a panel discussion that Turkey must be patient. He said the fashion festival in Brazil was conceived as a 30-year project, of which half is now complete. “Target the domestic market first,” was one piece of advice that Borges said was drawn from the success of the industry in Brazil, where sales have boomed despite the global crisis.

Turkish designer Bahar Korçan agreed. “Designers and the industry have only recently started to speak the same language in Turkey,” she said. “Things will happen faster now. There will be orders. Buyers will come on their own without having to be invited.”

Bora Aksu also stressed that rather than fret over where Turkish fashion is now, it’s more important to look at how far it has come. He cited a new generation that’s deeply interested in design, leading to the establishment of more fashion schools and contests, more dynamism and the spread of fashion sense.

“The world does not need Turkish fashion,” he said. Even if most of the designers at the British fashion week aren’t British, “together they establish a design language which defines British fashion.”

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