ISTANBUL — This city, which has for centuries inspired poets and writers with its sense of aesthetics, energy and color, is capitalizing on that heritage to draw global fashion trendsetters for the fifth annual Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Istanbul.
Launched in 2009 as Istanbul Fashion Week, the organization joined forces with IMG Dogus, a joint venture in promoting cultural and sports projects, and Mercedes-Benz in March 2013 for shows twice a year, snagging a prestigious slot after Paris Fashion Week.
“Compared primarily with New York, Berlin, Madrid and Zurich fashion shows, where Mercedes-Benz has been the title sponsor of fashion weeks, Istanbul has its unique qualities,” said Banu Bölen, director of IMG Dogus Fashion. “Istanbul reflects energy not only in terms of its cultural and historical riches, but also its young and creative population, drawing professionals of culture, arts and design.”
This year’s MBFWI will run five days, from March 16 to 21, during which more than 40 prominent Turkish designers including Özgür Masur, Zeynep Tosun, Mehtap Elaidi and Niyazi Erdogan will share the spotlight to showcase their latest collections.
Designers will be based at Karaköy Antrepo 7, a converted tobacco warehouse at the city’s historic waterfront, to display their fall collections as well as current in-house designs as part of “In Season,” an exclusive one-day show on March 21, presenting wares in pop-up shop format.
The venue was not a random choice, organizers say.
“Karaköy is a historical neighborhood in Istanbul that is interlaced with culture and arts, matching beautifully with the unique identity of the city,” Bölen said, noting the venue “embodies the striking synthesis of new and old Istanbul against the backdrop of fashion and the arts.”
For Mercedes-Benz, its title sponsorship of the event was an organic merge between two creative- and aesthetics-driven sectors.
“Mercedes-Benz values its association with elegance, style, innovation and perfection throughout the world,” said Sükrü Bekdikhan, Mercedes-Benz Turkey’s head of marketing and sales, underlining efforts to place Turkey among the world’s fashion capitals, despite the nation’s limited history in the business.
“For the first time, Mercedes-Benz Turkey joined the international exchange program and, thanks to our global network, Gul Agis, the founder of Lug Von Siga and a successful designer, showcased her fall collection in Madrid this year in February,” Bekdikhan said, calling the project a major step toward globalization of the Turkish fashion industry. “We surely aim to continue this program that we believe is highly important for Turkish fashion with other Turkish designers that we support.”
Agis was first noticed by representatives of IMG during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Istanbul last year and was invited to a special fashion event in Zurich to showcase her summer 2015 collection.
“It was the first in a string of events that offered me further international exposure,” said Agis, whose brand name is the reverse of her first and last names. “After that show in Zurich, Mercedes-Benz, for the first time, invited me, a Turkish designer, to showcase my fall collection as a guest in MBFW Madrid.”
Her three appearances at London Fashion Week and high international sales capacity compared with other Turkish designers might have been influential in Mercedes-Benz’s choice, the young designer said.
“Being introduced to markets like Zurich and Madrid is a great experience that teaches us a lot, and helps us raise international awareness of Turkish design,” Agis added.
While many emerging designers in Turkey lament limited resources to make appearances in international markets, Agis appreciated the support that helped her business improve in the last two years.
“Positive branding of Turkish design, and my fashion line in particular, creates more demand in markets where you get to be seen and heard more,” the designer said, from the sidelines of Tranoï in Paris, a trade show of more than 1,000 international brands. “Here, in Paris, we’ve been approached by so many buyers, including Italians who are known for their pickiness when it comes to quality. That shows we’re heading in the right direction.”
Lug Von Siga is available in 15 locations worldwide, which Agis aims to increase to 50 next year as she embarks on an aggressive campaign to explore markets in the U.S., Middle East and Europe.
This year, Mercedes-Benz Turkey is promoting Gülçin Çengel, another emerging Turkish designer, and will host David Catalán, a Spanish designer as a guest at the “Mercedes-Benz Presents” show in Istanbul on the return leg of the exchange project.
Mercedes-Benz Turkey, satisfied with the outcome of this new program, might be cooperating with other Fashion Week locations to promote Turkish designers and raise awareness of Turkish design, organizers said.
Organizers consider MBFWI a blend of runway and business, introducing financial players and retailers to the creative participants in a comprehensive strategy to communicate Turkey’s fashion mission.
“Core Showroom,” for example, will be open for the last two days of the MBFW Istanbul offering a joint venue for Turkish designers to introduce their collections to international buyers.
IMG Dogus expects greater turnout this year from fashion retailers and buyers from countries such as the U.S., Azerbaijan, Germany, Bulgaria, the U.K., Israel, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Poland, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.
ITKIB, an umbrella organization for Turkish textile exporters, offers special travel and accommodation packages to entice foreign buyers to attend the MBFW Istanbul and discover Turkish designers.