Turkish Vogue was a long time coming. For years, the rumors swirled about which publishing house or which hot-shot entrepreneur was going to bring the international fashion bible to the country. But each time, the story was shot down.
“It became a kind of urban legend over the years. Numerous people were linked with deals,” laughs Seda Domanic, the editor of Turkish Vogue, which finally launched in 2010. “But the country’s fashion scene needed to get to a certain level of maturity. Vogue isn’t everywhere. The market needs to be right. We needed to be able to feed the editorial side — there needed to be a fashion world that would support it.”
It seems to have been worth the wait. In the four years since it launched, Vogue Turkey has become a success in a country that is waking up to the temptations of international style, but whose magazine and television tastes tend more toward the bawdy celebrity world than high fashion.
The first issue in March 2010 sold out in two to three hours, and queues had formed outside newsstands even before Vogue went on sale. The first 100 printed had gold numbers, giving them added desirability. The advertising was strong — half of the launch issue’s glossy pages were ads from top luxury brands keen to further their cause in the growing luxury market.
The Vogue Turkey launch ad, created with Hussein Chalayan — who is part Turkish Cypriot — went viral and became a big talking point. In the ad, Chalayan made a series of statements prefaced with the phrase “I believe Vogue is…” in Turkish, but with Vogue pronounced with an English accent rather than the Turkish way. It became a catchphrase across the country, from university campuses to offices. People still ironically complete the sentence “I believe Vogue is…” with quotidian qualities.
On its fourth birthday, the magazine was still going strong, gaining readership and increasing in profile.
Domanic recalled the reaction to Vogue’s Fashion Night Out in Istanbul: “It’s a very different concept so we were very surprised at just how much Vogue could affect the street here. We had 650,000 people at our first fashion night out. I could not have imagined that we could get so many people out onto the streets…At our latest Fashion Night Out we had 1.2 million people in three locations. Nobody expected this.”
So what is it that made Turkey so ripe for Vogue, and Turkish Vogue so attractive to the country’s fashion conscious?
Domanic believes the magazine’s commitment to hard core fashion and its attention to the local market has been instrumental. This approach has led to some Turkish readers calling the magazine “cold” compared to other “fun” magazines on the market and Vogue is not always the top-selling magazine in Turkey — although unreliable data makes it difficult to confirm that. Domanic said the title sells between 25,000 and 30,000 copies a month and vies with Elle, which has been established in the country for much longer.
But Vogue has won a growing army of loyal fans fed up with celebrity gossip. “People find that Vogue is consistent in its approach…There is a mass market magazine culture here and we could boost sales by embracing this, but it didn’t suit us to do so,” she said. Instead, they have largely eschewed celebrities for models and kept the editorial focused. “We are aggressive defenders of fashion…There are a lot of pop stars around but we keep models on the cover,” the editor said.
One exception was when Turkish Vogue dressed Victoria Beckham in Turkish design for August 2010, for what would become a recurring feature — the Turkish fashion issue. The Beckham cover proved a big sales boost, and the annual Turkish fashion issue has become popular.
With the emphasis on locally written and Turkish-focused content, there has been a concerted effort to keep syndication levels low and to organize Turkish Vogue’s own photo shoots rather than buy them, which has helped create an identity. The aim was very much not to copy American Vogue.
“We have created a Vogue Turkey woman,” said Domanic. “She is Mediterranean, healthy, happy and sophisticated.”
Vogue Turkey does not shy away from difficult local issues, either. Writers have touched on subjects such as gay parenting — pretty daring in a conservative country that is overwhelmingly Muslim — and Vogue also found its own way to write about the anti-government Gezi riots last summer, by focusing on the humor used by the protesters and the personal lessons learned during the demonstrations.
Domanic was at those protests herself, and that is not the only characteristic that sets her apart from the precious image of Vogue editors portrayed in “The Devil Wears Prada.” The interview with Domanic was taking place in the dingy canteen of the American Hospital in Istanbul, where her sister had given birth prematurely. The setting was a far cry from her manicured white office, whose walls are lined with past covers and whose table is replete with style-conscious books. Ever affable, she agreed to meet here during a break from watching over mother and baby. Before launching into the subject of high fashion, she grimaced as she pointed to the headlines in the newspapers that day — a mining tragedy that claimed hundreds of lives. In between sips of coffee, she was busy cancelling events out of respect for the miners and their families.
She is not of the fashion world — a former reporter for CNN Türk, she was working as business development director for Dogus Media Group and handling their negotiations with Condé Nast Group for Vogue. She was surprised when she was singled out as the best person to take over the editorship. Now settled in the role, she is passionate about promoting Turkish fashion, and makes sure she does her bit when travelling abroad by wearing Turkish designers, such as Hakaan, on the international stage. Coincidentally, Hakaan presented his first London show in 2010, when Vogue Turkey was born.
As well as producing the Turkish issue, which has also draped Miranda Kerr in Turkish fashions, the magazine works closely with Turkish designers, sponsors events aimed at helping the development of the industry and strongly backs the country’s growing fashion week.
Another recurring feature involves working with Turkish labels to create pieces especially for a Vogue fashion shoot, which they then sell in their shops under the banner Duses — the title of the section in the magazine.
The Turkish elements are not in isolation, however. In a fledgling fashion world, all the skills are not always up to Vogue standards and Domanic is careful to make full use of the international profile of the publication. So she also works with Patrick Demarchelier, for instance, and duo Marcus Piggott and Mert Alas (who is actually Turkish).
Domanic said that Turkish fashion is still lacking depth. Aspiring designers must emerge from their fashion cocoon and gain an awareness of other disciplines, such as art and film, she maintained, to the extent that this is reflected in their designs. There is not yet the professional experience needed to put on a fashion week that is effective beyond a few catwalk shows. She points to hair, make-up and styling as areas that need improvement.
There is some indication that the base is expanding. When it launched, Vogue had international names on the masthead — Mary Fellowes, of British Vogue, for instance. Now all the names are Turkish.
It is not just what Vogue has been doing right. It is Turkey that has been working hard to deserve the sophisticated aura that comes with having its own edition of Vogue. When Vogue Turkey launched, the country’s economy was improving by the day. There have been wobbles recently, due mainly to political uncertainty, but the country’s finances are still in good shape and the luxury expansion is barely slowing.
And the lure of Istanbul, Turkey’s main city, is increasing all the time.
“When I lived abroad, people used to ask where I came from and when I said Istanbul they would say OK and close the subject…Now Istanbul is first on Trip Advisor. Everyone wants to come,” Domanic said.
Istanbul’s fashion week is also growing. There were around 40 designers when it first began; this year boasted 75. Fashion schools have sprung up, there are fashion design competitions, bloggers abound.
“There is a fashion sector growing up. People are more informed,” said Domanic. “We have fashion writers…There is a lot of interest here and it’s not going away.”