ISTANBUL — Istanbul’s Fashion Week went ahead, against the backdrop of an emergency rule that the Turkish government declared after the failed coup on July 15, which left 240 people dead, thousands injured and more than 32,000 arrested and awaiting trial.
Organizers held out hope for the glamour of the setting — the Zorlu Performance Center at the upmarket shopping mall — would spread an air of normality among consumers after months of despair over the coup attempt, a series of terror attacks prior to that and an ongoing military operation against the Islamic State across the country’s southern borders.
Tourism has dropped dramatically and the industry weathered its worst summer in 25 years — not only due to chilling effects of the coup but also after a seven-month long diplomatic dispute with Russia, Turkey’s leading tourism and textile partner, ultimately hurting the Turkish apparel industry.
Lug Von Siga and Arzu Kaprol launched their spring collections, sharing the catwalk with promising and established designers such as Bahar Korcan with her Toz (Dust, in English) collection.
The five-day schedule, which opened Tuesday, represents a vital window for upcoming Turkish designers that wished to open up to global markets.
This year, it also seemed an orchestrated effort to help mend the country’s image and motivate the Turkish apparel industry at a time when investors remain concerned about plummeting sales.
“Despite all odds, continuation of this international organization in professionalism and its increasing appeal for both local and international players of the industry each season are very positive for Turkey,” asserted Sükrü Bekdikhan, director of marketing and sales for Mercedes-Benz, the title sponsor of the event. “It makes all of us proud that Turkey’s name is associated with events as such, and Turkish design is introduced to the world and Istanbul is positioned as a fashion capital.”
Textile investors have suffered a major deadlock after many international buyers canceled their trips for security reasons and raised questions about the safety of their investments.
In a rare public event in August, the Istanbul Apparel Exporters Association showcased a collaboration with local representatives of H&M, Inditex, Nike and others with over $4 billion purchasing capacity in Turkey to deter concerns and ease the scars of the coup attempt.
Although authorities confiscated several Turkish textile firms for their alleged links with the Islamic Fethullah Gulen network that the government claimed was behind the coup plan, Hikmet Tanriverdi, the president of IHKIB, called impacts of the seizure limited and offered reassurances that the sector was up and running in its full capacity.
Others see a need to repair misconceptions about security conditions in the country and the sector’s resilience to prevent further losses.
“We need to go and explain to foreign buyers in person that news does not reflect the reality on the ground and that our production has not been hurt by the coup attempt,” said Esra Ercan, director of Spring Near-East Manufacturing in Turkey.
“We have to convince them not to cancel their trips which are crucial to our well-being. They would order 10 pieces at a distance but purchase 100 if they come to a show — it’s that critical.”
Bekdikhan said there was no decline in the number of foreign buyers attending this year’s edition of The Core Istanbul, a platform within the fashion week organization that connect buyers from retailers like Harvey Nichols in Rihyadh, Darwish Group in Qatar and Day & Night of St. Petersburg.
Scores of shops in shopping malls and busy shopping streets like Istiklal and Bagdat have closed in the face of plummeting sales and aggressive promotions.
In Istanbul’s famous 561-year-old Grand Bazaar alone, 600 shops out of 3,600 were shut down, with 900 more expected to shutter by the end of the year, according to news reports.
“Increases in costs due to hiking foreign currency rates, decline in tourism and a rise in terror incidents affected the retail sector very badly,” said Sinan Oncel, the deputy director of Turkey’s Joint Brands Association, in reference to a letter addressed to the Association of Shopping Mall Investors in August asking for discount in rents.
“In Istiklal and Bagdat Streets, high rents and not having business for two to three months forced many to close their doors.”
Clothing stores in Zorlu Center were happy on Wednesday that fashion week brought an end to the stalemate.
“Events like the Istanbul Fashion Week make people feel like life is back to normal and that the painful period is over,” said Fatma Sahin, an employee at the Dolce & Gabbana shop in Zorlu Center, adding that the boutique had barely had any business until the first week of September in the absence of Arab and Russian tourists.
“It might be still slow compared to the opening of the new season last year, however, social media alerts, coverage in the written media all helped the normalization period,” she said. “People are craving normality and their routines to be reinstated.”