erdem: patience and passion
Patience, proficiency, and above all passion. Over the past ten years, these three traits have made Erdem one of the most successful independent designers working in London.
On the doorstep to Erdem Moralioglu's newly opened flagship store in South Audley Street is his monogram neatly inserted in mosaic tile. An Edwardian E for Erdem, he's immortalised his name in the London pavement like some noble proprietor of another time, cementing the first decennial of London's most successful independent fashion brand of its generation. "I think I was very, very patient, and I understood that if I couldn't afford something, I couldn't do it," he says, struggling with the question of exactly how he's maintained financial progress in a time when other young London brands have either sold out or gone under. "Early on, I was interested in making sure I was going to partner with the right stores in mutual partnerships that would become long relationships." It was a humble and wise approach to fashion, which - ten years on - makes it possible for us to meet in his very own store. Designed by his architect boyfriend Philip Joseph, its interiors are like a window to Erdem's mind: savage botanical splendour and sumptuous surfaces set against stark modernity, from one mid-century to the other—like his collections, travelling through time from opulent Victorian ladies to restrained Hitchcock girls, all wrapped in an eerie, decidedly dark sense of perfection and a lot of florals. "There's something beautiful and poisonous about them at the same time," he notes.
"I've never thought of things in terms of viability. I've always thought of things in terms of how something fits, how does someone sit in it—how a garment truly functions," Erdem says. Writers have compared him to a scientist, no doubt backed up by his intellectual-circa-50s look of thickly framed glasses, Ivy League haircut, and, on this day, blue cashmere crewneck and black trousers. But he is at heart a storyteller; forever adding to the narrative of the female character he believes to be the real secret to his success. "I've always had a really clear idea of who my woman was, even if she evolves and changes. I've always believed in her and the idea of this woman I create collections for." In other words, he's created the customer on whom he now depends. For spring/summer 16, she played the role of 19th century pioneer on the Great Plains of America and Erdem's native Canada, afflicted with the syndrome of prairie madness. Pulled out of the designer's endless well of historical literary references, it was a real-life condition diagnosed in women, "who would be found traipsing along fields kind of half-dressed and gone mad. It was as if the great open spaces had driven them mad. I loved that," he says, his Canadian monotony making for priceless deadpan timing.
As a little boy in suburban Montreal, a cross-legged Erdem would observe his first grade teacher sitting on her desk reading from the Bible, entranced by the silky slip that would show under her pencil skirt. "I was totally fascinated by this woman and who she was: this wool on the outside and then that most intimate little clue to her femininity," he recalls. "I've never been afraid of feminine," he says, offering perhaps the key to his achievements in fashion. Erdem's fidelity to pretty dresses didn't exactly fast-track him to the London Cool Kid Hall of Fame like most of his contemporaries, leaving him initially to a perhaps less scene-y clientele, who in turn happened to be sitting on the spending power. "I never thought about it, you just get on with it. Certainly in high school, my life centred around heavy orthodontics and teenage angst, so coolness was something that was very far away," he laughs. "And still evades me!" Erdem was born in 1977. His Turkish father was a chemical engineer, his mother, originally from Birmingham, took care of Erdem and his twin sister Sara at home. "She always loved things like Manet or Goya. There was never a separation between what she loved and her ability to share that with her children." Before his mother died in 2007, only a few years after he lost his father to cancer, they visited Musée d'Orsay together and revelled in the love of beautiful things she instilled in Erdem at a young age.
"To me, cool is Nina Simone, or David Hockney with mismatched socks. The American Bar in Vienna. Don't you think?" Walking through Mayfair with him where he looks so at home, you'd never think his studio was located in Shoreditch—or that he lives in Dalston. But the media's perception of him was never a priority. "I feel like I formed relationships with the stores before I formed relationships with the press," he notes. The cool factor came later, when the press started interpreting the many psychological layers to his painstakingly produced shows, like when he built a bridge over a railway for his spring/summer 16 show and had those madwomen escaping the prairie on a wagon to freedom. Or his spring/summer 12 collection based on Wedgwood blue, shown in the matching blue ballroom at the Savoy, with matching blue press folders meticulously placed on each chair. "Yeah, the PRs were given a ruler," he smirks. "I like things done in a certain way." Is he a perfectionist? "No, I wish I was more of a perfectionist!" So that would be a yes, then.
With perfectionism, however, comes a need for organisation, which benefits a designer more than anything. "I'm curious. I want to know how things are doing in every aspect of the business. I'm not scared of that aspect, even though I might not be an expert or understand it," he says, now at the bar at Dukes sipping a Dirty Martini. And in a time where the fashion system is being painted as torturous for designers, who overwork themselves to keep up, Erdem - who has zero financial backing - isn't one to complain. "It's a demanding cycle and there's definitely some difficult times. I lost both parents when I was really young, so maybe that weirdly gave me this sense of independence; that I had to forge ahead. But I never felt tortured, I just always felt like I wanted to learn from each season and explore new ideas. I've always been interested in moving forward," he pauses. "As much as I hate change. I don't want to change house, I don't want to change friends. I will repeat holidays. I'm going back to Japan because we've already been on holiday to Japan, and I liked it. So if I like something, I'll just do it again and again and again." Luckily in life, as in fashion, relentlessly perfecting one great concept always pays off in the end.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Gareth McConnell
Styling Max Clark
Hair Kota Suizu at Caren using Oribe
Make-up Lucy Burt at D+V Management
Nail technician Stephanie Staunton at Carol Hayes Management using Nails Inc
Styling assistance Louis Prier-Tisdall, Lula Ososki
Production Sophie Walsh at Industry Art
Model Hannah Bennett at IMG.
All clothing Erdem