Islam inspires Turkish designer in Milan debut


MILAN – As he put the finishing touches to his first collection for Milan Fashion Week, Turkish-born Erkan Coruh spoke about finding his inspiration from Islamic dresses and his native Istanbul.
“Everything I make is influenced by my childhood, by life in Istanbul, where East and West meet,” 34-year-old Coruh said in an interview in a cold, echoing warehouse on the outskirts of Italy’s fashion capital ahead of his debut. “My inspiration also comes from God and I try to reflect that light in my creations.”
“Like Caravaggio, I want to paint a picture of a dark world, but with illumination from above,” he said, as models began arriving for try-ons. Bending over his workbench, Coruh teased human hair into tiny topknot-buttons for the jackets and dresses he is rushing to finish. “I always use human hair in my designs, wound up into buttons or sprouting from the hems of dresses.”
“It captures the spirit of the warrior woman, the women who have protected me on my journey so far,” he said. Born and raised in Istanbul, Coruh is one of a handful of new designers presenting collections in Milan this year as part of the city’s initiative to celebrate some of the best upcoming creators.
The Turkish designer made his name internationally in 2010 with a controversial collection – “The Men and Women of Allah” – which merged Western fashion with Islamic dress. “Some people hated my designs. I played on the idea that women lose their shape and their identity under the burqa and I think it shocked some people, it was too Islamic for them,” he said.
With Muslim women who live in Europe in mind, Coruh designed a jacket in Chanel style that transforms into a burqa. “You can’t just ban the burqa,” he said. “Why not find new ways of wearing it, of expressing your culture?” The jarring vision of women in black, modern-cut dresses with their faces completely enveloped in striking red and white shawls, or buttoned in behind thick, sightless veils, drew attention in Italy’s fashion circles.
His second collection, “Shirin,” which won a competition organised by Vogue Italia in July, was dedicated to Iranian artist Shirin Neshat and inspired by her ideas on the contrast between feminine vulnerability and women warriors. “I call it ‘traumatic elegance,’ the concept of taking classic Western-style pieces and adding challenging new textures and lines that capture the fighting women. My muses are real women who live hard lives, but keep their elegance.”
After studying fashion design at Istanbul’s Fine Art Academy, Coruh moved to Milan where he did a masters in fashion and worked for several Italian brands before setting up his own label in 2009. Looking to his upcoming show and his career so far, Coruh said, “This is a golden age. The journey is not over of course. But this moment, this is a victory moment.”