‘Grayson Perry got in touch,’ recalls Erdem Moralioglu of the email he received inviting him to join the Royal Academy’s committee, an honour that puts him in the company of Ron Arad, Thomas Heatherwick and David Bailey. ‘I’d met him at the Turner Prize a few years ago, but didn’t really know him. So yes, I was thrilled.’
The London-based fashion designer has a serious art habit, and word of it is now spreading. Earlier this year, he guest-edited the first Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated sale in London. He began collecting eight years ago, and his latest acquisition is a Tracey Emin watercolour bought from White Cube during Art Basel Hong Kong. Scanning his personal art inventory (he’s currently renovating his London home, so much of his collection is in storage), he adds, ‘I love portraiture. There are so few pieces that don’t have a face!’
His first purchase was a Nan Goldin photograph, Yogo in the Mirror, followed by a Peter Doig and a Wolfgang Tillmans. His collection also includes Rineke Dijkstra (‘I love the formality of the matadors post-battle,’ he says), Larry Clark and Anne Collier, whom Raf Simons used to shoot his Kvadrat collection. ‘The Collier of these women holding cameras is one of my favourite pieces,’ he says.
Moralioglu’s fascination with faces continues in works by Kaye Donachie and Japanese-French painter Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita. ‘Something attracts me and I have to hunt it down,’ he says of his approach to collecting, a passion that has escalated since he opened his first London store a year ago. Located in Mayfair and designed by his partner, architect Philip Joseph of P Joseph, it launched on the brand’s tenth anniversary. ‘I don’t think anyone could design that space more sensitively than someone who has known me since my very first collection as a graduate at the Royal College,’ he reflects. The flagship became a personal obsession for the pair, who spent their weekends in Belgium scouring a quarry near Antwerp for Sainte Anne marble (which furnished grand 18th century homes, and is found at Versailles) and ironmongers in Ghent for doorknobs.
‘What’s so interesting about the space is that it hadn’t been renovated since the 1960s. It was a huge project architecturally,’ he says, referring to the spiralling staircase that was cut anew, but feels like it has always been there. Furnishings are by Sigmar and Carl Aübock, while on the walls are Daniel Silver watercolours, a 1983 David Hockney photo-collage, and drawings by Jean Cocteau and Andy Warhol.
The retail space has also fostered a new intimacy with his customer and, in turn, influenced Moralioglu’s design approach: ‘I think about her from the moment she wakes up until she goes to bed. How she would live, what she would wear, what she would collect,’ he says. And while Moralioglu’s clients may swoon over his signature florals, they are certainly not wallflowers. His clothes possess a femininity that’s bolstered by sophistication and strength. His A/W 2016 collection began with models channelling All About Eve and Rebecca, working bias-cut sheaths in velvety jacquards and embroidered sequins. (Moralioglu collaborates with mills in Italy, Switzerland and Austria on his own exclusive textiles, laces and prints.)
The designer’s narrative-based productions, executed with set designer Robin Brown, put each season’s muse into context – be it a 1960s Paris pied-à-terre or, for this season, an MGM soundstage. The A/W set came complete with dusty chandeliers glowing from their wooden storage frames, decaying Romanesque pillars and out-of-commission wicker love seats, as his embroidered tweed tailoring and elegant 1930s-era gowns evoked Old Hollywood. ‘I’ve never been afraid of femininity,’ he muses, ‘partly because I have a twin sister. When I was a kid I only ever drew women. I was interested in art with women in it. I was interested in the way women moved. I’m asked about my fascination with lace and flowers, but what I find interesting is that they’re all things that imply the effeminate.’
That said, Moralioglu knows how to exercise restraint. ‘My mother was very minimal,’ he reflects. ‘She didn’t collect designer clothing or couture. She wore only a little red lipstick by YSL, and she always had skirts with side pockets so she was comfortable and able to move.’
Moralioglu was born in Canada to a British mother and Turkish farther. When he decided to pursue a career in fashion, his father (a chemical engineer) was more understanding than his mother. ‘Mainly because where he had grown up, tailoring was a trade,’ he says. ‘My mum saw it more like a decadent, wild thing.’
Moralioglu’s childhood involved a lot of travelling. ‘Half my family was in the UK and the other half in Turkey,’ he says. ‘We would go from Birmingham to Istanbul, so the contrasts between my grandmothers’ houses were amazing. But I think my parents were kind of homesick. I got the sense they both wanted to go back to their home towns, but they were together and so in love. Maybe my work has a connection to that daydreaming, of taking someone somewhere else.’
He continues, ‘I always wanted to create something that has a permanence, something that you go back to, something seasonless. I find it wonderful that Yves Saint Laurent could create trench coats in the 1960s that are still considered beautiful today.’ The designer recently did an event in Kuwait where he was taken aback by the women he met wearing his dresses that went back five, even ten years. ‘I wonder if that time of the dress-of-the-season is over?’ he muses. ‘I think what’s really important about my approach is that I take my time to explore everything slowly,’ he says. ‘I don’t want to rush anything.’