Arriving in Dilara Findikoglu's studio is somewhat like entering a teenager's bedroom: there are Motorhead posters and paintings of the Virgin Mary lining the walls, copies of fetishwear books strewn around the sewing machines and The Doors are playing through her laptop speakers. It's a Friday afternoon, and only a few hours earlier I had emailed her asking if she fancied a coffee. By the time we finish our conversation, I'm carrying armfuls of samples back to my office for her: there's just something about her that compels you to do what she wants. If I wasn't so appalling with a needle and thread, I'd probably have offered to give her a hand with the embroidery she's applying to an intricately embellished coat. It's a bit like being at school and meeting someone's cool older sister, except that I'm a few years older than Findikoglu and I already have a job in fashion. I'm not entirely sure what it is that makes her so compelling, but she's magnetic – not least because her carefully dishevelled dresses and hand-painted suits are brilliant.
The first time I heard Findikoglu's name was in a series of articles that cropped up following the CSM BA graduate show in June of last year, when some of the students who hadn't been selected to be a part of the final degree show staged a guerilla presentation in the school's courtyards. This, it turns out, was orchestrated by Findikoglu who refused to acquiesce to the powers that be and merely display her collection within the presentation space: "When I didn't see my name on the official list, what was I going to do: sit down and cry over my fate? No, I did something about it."
This moment of determined defiance seems to encapsulate Findikoglu's philosophy, and remarkable ability to make things happen. It's something that she's been doing ever since, aged 15, she read an article in Marie Claire Turkey that told her John Galliano had studied at Central Saint Martins. "After that, there were no other options," she says. It took her a few years to coerce her parents into letting her move overseas (they err on the more traditional side of Turkish culture) – but when they let her go for an interview, she was turned away. "The woman who interviewed me told me that I was too 'fashion' and that there was no hope for me," she grins. But, determined to follow in the footsteps of fashion's beloved luminaries, she came back the next year with a new portfolio, got in and got to work. A few years later, she was interning for Galliano himself, just as he prepared to present his inaugural couture show for Maison Margiela. "I had interned at a few other places before, but working with Galliano was so different: he was so peaceful and down to earth. It gave me hope," she says, amidst some proud discussion of the gloves and embroidery that she got to work on. "It showed me that, if I'm nice, other people will be nice, too."
In some ways, Findikoglu's collections thus far have been a sort of autobiography: there are the coats made of giant Turkish carpets and the intricate embellishments associated with Istanbul, but perhaps more pressingly there is a subversive commentary about the religious division that has escalated in her country over recent years. "I come from a country where religion is causing war, and despair, and sadness," explains Findikoglu, whose graduate collection (a development of which was shown during London Fashion Week S/S16) was presented as a part of a pseudo-religion that appropriated symbolism like The Garden of Eden and semi-ironically preached a new set of guiding moral principles. "I wanted to create a situation where religion was more about peace than about war."
However, her most recent offering places itself within a distinctly Western setting: the collection, and accompanying book, centres around Findikoglu's own fantasy of a glam punk rock band. "I wanted to do one more thing that related to what I’ve done previously before I closed this chapter. My previous presentation had women acting as band members, with boys surrounding them and behaving like groupies, and I wanted to build on that. Even though I love metal and glam rock, a lot of those men treated women really terribly – like, the way Jim Morrison treated his wife – and so I wanted to change the rules. These are four women who inspire me; four strong, cool women."
Shot by Vinca Petersen and styled by Ellie Grace Cumming, the lookbook-slash-campaign imagery which Findikoglu has created is not only a subversion of rock music's gender tropes, but equally of the way young designers present fashion. There was no show, no presentation; she is offering this imagery up in a book which was art directed by Ben Freeman of Ditto Press outside of the ordinary show schedule. "As a young designer you don’t know where you’re going sometimes, and people can take you in different directions," she explains of the pressures of showing during fashion weeks, "But if you go with the wrong person, you can start doing stuff that is not your style. When you have good people around you, it’s so much easier and better – like with Ellie, Vinca and Ben."
This drive to do what works for her is clearly paying off: this A/W16 collection, resplendent with old Turkish medallions and individually collected band patches, is going into Selfridges in July. Ruth Hickman, the buyer of the Women’s Designer Studio & Contemporary section which will be stocking Findikoglu, explains precisely why: "Dilara’s an artist – a smart one at that. Her collection marries demi-couture with commercial sensibility to not only astutely mirror fashion’s current mood, but to unapologetically lead it in a new direction. I really respect her creative process – she’s true to her references and the clothes she makes." And perhaps that's precisely what makes her so attractive: the marriage of authenticity and a savvy approach to engaging with the contemporary climate of fashion. And, the pictures help.
Hair Philippe Tholimet; Make-up Ninni Nummela; Casting Chloe Rosolek; Art Direction Ben Freeman / Ditto