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Dilara Findikoglu S/S17Photography by Federico Ferrari

Why Designer Dilara Findikoglu's Feminist Vision Matters

Susie Lau descends into a Soho strip club to decode the female empowerment that lay behind the emerging talent's salacious collection of leather and corsetry

TextSusanna LauPhotographyFederico FerrariPhotographic EditorHolly Hay
Lead ImageDilara Findikoglu S/S17Photography by Federico Ferrari

While most late night revelers were stumbling around Soho, bleary-eyed with their head dunked in coffee on a Saturday morning, a vaguely occult meeting was taking place down in the basement of strip club Sunset Strip on Dean Street. Those with their fashion noses firmly to the ground were gathered there to witness the London Fashion Week presentation of Dilara Findikoglu – and, though it might have been off-schedule, it didn’t put people off venturing down this den of iniquity at 9am. They knew they were on to a good thing.

Few young designers have the gumption and confidence to stage what felt like a defiant celebration of a what Findikoglu called the "woman’s skin." Then again, few have taken the unorthodox path of organising Central Saint Martins’ first ever guerrilla BA fashion show, to give a platform to those that weren’t selected for the official press show nor scooped a prestigious stockist such as Selfridges just months after graduating. Perhaps few know what they’re all about as a designer as strongly as Findikoglu does, though. 

As her coven of “witches” that included Adoah Abwaoh languidly moved about the pole dancing stage to a Turkish rock soundtrack – wearing embroidered satin Nudie-esque suits, corsets paired with tracksuit bottoms and glam rock metallic snakeskin – Findikoglu gave some equally bolshy statements. “This is my girl gang: they aren’t scared of showing their body and are really powerful,” said Findikoglu.  “It’s about celebrating the women’s body through different periods and cultures, whether it’s in Elizabethan England, the Middle East or Mexican gangs.” 

Those seemingly disparate references somehow came together harmoniously as a man was brought on stage in 18th-Century regalia to subvert the Shakespearean tradition of male actors playing women in the theatre. Or, when leather bikers adorned with traditional tattoo designs courtesy of Liam Sparkes, spiked with a latent danger. Victorian slash lolita laced-up dresses were unbuttoned seductively; leathers perfectly cut to fit the body; boots squeakily patent and thigh-high. Findikoglu, with the help of some of fashion's most renowned – Another Man’s Ellie Grace Cumming as stylist, Inge Grognard doing the make-up, Cyndia Harvey the hair, and strong visuals from Ben Freeman of Ditto Press – gave a deliciously compelling vision of what refuting female oppression could look like.

The real starting point for Findikoglu's inspiration, though, was far more contemporary. A 25-year-old woman, Cilem Dogan, made international news last year after being jailed for killing her abusive husband after he attempted to sell her into prostitution, and was subsequently released. "It was quite a big thing for a Middle Eastern woman to be released after doing such a thing," explained the designer. "Generally men like that would get away with it." Upon release, Dogan became a social media star as she wore a t-shirt that said "Dear Past, Thanks For All the Lessons", which became the title of Findikoglu’s collection. 

That raw empathy with Dogan could be felt in the embroideries of ovaries, painted female naked forms and overt stitches on slashed gold lame, strategically positioned below the hips. The contrasting duality of the conservative nature towards sex and the presence of legalised prostitution in Findikoglu’s native Turkey adds further personal fuel to her work. "I’m not trying to be a feminist but I’m saying women can wear whatever they want and show as much skin as they want: suits, stockings, corsets, whatever." Moreover, Findikoglu isn’t just here to churn out surface-driven artifice. Her remit as a designer is more than that and acknowledging that at such an early stage in her career puts her in good stead. "I’m here now and I can use my clothes to give a message. I don’t just want to make beautiful things."

Styling Ellie Grace Cumming; Art direction Ben Freeman; Hair Cyndia Harvey; Make-up Inge Grognard; Nails Adam Slee; Casting Chloe Rosolek; Set Patience Harding; Lighting Freddie Bonfanti; Production 1888 Productions; PR Ella Dror