Bora Aksu in his studio. All photography by Amelia Gregory.
I’ve championed Bora Aksu since the very first issue of Amelia’s Magazine in print way back in 2004. The four times New Gen winner has come a long way since then…. As we head inexorably into the next manic edition of London Fashion Week the time has come to run an interview I did with the lovely Bora Aksu some months back, when he was kind enough to welcome me into his high ceilinged studio in West Ferry Studios, east London.
Bora Aksu’s A/W 2010 collection by Zarina Liew.
Bora’s wonderful Autumn/Winter 2010 collection combined layers and flounces with corsetry and alienesque details. It was all about structure, layers and textures working together, but was it just me that saw the alien thing?
I suppose I was thinking about aliens when I designed the collection, but it was so subconscious that I didn’t even say anything to the team. I kept picturing things emerging from the body in a super natural way: other people have picked up on it since, but many have been more focused on the corsetry and 3D shapes. I love the way corsets create flattering shapes that compliment the body and I like muted colours because then they create more of a blank canvas so I can concentrate on line and texture. I suppose I like the colours in shadows, the in between colours that you can’t describe instantly – and then sometimes I like a splash of brighter colour. Luckily this all fits into the current trend for nudes. although I don’t deliberately follow trends. I like to think of it as mixing the sugary and the spiky, sort of Marie Antoinette meets Edward Scissorhands!
Bora Aksu by Faye West.
How did you learn to work in this way?
You need to do the A-Z of design first so you know the whole process of pattern cutting and how to use fabrics, but being a good designer involves more than just technical training. The way you execute an idea is the most important part and this can’t be resolved with just paper and pencil – it needs a hands on approach. For example I like to do a lot of draping. In Turkey they have all the equipment but that’s not enough. The experimental mindset is lacking. I came to London 15 years ago to study, and even though I had no money I was surrounded by inspiration. You need to be able to make something beautiful out of nothing. That’s why in Turkey there is still the concept that to be successful you need to have designed abroad.
Accessories hang in neat rows in Bora’s studio.
But isn’t it all changing in Turkey? There seems to be a bit of a buzz.
Turkey has a great cultural heritage and a strong factory supply base, but there was no fashion education to speak of when I came to study in the UK. However in the past ten years lots of universities have sprung up as fashion has become more popular as a career. Did you know there are now over 115 fashion weeks across the world? I love Istanbul but I don’t get back as often as I would like: I try to go for one month at a time between the February and September shows and I’ve done two seasons of Istanbul fashion week (including this year) but it’s not always possible to get away.
Bora Aksu by Maria del Carmen Smith.
What do your parents feel about your career in fashion?
Turkey is very family orientated and traditional: both my parents are doctors so I grew up breathing medical science. They were worried I wouldn’t be successful as an artist so my first degree was actually in business administration although I always knew I wanted to do ‘art and crafts’. Luckily I got accepted onto my second degree with only a sketch book to my name, but my marketing background bubbles up to the surface sometimes! But to give my parents full credit they were happy for me to follow my dream and stand by me which is an amazing feeling – to have not just their approval but their support. I have always been supported on my journey and my mother came to my first shows although she doesn’t like flying so she hasn’t been recently.
A mood board features one of Bora’s illustrations.
You famously attended the prestigious Central Saint Martins MA course. How did this shape you?
I spent a year working for Ghost because I didn’t want to go straight onto an MA, and I was massively influenced by their approach. Luckily it was a paid internship, which is rare to find now. It prepared me for the MA at Central Saint Martins, where it’s more like working for a company with strict deadlines. It is the Central Saint Martins ethos to breed creative beings whilst other colleges just think “let’s get our students a job in design” so most of time you are left to create designs on your own in a very free spirited way, which is a good platform to start from. You then have to present everything as a whole package in the best possible way so the students are really pushed and inevitably some people drop out because they can’t cope. My MA taught me that there are no rules in fashion and really gave me a chance to find my style.
Bora Aksu by Maria del Carmen Smith.
How did being in London influence your work?
In London so many different cultures are mixed together but somehow everything works in harmony, so you can be very free in your creativity. You see that especially in fashion: out of 10 students on my MA there were 7 different nationalities and I constantly meet people from other places: my wife Fella is from Mauritius. [she chatters away in Creole with his right hand man, who is also from Mauritius]. The Class of 2002 was pretty special: I graduated from my MA with Jens Laugesson, Jonathan Saunders, Miki Fugai and Richard Nichol.
More stuff hanging up.
That’s pretty amazing! Are you in any way competitive with each other, or are you all good friends?
We’re not competitive because we’re all just busy doing our own thing and we all design so differently. People think of the coldness and isolation created by the fashion PR world, but it’s not like that on the creative side at all. There may only be a small market for consultancy but everyone has a place and we really help each other, for example we tell each other about good manufacturers to use and so on. I’ve also recently become friends with Mark Fast, who used to work on knitwear with me.
Bora Aksu by Maria del Carmen Smith.
Where does all this stuff in your studio come from?
I used to go to every single car boot fair in London, buying up old bags, army boots, old account books, handkerchiefs, laces, leather embossed bags… and I started to put things around me that I liked whilst designing a collection. I don’t think about whether the styles clash, I just go on my personal taste. I hang stuff up and take photos of it together whilst thinking about what to design.
Mannequins around the studio sport collections of random objects.
What happens next?
I undo old garments so I can see the binding and hand finishing inside, which is often more beautiful than the outside. I’ve got boxes and boxes of stuff behind these walls – I try to get rid of stuff but I get emotionally attached to things and even if I only look at it once a year it’s comforting to know that it’s there. My mum is a collector so now she has an excuse to buy stuff too, because I might want it.
Bora Aksu dress by Joana Faria.
How are you various collaborations going?
I’m still doing stuff with People Tree and will continue to do so, and I’m going to design a capsule collection for Anthropologie. It’s frustrating because the ethical thing should be more substantial and ongoing than it is. The western world has such a huge influence and every high street store should be more ethical; one t-shirt produced in Bangladesh has a huge knock on effect for whole families. But it’s no good producing undesirable garments because most teenagers don’t care where a garment is from, they just want fashionable clothing like celebrities wear. People Tree’s Safia Minney has a really good sense of what the customer wants, and we must concentrate on design.
Bora Aksu’s People Tree collaboration by Zarina Liew.
How do you try to be ethical in the production of your own collections?
I source cotton from Turkey but I try to produce most of my clothes locally in the UK. Time is the main factor in producing ethical clothing – it takes much longer to design because of the limitations so you need to plan in advance. I also try to look for companies that are disappearing because there is no demand for their products. I’ve just been to the EcoChic show in Geneva where I found an ethical fish leather available in any colour, produced by some Brasilian fishermen. I use recycled latex. I’m not against leather but I don’t think its necessary to use fur – it may be nice to the touch but it’s not attractive and technology is so advanced we can surely make something else that’s similar.
Close ups of the wonderful fabrics used in the A/W 2010 collection.
How do you find London Fashion Week these days?
I’m not sure the high turnover of new designers is such a good thing – it doesn’t happen in Paris or Milan. But then we don’t have big fashion houses and we’re known as a new talent hub. Maybe we need to emphasise that more, but all new designers also need to stand on their own two feet so they get a good buyer base: so many designers aren’t ready to deal with the whole business side of fashion.
What about working with Blow PR? You’ve had a close relationship for a long time haven’t you?
I’ve been looked after by them for over six years now and I love working with Blow PR – it’s become more of a friendship. My last collection was well received in the press and orders have been good.
More fabulous Bora fabrics.
And to finish on a cheeky note, you and Fella obviously work together very well. How did you get together?
We were flatmates and good friends first! She’s been my studio manager for five years and we used to live in the studio here but it all got a bit much so we now live in Angel, Islington, which means we can leave work behind. My friends have started to have kids, but it looks like hard work… I like to take the laid back approach – when you plan too much it usually doesn’t work because there’s a gap between imagination and what might happen. I always believe you should follow arrows, not push at doors.
Bora Aksu illustrations on the walls of his studio.
Before I leave Bora gives me a guided tour of his studio, where I have ample opportunity to feel his clothing up and marvel at some of his wonderful illustrations that adorn any gaps in the wall. Tomorrow Bora shows his S/S 2011 collection on the first day of London Fashion Week. There’s no doubting it will be every bit as magical as the last one was: he is one very special man.
- Bora Aksu: London Fashion Week A/W 2014 Catwalk Review
- London Fashion Week S/S 2012 Catwalk Review: Bora Aksu
- London Fashion Week S/S 2011 Catwalk Review: Bora Aksu
- London Fashion Week A/W 2010 Catwalk Review: Bora Aksu
- London Fashion Week S/S 2011 Catwalk Review: Bora Aksu (more)