In his second menswear collection, Erdem Moralioglu goes for streetwear – something you never see in his often dramatic women’s offering. “Utilitarian romanticism” is how the London-based designer summed up his newest creative venture. He has a point: in a world where people wear couture-house joggers to dinner, and even Moralioglu surrenders to sporty dress codes, streetwear is really just daywear. “It’s a boiled fleece hoodie with a tailored, nipped jogger,” he said of the collection’s most informal look, describing those garments exactly like he would his ladylike womenswear. But unlike that womenswear Erdem’s men’s world has a relaxed, almost light-hearted quality about it. The designer has been living in the spring men’s collection since he received the first pieces, and, as he confirmed, “it’s very personal.” While the first collection only started to arrive in stores in November, his recipe of ravishingly-colored knits, corduroy, and printed denim has seen great response from the yet-to-be-defined Erdem men’s customer, and has gone down well with his trusty female clientele, too. This season, he took inspiration from the work of two women, who may as well have played muses to one of his women’s collections: Madame d’Ora, a Viennese portrait photographer and contemporary of Picasso, and Madame Yevonde, a portrait and still-life photographer who worked in London around the interwar era. Together, their subjects, grading techniques, and the latter’s use of color inspired a 1930s-driven collection, which borrowed from the women’s wardrobe of the time, and fused those references in Moralioglu’s contemporary “utilitarian romanticism.” What emerged through Moralioglu’s second menswear proposal was a men’s wardrobe of conventional contradictions: feminine vs. masculine, formal vs. informal, Old World vs. new world. Those dichotomies are hardly new territory in menswear, but through the lens of Erdem – with all its history and romanticism – this menswear brand already feels unique and familiar in a way that gives it a character of its own on a very saturated market.
Ever since Erdem Moralioglu moved into his new house in Bloomsbury during the pandemic, his work has taken on a more demure and sober character. Somehow, the fusion between that sensibility and the old-world glamour that underpins his oeuvre feels appropriate for now. Dramatic, but with balance. Erdem’s 15th-anniversary collection – and first runway show since the pandemic – captured that dichotomy in a purified and clarified ode to his own body of work. Presented in the colonnade of the British Museum (in Bloomsbury), he envisioned it through the wardrobes of Bloomsbury’s best: Edith Sitwell and Ottoline Morrell, whose spirits he could easily have come across on one of his evening strolls across Bedford Square. “I was really fascinated with these two women – both six foot – who knew each other, and donated to the British Museum,” Moralioglu said backstage, highlighting their independent and formidable approaches to life in the early- and mid-20th century. “Both women lived outside of the time that they actually lived in: Ottoline Morrell dressed in kind of Edwardian dress in the 1930s, and Edith Sitwell would wear something kind of medieval. They were displaced and disjointed in terms of time and pace,” he observed, with words that could have described the last 15 years of Erdem collections just as well. Throughout his own history, he has freely and defiantly traveled the annals of fashion history at large, spinning fantastical narratives around characters and events drawing on fact and fiction, and brought those looks into contemporary contexts. This collection was no different. While its silhouettes were carved from the first half of the previous century, Moralioglu twisted them out of their prim lines and switched opulent fabrics for “poor” ones, using instead embellishment as his richness factor. A delicate floral embroidery curled around dresses looked almost like an industrial chain print, quilted floral skirts were kind of wrong but cool, and lace dresses transformed into knitwear de-prettified that girly trope. Styled consistently with unfussy brogues – and showed alongside the terrific sturdy-romantic menswear he launched this summer – those tactics created a sense and sensibility that spoke to that post-pandemic appetite for the gentle grand gesture.
Erdem Moralioglu delivered a mesmerising collection. He is at heart a dramatist, forever living for theatrical moments. Conceived in the realm of ballet, his Erdem autumn-winter 2021 collection freeze-framed a dancer’s wardrobe between the stages of rehearsal and performance. “When I was working at the Royal Opera House, that was the moment I found so exciting: the dancers shifting around, criss-crossing, half-dressed in what they wear during the day and half-dressed in their costumes,” he said on a video call with Vogue, recalling Corybantic Games, the ballet he created costumes for in 2018. Incidentally, the contrast between a ballerina’s everyday dancewear and her ornate costumes served as a rather poetic illustration of our impending transition from domestic dressing to dressing up. The exquisiteness of feather-embroidered 1940s jackets, Swan Lake headpieces and plumed skirts, giant opera gowns daubed in night-time florals, and jewel-encrusted shirts came as no surprise. The gray ribbed knitwear fashioned into dramatic skirts that moved like pleats, into softly cinching cummerbunds, and body-conscious tops that had the elegance of eveningwear but the tactility of the comfort-wear of lockdown. With similar duality, he elevated ballet slippers onto stilted platforms that gave his silhouette an air of fetish. Perhaps that feeling was spurred by the narrative that underpinned his story: the relationship between Rudolf Nureyev and prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn, whose on- and off-stage wardrobe also informed proceedings. “The contrasts, the dichotomies of a dancer… that Hitchcockian self-possession and drive for perfection,” Moralioglu paused. “I find the psychology of it interesting.” Perfecting a look – a sculpted sleeve, a nipped-in waist, a little plumed hat, a pair of neat red slippers – seems shocking in our home-bound reality. It was pleasant to be reminded of that feeling.
In Erdem‘s world, nothing has changed – at least, at a first glance. Here, women are still dressing up and wear magnificent dresses that have a romantic, elegant side. But the period of confinement did have an impact on Erdem Moralioglu. It reads like a mad experiment: Erdem Moralioglu in his London house for four months, with denied access to the museums and libraries that oxygenate his storyteller mind, and throw in a Susan Sontag novel. “It begins with three people dancing on the lip of a volcano,” the designer said of the collection he authored and drew in quarantine. Inspired by The Volcano Lover, Sontag’s portrait of the 18th-century beauty Emma Hamilton, who married a volcanologist obsessed with Grecian vases and had a passionate love affair with Lord Nelson, this was how Moralioglu coped with everything that happened this spring. “There was something about this odd time that we’re living in, and the idea that there is something so much bigger than all of us that controls everything,” Moralioglu said, drawing a parallel between crises past and present. “It’s beauty in a time that’s very ugly, and the idea of creating something decadent with an underbelly of something poor.” He expressed that sentiment in a meeting between formal and informal: a trans-historical voyage that referenced Grecian nymph shift dresses through the lens of the puff-sleeved empire silhouette, a sprinkling of Nelsonian regalia, and a cameo by Susan Sontag’s post-modern cardigan. Many of his embroidered muslin and organza dresses and 18th-century floral jacquard numbers were treated with crinkling effects to evoke a sense of “poor,” which means something quite different in Moralioglu’s dainty world than it does to the rest of us. But within the folds of those fabrics, there was a feeling of resourcefulness, which illustrated the idea of beauty in a time of uncertainty. Some pieces looked as if they’d been spliced with other pieces, Nelson’s admiral jackets and grosgrain regalia had a scent of thriftiness about them, and opera coats seemed to morph into khaki utility-wear. Then, a sturdy denim bottom popped up, posing as a chic pencil skirt. But still, Erdem is all about eveningwear. “I get asked the same question: Are women’s tastes and wants changing now, given the situation? On the contrary, we have a customer who’s still buying special pieces. It’s the want for something you can wear in five and 10 years. As I enter my 15th year doing this, the most thrilling thing is seeing someone wearing your work from 10 years ago. I’ve always been obsessed with permanence,” Moralioglu asserted. “When it feels like the end of the world, doesn’t someone need a pink moiré hand-embroidered gown?”