As one of our country's most revered fashion exports, Montreal-born, London-based designer Erdem Moralioglu began making his mark in 2005 when he launched his debut collection. Twelve years later, he's garnered an impressive celebrity clientele, from the Duchess of Cambridge to actor Nicole Kidman, and regularly turns heads on the red carpet with his signature prints and luxurious fabrications.
On Nov. 2, the awareness of his brand will be catapulted to new heights as he launches a limited capsule collection for H&M. Now, a younger generation (and those with less luxurious budgets) will be able to indulge in Moralioglu's rich, romantic vision. I spoke with Erdem from his London studio recently about this collaboration, his foray into men's wear, and his unbridled passion for designing.
What kind of joy did this particular collaboration with H&M bring you?
When I was encouraged to create a collection for them, I was totally flattered. To follow in the footsteps of someone like Alber [Elbaz], Karl Lagerfeld, and Rei Kawakubo just felt like an extraordinary opportunity. Also, for them to work with someone who's not so well-known…well, it was so interesting of them, considering that their last collaboration was with Kenzo. The opportunity to create a men's collection felt really exciting. So there were lots of reasons why it felt right. Also the idea of being able to create something that was completely democratic in a sense, that so many people will be able to buy and wear… And I love the idea that people who might not even know who I am will buy it, wear it, and absorb it into their lives. I find that so exciting.
H&M has some strong messaging now, talking to that young generation who are increasingly concerned with the environment, including their clothing drop-off program. How do you feel about their environmental concerns?
It's really important, and it's important to me. They're the largest consumer of organic cotton in the world, and that in itself is extraordinary. For me, it was really important to have them collaborate with mills that I worked with, like Harris Tweed, and smaller Italian mills. It was amazing to get them to work with people that I worked with in smaller mills up in Scotland. The question of sourcing, how things are made – all of those things were something that were very important to me on every level.
You've done a little men's collection for H&M, too. Was this a bit of an experiment for you? Might we see more men's wear from you soon?
Maybe. For me, it was an absolute pleasure to design the men's collection. I would find myself in fittings and trying things on myself. I remember I was fitting a tweed suit in the men's collection and I took it off the fit model and put it on a female fit model, and how that suit hung on her was so inspiring. So then as a result, I designed a beautiful tweed suit for women. The opposite also happened: There was a kind of a hoodie that I designed for women. I tried it on our male fit model and then decided to do a hoodie for him. One affected the other and that kind of bouncing off of each other was very interesting.
Early on in your career you worked with strong women like Vivienne Westwood and Diane Von Furstenberg. What would you say you learned about fashion from Vivienne Westwood?
At Westwood, I was an intern. It was extraordinary to be in London and to be a student in that studio space, in her world. Her sense of narrative, her sense of taking different time periods and revisiting them felt really interesting. At Westwood, there was a wonderful sense of bravery. She had such a wonderful point of view.
What today keeps you in touch with women? Years ago, I asked [designer] Bill Blass about that. He seemed to really understand the way contemporary American women were living, and the kinds of things that they were after in their wardrobe because he hung out with a lot of them, like Babe Paley. He went to all these parties and they entertained him. Do you feel compelled to have that kind of lifestyle, where you're really out there?
Not at all, Jeanne. I'm from the suburbs of Montreal and I couldn't be further from Bill Blass and Babe Paley if I tried! I live in East London, and my life is like a one-mile radius. I come to the studio and work and then I go home. I think what I've always had is this kind of a dream. My women in the world I've created come out of this idea of a dream. Then I figure out where it is that she's going. It's never been from that direct contact to my client. I do have more contact with her now though, since I opened up my store two years ago in Mayfair. That certainly has given me a further understanding as to who she is, what she does, what her needs are, and all those insights that are really interesting. But it's less of the idea of being so connected to this group of women. Those great old American designers were surrounded by their swans. I'm surrounded by rolls of fabric.
You propose these fantastic garments and prints, and you manage to seduce women so well – I just thought you must be in close touch with a whole bevy of women who are advising you.
I wonder if maybe it has something to do with that fact that I grew up with a twin sister, or that my mother was always very close to me. I was always very fortunate to be surrounded by women that were fiercely intelligent and very, very strong. And from very, very early on, I always associated femininity with strength. It was always something that I loved. I was fascinated by women from a very early age but I was never afraid of the feminine. It was something that always intrigued me, but it was never something that I associated with a kind of a weakness. I found it fascinating and seductive and strong. I think that's something that always inspired me.
The last time I interviewed you, you told me you felt a kind of rootlessness. There's such a strong spotlight on Canada right now on the world stage. Is that part of you that feels Canadian especially proud these days?
In all honestly, I've always been so proud of where I've been, where I'm from, and where I grew up. So that pride is very constant. But in this strange world right now, I think we are setting such a beautiful example. And that I'm very proud of.
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