He may be inspired by disaster movies, but the Canadian-born designer has become one of London Fashion Week’s biggest recent success stories thanks to his fresh ideas and commercial sensibility
When Erdem Moralioglu unveiled his autumn 10 collection at London Fashion Week earlier this month, it instantly became one of the event’s standout shows. He showcased his signature printed dresses on lace and silk but also demonstrated his skills as a pattern cutter on perfectly tailored leather trench coats, pencil skirts and blouses. All in all, he delivered what most designers would crave: a beautiful aesthetic fused with wearability, and a complete, grown-up wardrobe.
But Canadian-born Moralioglu doesn’t like the word ‘commercial’; he is almost embarrassed by it. In fact, when he describes the inspiration behind his autumn 10 collection, he betrays his commercial nous and adopts typical LFW designer-speak. “I went back to my adolescence, to watching old disaster movies like Alive,” he explains. “The idea behind the collection is that of piecing things together again. It’s Ethan Hawke [star of Alive] and lace.”
Perhaps it’s a sort of defence mechanism; by talking so cryptically, Moralioglu can keep secret what is proving to be a winning formula.
His label - Erdem - is a favourite with premium buyers, with some 50 stockists worldwide. Bridget Cosgrave, fashion and buying director at London designer mini-chain Matches, says it is a strong performer. “He has really refined his shape, which makes the collection work so well commercially,” she says. “He is the master of the dress. Price points start at about £478 and go up to about £2,868 for the more couture-style pieces. You can see why he is commanding these prices.”
Harvey Nichols fashion buying director Averyl Oates agrees. “The clever merchandising of the collection offers a wide range of price points and styles, from highly embroidered showpieces to simple printed T-shirt dresses, thus catering for a multitude of clients,” she says. “The success of the collection is down to Erdem’s ability to take traditional influences and translate them into fresh new ideas, offering a different point of view to his contemporaries.”
Moralioglu has also taken a different route to his peers in terms of developing himself as a designer. No longer an emerging talent, Moralioglu is now at that awkward stage of deciding where to go and what to do next.
But he seems focused. While contemporaries Christopher Kane and Richard Nicoll are balancing their own collections with designing for other fashion houses - Kane for Versace and Nicoll for Cerruti - Moralioglu is opting for less high-profile associations by collaborating with other, similar-minded designers, including stationery business Smythson, eyewear brand Cutler and Gross (which he wears) and, most recently, women’s footwear designer Nicholas Kirkwood for autumn 10.
“I look to align myself with something that I would use or wear,” says Moralioglu, who insists that designing for a big-name fashion house, launching a diffusion line or teaming up with a high street retailer - well-trodden routes for designers at this stage of their career - are not on his to-do list for the moment. “My goal is to continue to do what I do and work with my team. I’m keen to concentrate on my own brand and develop four collections per season to include pre-collections. [As for high street collaborations] it’s a great way to create extra revenue, but there has to be a reason to do it and the right opportunity hasn’t come up - it’s something that is so prevalent in London too.”
Surely Moralioglu must have entertained the thought of showing his collection outside of London, something most designers have to do to make a mark globally? He almost chokes at the suggestion. “I’m really happy here [in London],” he says. “I’m so related to the city. I still visit the Royal College of Art [where he studied] and London is where everything starts. If you go into most fashion houses in New York, you see a significant percentage of English people.”
This single-minded intensity has paid off, with the label being picked up by Paris boutique Colette for the first time for spring 10 (and being given space in its prestigious window display), opening six new accounts in Italy and seeing a 50% increase in turnover compared with the previous season, according to Moralioglu, who refuses to disclose the size of his business. As for whether the brand is in profit, he says: “Let’s wait and see when we close our books [for autumn 10].”
He credits his business’s “significant growth” with the appointment of a sales director two years ago and a strong team - “I didn’t do particularly well in business studies,” he laughs.
Maybe so, but he did do well in defining a signature look that has been embraced by young starlets such as the Olsen twins right through to the wives of political leaders including US first lady Michelle Obama, Sarah Brown and Samantha Cameron.
“It was accidental,” Moralioglu insists of his handwriting. “I’ve always been interested in beautiful clothes and in people looking great. I’ve never been interested in seasons; I like the idea that you have this garment and it’s been designed just for you. It doesn’t look forced.”
It’s this sort of thinking that has ensured the label didn’t suffer too much during the recession. “We’ve grown in tricky markets, like the US, because people still need something special,” he says. “A customer in Detroit won’t know about me or about LFW but will buy one of my pieces just because it fits and it looks great.”
US designer Carolina Herrera, who met Moralioglu for the first time recently, says this attitude is precisely why she admires him. “Erdem is very talented and has the right idea of how a woman should look,” she says. “He’s not trendy.”
No, he’s commercial, whether he likes it or not. And when you are in the business of designing clothes, being able to sell them is no bad thing.
2010 Shortlisted for the inaugural British Fashion Council (BFC) Vogue Designer Fashion Fund
2008 Wins BFC Fashion Forward sponsorship
2007 Wins Swarovski BFC Fashion Enterprise Award
2005 Launches Erdem label
2004 Works in design studios of Diane von Furstenberg
2003 Graduates from Royal College of Art, London
Who is your fashion mentor and why? Yves Saint Laurent, because he was an amazing colourist - he’s my hero.
Which is your favourite shop? Maison de la Presse, a vintage book and magazine store on Rue des Archives in Paris. I love books.
What’s the best-selling product you have ever worked on? The spring 10 collection totally sold out on [etailer] Net-a-Porter, which was great.
What has been your proudest achievement? Showing at London Fashion Week for the first time for autumn 06.
What would be your dream job (apart from your current position)? I would be a set designer or artistic director for the Royal Ballet. I have a twin sister who is into ballet.
Which designers do you admire? I admire Christopher Kane - what he does is so elegant. Julian J Smith is wonderful and Alber Elbaz is the most engaging and charismatic man. He was a visiting tutor in my second year at the Royal College of Art and I learnt a lot from him.
Does the fashion industry do enough to nurture young design talent? It could do more. The Council of Fashion Designers of America has a very structured mentoring programme. But to a certain extent, we talk about mentoring so much - you just have to go out there and do it.
What is your advice to young designers? Understand what makes them special; understand who their customers are. Some people will tell you that you can’t do it, but you have to go for it.