Erdem Moralioglu's studio, a long white room just off Bethnal Green Road, is quietly buzzing with activity. On a vast cutting table, one of his staff is tinkering with a purple pleated-silk dress. "I'm just dressing Keira Knightley for a premiere on Thursday," explains Erdem, proudly waving his hand over the purple material. "We're just altering the dress for her – we had the fitting and it was a little bit too big."
Erdem, who lives and works under his first name, returns to his desk, a large white table straining with fashion monographs (Madame Grès, Lanvin, Diana Vreeland's Allure) and bits of paper. Above, on the wall, there's a glass case displaying rows of jewel-hued butterflies. Under the desk, there's a taxidermist's stuffed fox. Behind his squarish glasses, Erdem, now 30, is handsome in a Mediterranean, olive-skinned way. He's also incredibly low-key: cool and calm, logical and rational, even a little shy. His visions of impossible elegance and riotous colour are far more grandiose than his restrained, contemplative demeanour.
And his visions are truly elegant. His critically acclaimed autumn/ winter 2008 collection, shown in Bluebird on the King's Road, was a festival of colour. Full-length, strapless, double duchesse-silk ball gowns in zinging canary-yellow; that Keira Knightley amethyst dress sprouting corsage-like flowers around the bust; vivid-green cocktail dresses digital-printed with blurry birds and flowers. These were clothes for parties and soirées and fabulous occasions, or defiantly upbeat day dressing, characterised by eye-popping pattern and colour. "I like the idea of colour for winter," he says of his bold palette of citron yellows, regal purples and chlorophyll greens. "It's quite necessary in a way. I like colour a lot, and I've always admired other designers who are colourists."
Touch the fabrics, which almost have a neoprene, techy look about them, and they are impossibly luxurious. "I worked with an old Italian mill called Taroni," he explains, "and I picked these great duchesse fabrics. They had an amazing palette to choose from. We're fabric-based at the beginning. That's how we piece the collection together."
The neat, curvilinear shapes: bloused sleeves, slightly retro funnel necks and vast billowing rounded skirts, only serve to accentuate the chic quality of the colourful fabrics. And his digital prints – three in the autumn/winter collection – are less obvious than the straightforward florals and nature pictures that he manipulates to create these slightly obfuscated patterns. "I take recognisable things, like a bouquet of flowers, and smudge and distort them on my Mac," he enthuses. "I want to recreate the idea of movement and memory you have on a train." The green print originally depicted a crow with rotting fruit. "But it's distorted so you can't see what it is. We also did a bizarre acidic paisley."
Lace features, too, and there's one cascading, floor-length, ecru Miss Havisham "waterfall" dress, with vertical strips of violent yellow on the shoulders. "I love lace, there's something regal and refined about it. It's interesting to use it in a modern way – juxtaposing a menswear shape or a military shape with a fabric that's so soft and feminine. That's why I gave the 'waterfall' dress Blade Runner shoulders."
I wonder if there's an Erdem woman ghosting these heavenly silhouettes. Certainly Keira Knightley, Chloë Sevigny and Kirsten Dunst have all worn his creations. "The Erdem woman has remained the same, she has never been concerned with being cool," he muses. "She's quite seasonless, in a way. She's a woman who does what she wants and is strong.
"It's a distinct idea of a woman I have in my head, but it's almost an imaginary figure that happens in the process of creation rather than at the end." I press him for names of muses, but he won't specify. "It's going to sound so Oedipal, but my mum was so well dressed and lovely, she was quite important."
Erdem was brought up with his twin sister (who now works in the BBC's natural-history department) on the picturesque shores of Lake St Louis in suburban Canada. His father, who was of Turkish origin, worked as a chemical engineer, and his English mother was a housewife. His parents are no longer alive, and you sense he feels the loss acutely. "My mum was a complete Anglophile," he recalls, and growing up, he watched lots of Merchant Ivory films. "I had this romantic vision of what Britain was. I loved costumes and museums, and when we visited, we went to places like Madame Tussauds and Warwick Castle."
Erdem studied fashion design at a small Canadian university, then, in 2000, moved to London. He did a brief internship at Vivienne Westwood, then secured a British Council scholarship to do a MA at the Royal College of Art. He graduated in 2003, and went on to win Fashion Fringe in 2004, did a stint working for Diane von Furstenberg in New York, and showed his first collection under his own name in 2005. "I always wanted my own label," he says, and now has four full-time and three freelance employees. Last year he won the British Fashion Council Enterprise Award.
For a designer with such a focused vision, Erdem's inspirations are diverse. "My top three fashion influences are Yves Saint Laurent, for his sensitivity, use of colour and devotion to making women elegant; Mainbocher, who designed some of Wallis Simpson's clothes, and did great embellished dresses; and Charles James because of the way he cut."
It remains to be seen whether Erdem will join these greats in the fashion history books. But without a doubt, he has made an extremely promising start.Reuse content