Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Dice Kayek: Architects of Style

Architecture and clothes - one way or another, they're both dressing the human body, the former on a grand scale, the latter far more intimately.

Even so, it's a brave designer who bases a line of clothes around famous national landmarks. But Ece (pronounced Eecchay) and Ayse (Eyesha) Ege (Edgay), the two Turkish sisters behind Dice (Deechay) Kayek, have done just that with their Istanbul Contrast Collection. The results are spectacular, not least because they couldn't be further from those half-hearted attempts to incorporate some decorative drawings of buildings into dress fabrics that some labels pass off as "architectural".

Preview to the V&A's Glamour of Italian Fashion exhibition

On the contrary, this is a full-blown deployment of some of Turkey's most stunning structures. There's the ravishing white organdy cocktail dress composed of diagonal folds that replicates Istanbul's famous Blue Mosque, for instance, and the weighs-a-ton, but exquisite, angel-winged evening coat, hand embroidered with antique blown glass beads and clearly inspired by Istanbul's Hagia Sophia Mosque.

Impressive, they're probably not primarily intended for wearing, since they're part of the sisters' victorious submission for the Jameel Prize, an international award presented bi-annually to an artist or designer inspired by Islamic tradition.

This year's judging panel includes Zaha Hadid, Thomas Heatherwick (designer of the new Routemaster bus and the Olympic cauldron) and Martin Roth, director of the V&A. The Ege sisters, who were named as winners last night, are the first fashion designers ever to be nominated.

In some ways this is a natural evolution for them. When I visited their labyrinthine studio in Paris in October, I saw at first hand how sculptural the clothes for their Dice Kayek label are - full of sumptuous A-line silhouettes in beautiful duchesse satins and silks. Matchka, a less expensive label they design and sell only in Turkey, is more of an everyday collection, with floaty, fluid pieces in lovely fabrics. I wish it were sold here.

Dividing their time between Istanbul and Paris, the sisters are, as you'd expect, great observers of architecture, if somewhat wounded ones - their fabulously modern apartment in downtown Istanbul is about to have its sea-view obscured by a newer, taller block. Such is the way with planning regs in Istanbul, they told me philosophically.

Perhaps the exacting task of interpreting some of their country's most dazzling architecture into another medium has been a soothing distraction.

Not all white: wedding dresses at the V&A

Then again, architects and designers have found one another fascinating for years. Each discipline, at its best, represents a perfect fusion of form and function that should make us look and feel sleeker and more powerful than might be the case.

The most significant difference is that a building can take years to come to fruition - while fashion collections sometimes materialise within a week. Perhaps that's why so many architects end up adopting a distinctive style of dressing. From Corbusier's trademark specs (still inspiring wannabe modernist architects) and Walter Gropius's bowties and check jackets (the origins of smart-casual?) to Daniel Libeskind's beloved cowboy boots and Zaha Hadid's collection of voluminous Japanese silhouettes, architects understood the power of a Signature Look long before Anna Wintour decreed it a necessity. Maybe architects like a uniform because it's something over which they can exercise direct and absolute control.

It's no coincidence that numerous designers began their careers by studying architecture. Rifat Özbek, Romeo Gigli, Gianfranco Ferré, Tom Ford, Roksanda Ilincic…. Plenty more succumb to architectural ambition. One of the few titles Christopher Bailey, son of a carpenter and creative director and CEO of Burberry, cannot lay claim to is that of fully trained architect. That didn't stop him overseeing the transformation of the company's imposing 44,000 sq ft flagship on Regent's Street or designing the slick HQ in London's Victoria. Increasingly, all designers are expected to have fully formed visions of how their brand's retail presence should look, before an architect is approached.

The Eges don't have their own shops, and Dice Kayek should be better known. Perhaps this victory will help.

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