Meet the Erdem man
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Erdem Moralioglu is wearing a juicy-green mohair sweater with grey flannel trousers as he welcomes me into his office – a converted warehouse filled with curiosities in east London. There are shelves rammed to the rafters with books, artworks packaged in bubble wrap lying on the floor, and a Keith Vaughan painting peeks out from behind a sculpture in the corner. As the designer talks, his hands float skywards like he’s manipulating cloth or drawing something in the air. He’s charming company.
When we meet, he has just staged a critically acclaimed SS22 collection at the British Museum to celebrate his 15th year as a label. It was his first physical show since the pandemic, coincidentally on the anniversary of his mother’s death; as the runway reached a crescendo, a rainbow filled the moody British sky. It seemed a fitting, magical moment.
But we’re here to talk about his first range of menswear, which launches this month. “I’ve always wanted to do menswear,” says Moralioglu, “but I didn’t quite know when I would have the guts to do it and now, well, we’re in the middle of it.” The designer had started to see more men in the studio wearing Erdem womenswear, so set about creating a male narrative; they had a model try on parts of the women’s collection, looking for “clues” as to who the Erdem man might be. “I grew up with a twin sister and with almost an irrelevance to gender,” he muses. “When you see photos of us when we were young, you see us in the same sweaters.” He explains that the men are not designed to feel like the women’s husbands or even as an opposite. “It’s an extension of her and her world,” he says. “As she evolved, he came into existence.”
For the debut he has created 36 looks, presented in a windswept photoshoot on West Wittering beach. The details: boat-necklines to hug the clavicle, cummerbunds, slightly longer rollnecks to tuck your chin into, bucket hats, curved lapels, fuzzy sweaters (including the one he’s wearing). There’s a trademark Erdem elegant mood at play, cut through with an oddness, a slight bookishness, even a dash of rave. The designer says he wanted this first offering to act as a “blueprint” for forthcoming ideas for a man’s wardrobe: “There’s a casualness to this collection, a lightness to the tailoring.”
For inspiration, he zeroed in on the life of Derek Jarman (there is an entire stack of his books on Moralioglu’s desk) and his “uniform dressing”, including overalls and other utilitarian clothes. “Jarman was such an individual, and very much an outsider who was creating something that perhaps people didn’t really appreciate. There is something so beautiful about his body of work,” Moralioglu says, brandishing a copy of Modern Nature, the filmmaker/artist’s journals from 1989 to 1990, which he read during lockdown. “It totally spoke to me. It was around the time he moved to Dungeness, and he was reflecting on the past, thinking about the future.”
He also drew on the art of Patrick Procktor, who moved in the same circle as David Hockney and whose work Moralioglu has bought. “He had an extraordinary way of drawing. His watercolours, particularly his depiction of men, I always thought were beautiful – quite soft. He had an amazing palette.”
Moralioglu was born in Montreal and moved to London in 2000 to study at the Royal College of Art in London (he worked in the library as a student). He launched his label in 2005; he recalls the influences of both Turkey (where his father was from) and England (where his mother was born). His clothes have been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and he has dressed an array of impressive women from Madonna (“That was amazing!”) to the Duchess of Cambridge, Anna Wintour (at the tennis!) to Jessie Buckley.
He says his love of colour comes from his childhood, when he would wear top-to-toe yellow – his favourite. His childhood home was a yellow stucco bungalow surrounded by flowers (florals being a signature Erdem motif). And there is almost always a touch of it in his collections; in his menswear debut there’s a glorious canary cardigan.
Moralioglu’s collections are also often narrative-driven – he is fascinated by unusual people and their histories. “My mum was such an avid reader, she loved art, and she would take us to museums and galleries – she was very interested in beautiful things,” says Moralioglu. Previous seasons have drawn from Italian revolutionary Tina Modotti or photographer Cecil Beaton, while his SS22 collection wove its magic out of the stories of Bloomsbury-associated women Edith Sitwell and Ottoline Morrell.
The SS22 show also featured six menswear looks – perhaps a glimpse into how he sees the Erdem man fitting within the womenswear as it evolves. There was a crushed satin short suit with wide lapels, broderie anglaise and a toile de Jouy-style botanical print on a shirt and matching trousers. “There’s something a little bit dishevelled but also buttoned-up about it,” he says. “We thought a lot about how men should feel completely part of this [women’s] collection, and not gimmicky.” For the show, as for the past three years, he worked with London-based stylist Ibrahim Kamara, who also collaborates with Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton, as well as up-and-coming labels such as Maximilian. “It’s a wonderful thing when you find someone you can dance with,” Moralioglu says of the partnership.
It is a testament to the designer that his brand remains independent – no mean feat in a fashion era ruled by conglomerates. “It’s something I’m very proud of,” he says. “I don’t often think about it really, but it’s what I’ve always known.” Around half of the collection is made in the UK, though recent Brexit challenges have added complications to his operations. The designer also “hates the idea of waste”, so wherever possible fabrics are reused as part of an ongoing responsible approach to his design work.
I ask him, given how many A-list women he has dressed, whether there are any men of note he would like to see wearing his menswear? “I’ll be excited to see someone wearing the menswear in the street. It’s the most wonderful compliment.” He pauses. “And if I see someone wearing something from us, I will just compliment them, though I never say it’s me.”