Asli Filinta Is the Name to Know From Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Istanbul

Fashion Updates

It’s little surprise that Turkish designers tend to follow international trends. Escaping fashion’s global codes is no easy task. At Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Istanbul, which wrapped up last Friday, the majority of the city’s collections were streetwear based, injected with a sense of apocalyptic doom and gloom, or proposed in genderless, yet flamboyant variations. Other designers favored a prêt-à-couture approach, using the sumptuous fabrications for which the Turkish textile industry is famous, as well as traditional, Ottoman-style embroidery techniques. There was an abundance of swirling flounces, ruches, and embellishments of all kinds.

Watching the shows in the hypermodern Zorlu Performing Arts Center, one longed to see more creative diversity and to be surprised by modern interpretations of the regional aesthetic. Enter Asli Filinta, an ebullient designer with a collection full of imagination and attitude, which she presented at the Quincentennial Foundation Museum of Turkish Jews. Filinta worked in finance before decamping to New York to pursue fashion. After enrolling in and dropping out of the Parsons School of Design, she launched her own label in 2008. By her second outing she was invited to join Comme des Garçons’s pop-up store at Dover Street Market in Aoyama, Tokyo.

Filinta’s vision is personal and profoundly inspired by Turkish culture. “It’s never only about fashion for me,” she said during a studio visit after her show. “Aesthetically, I love poems and songs by the geniuses of our past, Ottoman architecture, Iznik tiles, Turkish carpets and miniatures. But when I say Turkish, it’s about my country, not about ethnicity. It could be Laz, Kurd, Circassian, Armenian, Arabic, Greek. All the cultural colors of Turkey—I try to embrace everything in this land, no religion, ethnicity, or political difference.”

Over the course of 10 years, Filinta has tapped into a wide variety of historical references. “Here, no one in fashion is really using our heritage, so it’s left for me to use it, like a big ocean of knowledge!” she said. Her work is a delicate yet forceful reinterpretation of symbolic ornaments, intricate decorations, and historic architectural elements cut and pasted into whimsical, feminine silhouettes. In 2012, she took the poet Rumi’s tale, The Paragon Parrot, as inspiration; in 2013, her collection centered on the great Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, a contemporary of Michelangelo, who built the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne and the Suleimaniye Mosque in Istanbul. The poet Nazim Hikmet, the painter Fikret Mualla, and the opera singer Leyla Gencer have all been influences. Filinta once translated the traditional flounced aprons of the Flower Ladies, who sell floral bouquets in the streets of Istanbul, into extravagant bohemian dresses.

For Fall 2019, she booked an all-Turkish cast of models. “I need to create a space where I can support, motivate, and give a chance to young Turkish women to be seen and heard, to go out and be themselves,” Filinta said. “It’s such an important part of my vision.” The collection was also an exercise in upcycling; a rich variety of Turkish fabrics, like Kutnu silks, macramé laces, and crinkled cottons, traditionally used as undergarments, were repurposed and assembled in imaginative patchworks, embellished with golden embroideries, and cut into sometimes bizarre yet compelling modern shapes.

Filinta’s unique approach is setting the bar for a new generation of Turkish designers. “What is missing here is a bit of courage to express an original vision,” pointed out Gunes Guner, the creative director of Istanbul’s fashion week and a respected teacher at the city’s Fashion Academy. “The biggest challenge for the new generation of Turkish designers will be to dig deep and research into our cultural heritage, twisting it into a modern, distinctive formula balancing tradition and modernity.”