Erdem Gives Us A First Look At His Collaboration With H&M

Ahead of his high street drop, ELLE chats exclusively to the Canadian/Turkish designer

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Erdem's office has shafts of light bouncing off wall-to-wall shelves that support glossy art, fashion and photography books; the lenses of the designer's trademark Oliver Peoples spectacles reflect the flicker of a Cire Trudon candle perched on his desk. 'Is the scent too intense?' he asks as he welcomes me into his workspace inside a converted Victorian fabric warehouse in London's Aldgate.

Walking into Erdem's world is a kaleidoscopic, multi-sensory experience where everything is perfectly poised yet slightly askew. This is true of his theatrical shows, his carefully curated boutique on London's South Audley Street and his narrative-rich clothes. This autumn, his universe will expand considerably, when he follows in the footsteps of Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney and Rei Kawakubo with a new collection in stores as H&M's newest designer collaboration. To be precise, it's 220 stores around the world in 66 different countries.

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The line-up of 48 pieces, which lands on 2 November, will come hot on the heels of some of his most emotional work to date. His current collection, for example – a mélange of Ottoman 'miniature' and English florals, ravishing silk velvets and black voile gowns with swishing white petticoats – started with Erdem fantasising about an improbable meeting of his two great-grandmothers.

Erdem Moralioglu

'One was from Birmingham and the other from Istanbul; I imagined these two women together on the Women's March, sharing their stories. I never wanted it to feel literal – it's a fuzzy set of memories combined with the idea of a beautiful army of women marching. The figures in the show felt almost like my family,' he says.

The 39-year-old was raised in Montreal, Canada, by a British mother, Marlene, and a Turkish father, Erkal. His father's side of the family hailed from eastern Turkey, while his mother's came from the Midlands. 'My great-grandfather was a member of The Royal Scots regiment and died in France in the first world war, and if you look closely at the current collection, there are bits of hidden tartan alongside the Ottoman miniature patterns and military motifs,' he adds.

'Amazing', 'wonderful', 'interesting': these are words that Erdem uses a lot, in an accent still tinged with a slight north American drawl. Nonetheless, he does not engage in the fakery and histrionics for which the fashion industry is known. He plays his part as the tuxedo-clad professional at red-carpet events and the erudite speaker at conferences, but otherwise maintains a private life with his partner, the interior architect Philip Joseph, from their newly restored house in east London. 'It is perfect, of course – apart from the fact there are still no door handles in the kitchen. And you can print that!'

Erdem x H&M
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They met at the RCA and both have twin siblings. Erdem's sister, Sara, works for the BBC in current affairs. The couple adores hunting for obscure objects, vintage furniture and materials to reuse, including parquet floors, marble and ironmongery. This is not just for their home but for Erdem's Mayfair shop, designed by Philip and featuring a Victorian fern garden, Alvar Alto seating, art by Hockney, Warhol and Cocteau, and a harlequin patterned marble floor. 'I wanted the feel of a pied-à-terre – somewhere comfortable and private,' he says of the townhouse space. 'It's wonderful to have a home for the entire collection and see how women react to that,' he adds.

Erdem's success coincides with a slew of London-based designers finding wider fame: Jonathan Saunders, Roksanda Ilincic and the late Richard Nicoll joined Erdem in representing the success of a new generation of British designers.

Throughout his career, Erdem has channelled his cross-cultural background and early sense of rootlessness into creativity. He draws from personal memories, impressions and culture in palimpsest-like layers. That skill allows him to design clothes that manage to feel both relevant for now and timeless, a defining quality of his work for H&M.

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'I wanted to do the antithesis of fast fashion; a collection you would keep: the perfect tweed suit or brocade party dress, and working with Harris Tweed and small Italian mills to create it. All the cotton jersey is organic,' he says. The Swedish high-street giant kicked off its collaborative series in 2004 with Lagerfeld, and since then has worked with A-list designers including Marni, Versace and Balmain. By contrast, Erdem is a small independent known for his highly considered dresses. Felicity Jones, Michelle Obama, Nicole Kidman and legions of women both in and out of the public eye adore his romantic view.

The unlikely pairing began when H&M contacted him last December. 'They approached me with the idea that we could collaborate with a film-maker. I found myself thinking about a Nineties video for the Pet Shop Boys that was directed by Bruce Weber. It takes place in the English countryside and sees a party of teenagers invading a stately house. The boys are wearing tuxedos and T-shirts and the girls are running around in gowns. I liked the idea of playing with the formal and informal,' he says.

When the name Baz Luhrmann was mentioned, Erdem was hooked. 'He's such an amazing storyteller, and once I knew there was this opportunity to work with him, how could I say no?' he smiles. The Academy Award-nominated director, whose credits include The Great Gatsby and Romeo + Juliet, worked with Erdem to create a video campaign for the collaboration that features models running through a Hampshire garden wearing pieces from the collection. The H&M line has the same thread of personal history running through it.

'I love the idea of looking backwards to create things that could feel completely new again,' he says. He looked to photographs of his father in the Seventies wearing slim-fitted tweed sports jackets, to memories of his mother flinging a military coat over a short dress to do the school run and to his own archive of pieces dating from his very first collection in 2005.

Erdem x H&M
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Making the leap from designing £3,000 gowns to ones that cost a fraction of that amount with equal integrity and a sustainable ethos is no easy task. The H&M line includes floral embroidered hoodies, T-shirts and high-necked blouses, as well as hosiery, shoes and earrings, all ranging from £15 to £230.

Erdem AW17
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'From the beginning, our collaborations have been about breaking down the walls of fashion and giving people the chance to own clothes by designers they may not usually get to wear,' says Ann-Sofie Johansson, H&M's creative advisor. 'I love how Erdem talks about the collection like the perfect getaway in a country house, bringing together different generations and people from all sorts of backgrounds.

When the collection is revealed, you'll see this story come to life in such a special way. The collection is also a nod to British heritage, using ethereal silks, carefully chosen embellishments and the language of flowers from the English garden,' she says. In other words, it's a true extension of his polished, slightly skewed, completely immersive world.

Erdem is sold in more than 170 of the world's most exclusive retailers, including Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman, Joyce, Colette, Dover Street Market, Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. 'His signature romance plays with the light and dark, creating a tension that moves his aesthetic forward,' says Lydia King, Selfridges' director of womenswear. 'We are always so excited to host Erdem's shows in the Old Selfridges Hotel, and AW17 embodied how modernity meets ideas past,' she adds.

With a sanguine outlook and wickedly dry sense of humour, Erdem is more than equipped to ride through the storms that have crashed through the business, exacerbated by difficult economic times and rapidly changing tastes. And his escapist aesthetic, combined with his expertise in rarefied fabrics and patterns (Erdem trained in textiles at the Royal College of Art), is certainly proving a long-stayer.

His graduate collection featured vintage textile 'seconds' that he found in Paris flea markets, mixed with African batiks discovered in London, which laid the groundwork for his future brand. In 2001, the Foreign and Commonwealth Institute awarded him a Chevening Scholarship, making Erdem the first ever fine arts or fashion student to receive the bursary.

It was the first of many accolades, including the British Fashion Council's (BFC) Fashion Forward Award in 2008, the 2010 inaugural Vogue/BFC Designer Fashion Fund Award, the British Fashion Council's New Establishment Award in 2012, the BFC's Red Carpet Award in 2013, and the BFC's Womenswear Designer of the Year Award in 2014. Not to mention he's won the ELLE Designer of the Year Award in 2015 and 2017.

Erdem x H&M

And yet, despite the awards and celebrity following, what Erdem seems to appreciate most is that moment we all experience in front of the mirror, whether that's in a VIP fitting room or an H&M store.

'When you zip up a dress or button up a blouse and look at yourself in the mirror, success comes down to that moment of seduction, and that's why all of us do what we do,' he says. 'Of course I have pangs of anxiety and doubt like anyone else, but I just keep going. The people I'm around are grounded as well, and that helps. It's never the end of the world.'

For the sake of our wardrobes, we hope not.

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