Spend just five minutes with fashion designer Erdem Moralioglu and you will want to give him a big hug. The spectacle-clad, Canadian-born designer has an inviting smile, a hard-to-place accent (thanks to his split upbringing in Montreal and Birmingham, England) and a boyish charm that makes you want to be his best friend. It doesn’t hurt that on his recent trip to Washington he managed to frequent two of our favorite food establishments: Ted’s Bulletin and Ben’s Chili Bowl. Yes, he also made it to powerhouse establishments like Old Ebbitt Grill (“Restaurants here have very funny names,” remarked Moralioglu) and Cafe Milano, but we just love the image of the pristinely dressed Moralioglu snarfing down a chili dog and chili cheese fries.
“I have eaten my way through Washington and am definitely leaving this city weighing more than when I came,” joked Erdem.
Moralioglu, who made his inaugural visit to Washington to show his Fall/Winter 2014 collection at the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation’s annual Great Ladies Luncheon and Fashion Show, also managed to fit in visits to the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, the POV at the W Hotel and the National Cathedral. But WL snagged 10 minutes of his time on his last day in the city to chat about where he gets his inspiration for his designs, why he is fascinated by the “codes of femininity,” his ideal woman client and what real-life woman has had the biggest influence on him.
Washington Life: Tell us where you found the inspiration for your Fall/Winter 2014 collection.
Erdem Moralioglu: I had gone to Vienna for a wedding and I went to the National Gallery and found these amazing portraits by [Diego] Velázquez ,the infantes, and it got me thinking about proportion, particularly shorter proportions. Obviously the infantes are portraits he’d done of royal children wearing very adult clothes, and there was something really disconnect with the proportions that I found interesting. I was looking at that and then people like Catherine Deneuve, the 60s and French new wave. I’d also gone to Blythe House in London, which is a storage unit of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and I was looking at all these amazing old couture dresses and kind of turning things inside out. So really it was an amalgamation of lots of different ideas, but more than anything I loved the idea of this contrast between darkness and bright colors. I found a shininess and odd sense of regality to it all.
WL: What themes do you see running between your collections?
EM: I’ve always been interested in the codes of femininity. I feel like the common thread, if there is one, is the idea of the feminine. I’ve always been intrigued by how women dress.
WL: How would you define the “codes of femininity”?
EM: There’s no set definition. It’s an organic thing and I think it depends ultimately on the wearer. But it’s this idea of contradiction that I find interesting. You can take an idea and turn it on its head slightly.
WL: Do you have any signature designs?
EM: The idea of the feminine is very signature for me. But also I love fabrics and textile development and finding new ways to use print or lace. I’m drawn to materials that insinuate the feminine, and I’m also attracted to opposites, like taking a melting wool from winter and doing jet beading on it. I love the idea of contradiction and mixing things that don’t necessarily belong together.
WL: Do you have a favorite look from the F/W 2014 Collection?
EM: Look 1 and the last look from the show [Editor's note: Erdem presented his F/W 2014 collection at the Great Ladies Luncheon at Saks on April 1] are two of my favorites. The last look, I had never shown before- it debuted in Washington. Look 1 is a velvet dress bonded with neoprene and then laser cut. The sleeves almost look like they were ripped off creating a gap and, it is cut away in the back. The proportion and shortness of look 1 gives it this odd, gothic, youthfulness that I love. But the last look is the complete opposite. It’s a very long dress with a long train. I felt like there was something that was really lengthened in the dress and it was covered in these glass, jet beads with ripped organza. The ripped organza almost looked like feathers and it was really odd. There was just something very special about it.
WL: If you were recommending one piece from the collection for Washington women, which would you choose?
EM: I don’t know because I met so many women from so many different walks of life while I was here. A Washington woman is more than just one dress.
Designer Erdem Moralioglu talks inspiration, chili dogs and losing his mother young.
By Laura Wainman
WL: Why did you want to be involved with the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation?
EM: I was really touched by Lisa [Somar]‘s story about her mother and her tribute to her mother. I lost my mother when I was young and I felt like the idea of celebrating her mother, who sounds like an amazing figure and an extraordinary woman, to create a tribute to her really struck home with me. And of course it is a great cause, and to have the opportunity to help and show my collection was very flattering. It was a real privilege.
WL: We understand this is your first trip to Washington. What are your impressions of our city?
EM: How beautiful it is. You really get a sense of oldness that doesn’t exist in most American cities. It is a lovely place and everyone is so friendly.
WL: How would you describe your ideal client?
EM: It has been 10 years since I started my line and I’m finding that the more I do it, the less I know the answer. My ideal client is an 18-year-old who lives in Paris, a 24-year-old girl in Singapore, a 57-year-old woman in London or L.A. or Istanbul – she is everywhere. Your idea of the ideal really broadens as you grow and that’s such a wonderful thing.
WL: Tell us the greatest lesson you learned interning for Vivienne Westwood.
EM: That was the only place I was ever an intern. But the greatest lesson was learning to really keep my eyes open. I worked in the archives, where I got to see so many old garments, and turn things inside out. I got to look at corsets that Mr. Pearl [editor's note: Mark Pullen's alias was Mr. Pearl] had made. Keeping your eyes open and really observing things is one of the most important things we can do, and one of the easiest to forget.
WL: Have you read any books lately that have influenced you?
EM: I am currently reading a biography on Truman Capote. I do not think it has had any influence on me. Or if there is one I haven’t seen it yet, but I am enjoying it thoroughly.
WL: Will you share a little-known fact about yourself with our readers?
EM: I have a twin sister who is extraordinary. I think it had a huge influence on my that I had this twin in every stage of life, but a female twin. She is a real character and one of the most amazing, intelligent women I know.