Designer Feature: Bora Aksu
Four-time consecutive winner of the British Fashion Council’s prestigious NewGen award. Over thirty collections shown to date at Fashion Week. Designs gracing the windows of Selfridges and bodies of stars from Sienna Miller to Kiera Knightly. Perhaps most astounding of all is a foray into Asia, where the 22ndstore in three years recently opened. Yet if you ask fashion designer Bora Aksu what his secret is, he’ll say, “I’ve never tried to make things happen, that’s the key to my whole career and the way I work. I’m more likely to follow the doors that open for me, rather than trying to force doors which won’t open.”
Bora’s collections are much like his philosophy: fluid, and flowing. His distinctive style is characterised by layers, lace, frills, and silks. By weightlessness and whimsy. They are light as air, soft as seafoam, each one is a flight of fancy. In many of them one catches hints of our most favourite feminine characters. He evokes Alice in Wonderland with full skirts and an ever-present playfulness. Elsewhere, a regency simplicity reminds of Elizabeth Bennett, the quick-tempered, head-strong heroine of Pride & Prejudice. Bora’s colour palette is rich with Wendy Darling blue, straight out of Neverland, and the frothy icing white of the ballets blanc. Rose pink, in attitudes of Glinda the Good Witch is another favourite of his, though a personal favourite of mine is a shade Bora christened “mustard gold”.
The rich, magnetic lustre of the colour is used to perfection in one editorial styled by Leith Clark for Sotheby’s, where the model adopts a classical pose popularised by the Pre-Raphaelites. Beautiful though everything about this shoot is, it’s Bora’s dress you can’t take your eyes off. It ripples on the model like a sheet of hammered gold and pools around her like crystallising honey. It’s irresistible.
(Left) Bora Aksu, (Right) Bora Aksu dress at a Sotheby’s shoot styled by Leith Clark
Despite the dreamy evocation of fictional favourites, Bora’s muses come from a source much closer home: his family. From the earliest age he remembers sketching the women in his life, and he still draws heavily from these memories, explaining, “when it comes to inspiration I always go back to my roots. I start thinking about my grandmother, my aunties and my beautiful mum, I always dig out all the old photos.” The plan to become a fashion designer formed naturally; “I grew up drawing”, he continues, “I had that passion ever since I was five or six. Except I never drew things like mountains and birds, I was only drawing people, women. When I became a teenager, my drawings became more like fashion illustrations, and soon I knew I wanted to study fashion”. Occasionally, in an act of impishness, he uses his childhood doodles on catwalk invitations. And he has good reason to still be proud of his nascent pictures.
Having persuaded his sceptical parents (both doctors) in his native Turkey to let him attend Central Saint Martins and study fashion, he showed up to the interview armed only with his sketches. “They took a chance on me,” he says, “I hadn’t done a foundation course and I had no technical skills or background in production. You can have amazing ideas but if you don’t have the skill to support them then you can’t do the idea justice. It was a struggle for me, but it has an amazing effect when you learn how to make patterns, drape and cut. Your designs change because you’re working in 3D not in paper. But this took me a long time to master.”
After the BA, Bora took a year out, worked for Ghost, and during New York Fashion Week, got what he calls “my clicking moment”. It was the lightbulb Eureka! where everything slid into place and he knew exactly what he wanted. He returned to Central Saint Martins for an MA under Louise Wilson, and gruelling though the experience was (BoF calls Wilson “famously forthright” and “blunt in her critique of students” as well as “making no apologies for her punishing standards”), Bora asserts that he owes his mentor everything, telling me warmly, “she was a one of a kind person”. Under her guidance, he discovered and developed his “design philosophy”, a formula by which he still works and one that he has never changed. It is this ephemeral quality which runs throughout all his collections and renders his clothes inimitably Bora Aksu.
Although this may sound vague, even wishy-washy, it is nonetheless Bora’s clarity and confidence in his own style that has garnered him so much attention. This refusal to be swayed has factored in his relationship with his partners in Asia, too. “People are very important to me,” he notes, “it has to feel organic, and we have to understand and respect each other. That’s why this partnership works so well, there’s a lot of mutual respect. They like how I design and don’t try to change that. I could never work with someone who tried to make me do something else.” Bora asserts that due to this happy cooperation, the project in Asia – although huge in scale – has been “relatively easy”.
No doubt Bora is in a position that most in the industry envy. Still entirely in control of his company, he continues to grow at a phenomenal rate across China and other hotspots in the Asian continent including Singapore and Hong Kong. In his quiet, composed way, Bora has grown his brand in the hottest, most desirable market of the 21stcentury. But away from the headlines and gigantic store fronts, Bora is one of the quiet ones. Softly-spoken, almost shy, even the welcoming invitation to his studio came as a surprise. Despite a corporate headquarters in Asia, Bora prefers to work in a little space near West Ferry which he’s had since his graduation. “It’s my cocoon!” He laughs, “I come here to cook things, where I feel at home! The corporate offices over there… it’s just not me.”
Clearly, what matters to Bora is the integrity of the Bora Aksu brand. He is not in fashion for the pomp and the glory, the social feed or the glitzy parties. He doesn’t care much for names and trends. What Bora cares about is the art, and he is prolific in his output. Aside from the collections, Bora designs the interiors of his stores (the walls of which are often covered in drawings) and even the mannequins. Last year, he made mini versions of every dress in his collection, which was not only visually stunning, but led to a children’s line of Bora Aksu ‘mini-me’ clothes to match the adult outfits. “I don’t think I can retire,” he says, “It will drive me crazy. My job is not something I do as a job, it’s my hobby. I mean, what else would I do with my time?” In short, if Bora’s career is a fairy tale, then it is surely one of his own making.
For more please visit Bora’s website