Exclusive Interview with the Turkish Fashion Designer Dilek Hanif

Lara Mansour   |   14-09-2017

Dilek Hanif combines her natural creativity with hard work and productivity, to create a world-renowned brand. Meet the Turkish Fashion pioneer and learn more about her creative, brave, and visionary personality she has been able to translate her Anatolian cultural heritage into the international fashion scene.

Dilek Hanif

Hanif was born in Istanbul in 1962, with her interest in fashion beginning at a very young age when she started helping with her parent’s textile business. She established her first brand, the Dilek Hanif line, as early as 1990 and entered the international fashion world with her first Haute Couture fashion show in 2002 in the beautiful and historical setting of the Aya İrini Church in 2002. Then in 2004, again with a spring-summer collection, she became the first Turkish fashion designer to present a collection at the Paris Haute Couture Week, thus becoming a true pioneer. As the brand grows, so have Hanif’s collections, venturing into ready-to-wear which was launched in 2011.

Dilek Hanif

Timelessness is a characteristic which runs inherently through Dilek’s creations. Inspired by both the rich cultural legacy of the Ottomans, together with modern and feminine dressing, she adds a new dimension to the Turkish woman fashion scene. Her designs, while emphasising and celebrating femininity, remain of a simple elegance, away from exaggeration and full of romanticism. The high-quality fabrics used, precise hand stitching, and her relentless pursuit of perfection in each design results in each piece being an artwork masterpiece.

With an emphasis on Turkish design, what are some trademark elements that shine through in your collections and are representative of Turkish culture?

The magnificent history of Turkey is one of the reference points that inspires me most. Our designs are a great representation of Turkey’s culture, where east meets west. We combine the orient and occident by using ottoman inspired embroidery work and update the design for the modern world, such as ottoman vests with our cultural beading techniques work interpreted for the modern fashion world. We try to reflect the culture of our handmade work that has been done for centuries in the palaces of Turkey. Our heritage is so rich and deeply rooted and it is a great source of inspiration for me. I like to mix different culture styles with a modern approach.

Dilek Hanif

What is your impression on Middle Eastern fashion?

The Middle East is rapidly becoming popular for its fashion scene. Arabian fashion has received great interest from the other countries who try emulating their distinctive styles. Dubai is already a known fashion hub, where you can find a combination of international trends. KSA is also very fashion forward yet traditional, which is very pleasing to see how they can retain their customs yet be trendy. We have stores across the Middle East, as we design keeping in mind the Arabian woman, modern yet also traditional. There is a lot of potential for designers to grow their brands in both these markets and this is part of my brand’s future plans as well.

How do you feel your brand fits in Dubai?

Dubai is a melting pot of different ethnicities and cultures. Our collections tend to be universal and can be worn by women of all traditions and cultures. Some of our work is targeted towards the Middle Eastern women. For instance, I try not to expose too much orientalist touch on the dresses I design for the women in the Middle East. On the other hand, we also have many customers from Europe and the Far East. This is why my brand tends to have a global imprint and can be suitable for women that are completely different. Rather than cultural perception, I care about my customer’s demands, daily life and needs. My designs need to be aesthetically pleasing as well as practical.

What are some of the greatest challenges you face as a fashion designer today, and how has being from Turkey been an advantage or a challenge?

To present a couture collection in Paris as a Turkish designer was quite challenging, and it is still quite difficult, but over time the task has become easier. I am able to showcase the creative and artistic potential of Turkish people to the rest of the world, and the beautiful landscapes, scenic beauty, history and heritage of Turkey is so unique and inspiring that it has definitely helped with design creativity and distinction.

The challenges I face as a fashion designer are probably the same as many other designers from all over the world. Being successful both artistically and professionally is very hard work, it demands devotion, patience and resistance. We, as fashion designers, have to be artists and business people at the same time, able to catch up with everyday life and real people’s needs and expectations. Our work is our life. The most difficult goal to achieve is to be understood by people, to make them believe in you and appreciate what you create.

Can you tell us about how your interest in fashion began, and what inspired you to become a fashion designer?

Fashion was always a family business. I grew up close to fashion and fabrics, which fuelled my own passion for the industry. It was during school that I became passionate with drawings and fabrics. I used to draw all the time and imagine how to create new designs and new fabrics. Then, in the years after, I just followed my soul and instinct.

I began my professional journey in 1990 with the idea to translate Anatolian cultural heritage into the world fashion scene. The Dilek Hanif brand entered the international fashion world with its first Haute Couture fashion show in 2002 and broke barriers in 2004, by becoming the first Turkish fashion brand to present a collection at the Paris Haute Couture Week. I see myself as a visionary on a mission to harmonise the past and present through fashion, and this is reflective in my designs.

With both ready-to-wear and couture collections, which avenue do you enjoy working on more?

They are very different in procedures. Couture is limitless in the way you work with it and it has an artistic flair while in RTW, technology plays an important role. Regardless, I enjoy working on both, each helps me grow and develop the brand in different ways.

Dilek Hanif

What do you look to for inspiration when you are designing, and do you have a muse?

There are many sources that inspire me. I find different cultures and ways of life very enlightening and I try to travel as often as I can. Exploring the world opens the mind and the great sights and wonders truly humble and inspire onlookers.

I am also very impressed by strong women in history. I admire the achievements they gained with the conditions of their time. I hold esteem for women that play many roles in their lives, being business women, mothers and partners. They not only inspire me, but I also draw strength from their courageous spirit.

Can you tell us about the inspiration behind this current couture collection?

For Fall 2017 I was inspired by the late 19th century Victorian Era and the unique style of Jackie Kennedy, who is a style icon of the 60s. The other influential reference point of my collection was the iconic English roses we can see in the works of Nick Knight, the legendary photographer and fashion film director.

What are your career highlights so far?

The journey that started 26 years ago in a small atelier brought me to some points that I could never imagine. For instance, in 2004 I was the first Turkish fashion designer to present a collection at Paris Haute Couture Week, and I was invited to Paris Fashion Week for the following ten years. This was a great honour for me and when I think about those days I still feel so excited. I keep trying to improve and develop myself in a profession that I always dreamt about. I see the brand Dilek Hanif having a rising performance abroad, even without doing many PR activities. As an example, we are now present in 27 selected points around the world, in countries such as United States and England. Sewing a Couture wedding dress for the Princess of Kuwait, dressing many celebrities such as Katherine Heigl, Iggy Azalea, Nicole Richie, or being selected as a ‘Woman to Watch’ in Turkey with my successful business story are all achievements that make me embrace my work even tighter and move my brand another a step forward.

Who have you been most excited to see wearing your clothes?

I have worked closely with several Hollywood celebrities over the years, and would love to dress anyone who appreciates the designs and collection. Dressing Cate Blanchett would be a dream. I can definitely see her effortlessly pulling off some of the pieces from our SS17 collection.

Tell us about how your brand has grown and transformed over the years?

I started my brand, Dilek Hanif, as early as 1990 to translate the Anatolian cultural heritage into the world fashion scene. In 2002, I entered my first Haute Couture fashion show and soon after, in 2004, Dilek Hanif was the first Turkish fashion brand to present a collection at Paris Haute Couture Week. The brand has gone from being a local Turkish brand to an international label with celebrities from all over the world wearing my creations, which has led to the establishment of stores across the globe and an online webstore that does international shipping.

Do you enjoy the freedom of running your own brand?

Yes, I do enjoy it. This brand became a part of my life, and it marks every single moment of it. We are like a single entity. I do not even see the borders between my work and my private life. They both feed each other. I really enjoy having no constraints, as it gives space to my creative side.

What drives you to continue creating new and inspired designs?

The continuous cycle of the business always gives me new energy and inspiration. After one collection has ended, we are immediately starting a new one and this gives me passion and new excitement to create new designs. On the other hand, I find inspiration from a variety of different sources. They may be books, movies, or important historical events. I find different cultures and ways of life very enlightening and I try to travel as often as I can. I am impressed by strong women in history. I admire the achievements they gained with the conditions of their time. I hold esteem for women that play many roles in their lives as business women, mothers, and partners. I am also inspired by the rich culture and heritage of Turkey.

Can you share with us the secret to your success?

There are not particular secrets to my success. I always do my job with love, passion and by feeling it, and of course with hard work and sacrifice. I think that in order to be successful in what you do or who you are you should always stand firm and never compromise your principles.

Finally, what can we look forward to and expect in the future from you?

I intend to strengthen my operations abroad. Dilek Hanif is available worldwide through the online store as well as multi-brand stores such as Bergdorf Goodman and Harvey Nichols. Becoming more prominent in London is next on the plans and we are already in the process of this. London is not just the capital of Great Britain but the fashion capital of the world and it is a long-awaited and much needed step for the brand in affirming its position in the international fashion scene.  In the future, I hope to have the brand available and accessible in more countries, have more standalone stores and have Dilek Hanif be the symbol of the modern woman.

By Eliza Scarborough