It’s not every day a Canadian designer celebrates a decade at the top of the international fashion scene. So when Erdem Moralioglu—who was born in Montreal and studied at Ryerson University in Toronto—hit the milestone this past year, fashion fans in the Great White North were brimming with pride. Moralioglu, now based in London, marked the occasion by opening his first flagship store at 70 South Audley St., a genteel pocket of the city, in which Simone Rocha and Roksanda have also set up shop. The elegant double-storey former bank is decorated with seating from Finn Juhl and Alvar Aalto, plus illustrations by Jean Cocteau and Andy Warhol. The ultimate vision, Moralioglu tells me during a phone chat immediately after fashion month, was of a “Mayfair pied-à-terre,” which he dreamt up for his muse. “I can see her gliding by and leaving her sunglasses on the windowsill or reading a book by the photos,” he says. Essentially, after 10 years of imagining “her,” he gave her a home.
Which is not to suggest that the 38-year-old designer is settled. “There is a part of you that feels a confidence in what you do, a strength in your own voice. Another part is always learning and feels as open to newness as a student,” he says. One development on the horizon for spring: his first solo shoe collection. “I’m so excited about this launch,” he tells me. “It’s wonderful to be able to take your language and translate it into something else.”
Despite the obvious progression from his early days of ladylike cocktail dresses to today’s more off-kilter, art-inspired florals, many still default to describing Moralioglu’s womenswear as “romantic,” no matter the seasonal influence or storyline shift. To be fair, even a casual observer would sense the same, based on his soignée silhouettes, delicate finishings and the way his designs make women look womanly. “I’ve never been afraid of the feminine,” he says, pausing. “There are aspects of my work that are romantic, I guess.”
His hesitation is understandable. It’s a word often associated with giddy frivolity, and Moralioglu likes to dig deeper. In This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald writes: “The sentimental person thinks things will last—the romantic person has a desperate confidence that they won’t.” As an occasional sentimentalist, I find this difference revelatory. When I bring it up, Moralioglu lets out an “ahhh” in agreement: “I like how that separates the soft and dark sides of those two ideas.”
This nuance is what distinguishes his ruffled gowns from any other pretty tiered confection. Take, for example, Moralioglu’s spring ’16 collection (available at The Room), featuring filmy Victoriana-style frocks seemingly ripped apart at the shoulders and tea dresses transformed into midriff-baring tops and unlined skirts. It was inspired by “prairie madness,” the widespread depression endured by 19th-century pioneers. Don’t quite get the connection? Moralioglu’s process from research to runway is neither linear nor literal. “It’s less about the backstory than it is about the narrative happening inside my head—these women wandering the Great Plains alone.”Despite his big year—and a love of pulling inspiration from history—Moralioglu isn’t one to dwell on the past. “I always focus on what’s immediately in front of me,” he says. Which, at the moment, is a much-needed vacation in Puglia the day after we chat. “It’s been so busy,” he says. “I’m going to eat pasta and lie on a beach.” Sounds like a swell way to celebrate.