In September 2017, the London-based Turkish designer Dilara Findikoglu was accused of hosting a satanic orgy in a church. Outraged headlines screamed from the pages of the Daily Mail and the mouth of apoplectic American alt-right presenter (and noted conspiracy theorist) Alex Jones of InfoWars. "Now they have fashion shows with people dressed up as you'd dress up for a Satanic orgy right out of Eyes Wide Shut," Jones raved. "This itself is an act of Satanism, to carry out a Satanic ritual in a church," he opined, adding, with brilliantly camp ostentation: "The only thing better is to kill a child."
Reader, I was at that show. I’m sad to inform you that there was no orgy, and happy to confirm there was no infanticide; what did take place was a really great fashion presentation. Dilara showed a collection inspired by archetypes of the physical, metaphysical and spiritual realms. Characters included the Queen, King, Pope, Virgin, Justice, Shamash (the Mesopotamian Sun God), the Prime Minister, twin agents, a witch, God, the Devil, a nun, and the Forty Elephants ("a 19th and 20th century all-female London crime syndicate who specialised in shoplifting... notable for its longevity and skill in avoiding police detection," according to Wikipedia).
Known for her rock star tailoring, historic references, mystical iconography and concern with the spiritual realm, Dilara has gathered a wide range of fans. Bella Hadid was spotted wearing her Mick Jagger jacket; Madonna opted for the Garden of Eden coat; Adwoa Aboah had a whole custom suit made; Jazelle went for a silver cut-out mini dress to cuddle Kate Moss in; Rihanna was taken with a pink corset; Xtina went for bondage-influenced stage wear; Marilyn Manson got her to make his tour merch; and these cool cats commissioned custom suits for their wedding.
When Dilara’s most recent invite arrived on my desk, over a year after the non-satanic non-orgy, it had instructions to brandish it with an open flame to reveal details of her Spring Summer '19 presentation. Having decided not to show during London Fashion Week – to allow visitors time to take in the elaborate world she has created – Dilara opted to show on Samhain (the original Celtic festival that Christianity adopted as All Hallows' Eve, or Halloween). Held within Dennis Severs' House, a cramped townhouse museum in Spitalfields with wooden spiral staircase and rooms decorated extravagantly in 18th century style, the show was titled "May the Darkness Light the Way" and curated into seven existential, conceptual or personal 'conflicts': Sinful and Innocent; Natural and Synthetic; Modest and Provocative; Mind and Matter; London and Istanbul; Good and Evil; Future and Past.
"It grew out of thinking about conflicts in society, concepts like being modest, and being provocative, and being labelled as those things," Dilara explains, standing at the foot of a four-poster bed, where a virgin bride lies, watched over by an angel and a devil, in the topmost room of Dennis Severs' House. "Or [the concepts of] sinful and innocent – that connects to the idea of child marriages and girls being pushed to get married when they are children in the Middle East," Dilara says. She has noted the fluidity of these moral concepts before, telling LOVE magazine: "Whilst in some societies women are judged if they have sex before marriage, it’s permissible for girls of a young age to be forced to become child brides."
To help address this abusive practice, Dilara has been working on an exclusive T-shirt to benefit the World Human Relief Project focused on girls’ education and preventing child marriage in Turkey, her parents’ homeland. The charity built a school in the most populous region of Turkey, which has the lowest rate of education for girls, marginalised communities, and high rates of child marriage and female deaths.
Moving into the next room, Dilara explains that the model standing among plants growing inexplicably from the floor represents the future, situated within a room that looks to the past. "It’s my own conflict, [but it’s] everyone’s conflict. I’m quite nostalgic, but I’m also curious about the future and how I can develop my own work with more futuristic and modern things," Dilara explains. The model is wearing a voluminous baby blue bubble dress with ruched sleeves. So is the future kind of big, and blousy? I ask. "I want the future to be maximalist!" Dilara says. "If you look at historical references and photoshoots from the '20s and '60s, [where] they imagine the 2000s, it looks incredible, futuristic, and big! But we just wear jeans and T-shirts now, which is quite upsetting. My future is [maximalist]!"
In other rooms (dressed with moss and twigs, piles of fresh fruit, trays of Turkish delight, and a ouija board by set designer Jabez Bartlett), there are characters attempting to imitate nature and become one with the environment; four women involved in a seance to address their demons, watched over by a ghost; and a dancer trying to reconcile the dual parts of herself under British and Turkish flags, representing Dilara herself. The full looks, when staged among mystical artefacts and in such a historic setting, can imply that the clothes are costume-y, but, as Dilara’s many customers know, when you break the collection up into separates, there is a wealth of subversive tailoring, decadent party wear, and, yes, even wedding attire. If your budget doesn’t stretch to this demi-couture, look out for the charity T-shirts (arriving on Dilara’s e-store in the next week or so) to look good and do good, too.