“I’m always amid new excitement, dreams and intensities. You caught me at just the right time. You know, Rudolf Nureyev’s friend Ezio Frigerio had realized the legendary dancer’s dream of Türkiye. In Dikili’s Bademli Village, he had built a palace with mosaics, just as Nureyev had envisioned. And now we’re going to that place for a new collection photoshoot. It’s an utterly enchanting atmosphere. I’m very excited. This new collection, however, became a completely different adventure.”

When stepping into a showroom, a fashion writer would probably want to hear these words. The creative director of Lug von Siga, fashion designer Gül Ağış, envelops you tightly with her passionate embrace of her profession, design, Turkish culture and the concept of sustainability when you step into her showroom.

“Let some pieces remain a surprise for now. But you know of my fascination with Uzbek handicrafts. Every visit to the Grand Bazaar, you know, for years, I would leave with a heavy heart after seeing those crafts because those unique handicrafts were always used on heavy fabrics for bedspreads. I would always feel saddened by how these authentic fabrics, belonging to Turkic culture, went to waste. Finally, we’ve made these crafts wearable too … There’s already enough fabric in the world; now we need to reintegrate these high-quality and delicate fabrics into our lives,” she added.

As a female fashion designer, Ağış celebrated the 10th anniversary of her brand in 2019 and now 90% of her collections meet fashion buyers abroad. She’s the architect of a commendable success. So, how did she receive her education, navigate her path and reach where she is today after establishing her brand in 2010, aiming not for couture but to create a global brand?

The creative director of Lug von Siga, fashion designer Gül Ağış. (Photo courtesy of Gül Ağış)
The creative director of Lug von Siga, fashion designer Gül Ağış. (Photo courtesy of Gül Ağış)

Global Vision

Ağış narrates her journey and the adventure of stepping into the world of fashion design: “My journey began when I was 4 years old, drawing skirts. Then, at 16, my application to study fashion in Paris was accepted. However, my family didn’t allow it. I studied English language and literature at Bilkent University. However, my dream of becoming a designer persisted. I wanted to learn this craft on-site. I studied fashion design at Milan’s Istituto Marangoni. I graduated at the top of my class.”

“At Politecnico Di Design University, I was the only foreigner selected from thousands for a master’s program. I interned at Armani. I worked as a designer at Costume National. And then I returned to my country. I saw how valuable the knowledge I gained here, the things I witnessed here, my roots and the color and fabric knowledge of this region are abroad. In all the foreign companies I worked for, the importance of the color, fabric and pattern knowledge that’s in my DNA as a Turk was emphasized. It makes you want to embrace your own culture more, research more and present your roots to the world through a universal design language. To be honest, you want to give back what you’ve received,” she elaborated.

From the moment she returned to the country, Ağış’s goal was to establish a designer brand that could resonate globally. She defines that period and her brand’s overall stance as follows: “I said, ‘I will establish a ready-to-wear company and sell it to the world.’ Our roots are very valuable; we need to highlight them. Ninty percent of our collections, our brand, our worldview and our design sensibility are bought by people abroad who understand them. We’ve established the notion of providing value-added products to the world. I use vegan fabrics. We’ve supported the concept of sustainable fashion from the very beginning. We connect with different cultures and project the colors, handcrafts and fabric knowledge of this region to the world,” she explained.

Cultivating roots

To conceive a dream and transform that dream into a tangible reality is the job of a designer. Gül Ağış emphasizes the significance of this in every word she says. Women and stories of women and various motifs unique to Istanbul and our culture always take center stage in her designs. “We started with collections like ‘Hammam,’ ‘Mirror,’ ‘Töre’ … For the Hammam collection, we organized a show that truly captured the atmosphere of serving soda in a Turkish bath. I want collections to immerse people in that realm of imagination. I want them to share that imaginative power, even if just a bit,” she said.

“After ‘Hammam,’ a chain of stories that continued by imagining foreign icons and cities in Istanbul followed. Like ‘Frida Kahlo in Istanbul,’ ‘Simone de Beauvoir in Istanbul,’ ‘Agatha Christie in Istanbul,’ ‘Kyoto in Istanbul,’ ‘Merchant of Venice in Istanbul.’ Each collection represents an era, a spirit. In the process of creating each collection, I delve into extensive research, which enriches and nourishes me both visually and culturally,” Ağış said, describing the transformation of her imaginative world into design pieces.

Ağış looks at design and the world of fashion from a distinct and mature perspective. For example, she doesn’t create autumn-winter collections. Summer is at the core of her designs. She creates designs encompassing the spring-summer season, the period before or after. She chases after fabrics that resonate with this stance. She believes that chasing the pace of the fashion world and changing trends has no real meaning.

Models are seen backstage ahead of the Lug Von Siga show during Mercedes-Benz Istanbul Fashion Week, Istanbul, Türkiye, Oct. 11, 2019. (Getty Images Photo)
Models are seen backstage ahead of the Lug Von Siga show during Mercedes-Benz Istanbul Fashion Week, Istanbul, Türkiye, Oct. 11, 2019. (Getty Images Photo)

She believes that this environmentally conscious approach is ingrained in the codes of this region, saying: “The moments when women in my family would do handwork are still in my memory. Even when I was only around 10 years old, I would turn the handwork I learned from them into usable designs. Even now, a bedspread that I made back then with my sister is still in my home. Handwork and good fabric mean you can use a piece throughout your lifetime. This is very valuable. I strive for my designs to be like that, too.”

“Sometimes, our customers tell us that they love a dress they bought five or six years ago, but they lost its belt, or it needs some alterations. This is so precious. They are searching for ways to keep that design in their closets. And this is exactly what sustainable fashion is. This is the essence of an environmentally conscious approach,” she said.

And what about colors and patterns? They are the strongest aspects of her designs. “This region is one of the places with the most colors and patterns. Coming here and being disconnected from colors and patterns is impossible. We need to preserve these riches,” says Ağış, underlining that the development of the perception of Turkish design worldwide is a great wealth for all of us.

Beyond couture

“My biggest project has been to become a global brand since the day I established my brand. Therefore, I started my journey as a ready-to-wear fashion brand and never ventured into couture (custom design). Initially, my colleagues and my surroundings, including my family, commented, ‘How will you survive without doing couture?’ For the past 10 years, I have stayed within the path I aimed for. Now I see that my designer friends who create couture are starting to develop ready-to-wear collections, which makes me very happy,” she said.

“We have signed an exclusive agreement with Net-a-Porter, and this project excites me greatly. Being present on a global platform has always been important for us, but being on such a powerful online platform is a positive development for us,” she added.