( Exclusive interview by Sevda Uykan in Istanbul): –
Cemil İpekçi is a very famous fashion designer who has 279 awards from all over the world. He is Turkish and came from a very noble family. He is fluent in French, English and Turkish. He founded his own fashion house and created his haute couture collections under the concept of Anatolian Civilization. In 2002, lpekçi prepared the costume of Azra Akın who was the winner of the Turkish beauty contest and lpekci won the best costume designer award. Mr. İpekçi continues to work on Turkish fashion which is inspired by Ottoman cultural heritage. And here are my questions for the London Post readers.
- Please tell us about you, your family and your life?
It has been last 15 years they are calling us White Turkish People. I have not heard something like this before. I was wondering what they mean with it, then l learnt that the family whose roots came from Ottomans or the family who served for the palace for the Imperial family are White Turkish people. I have a noble family. My mother’s father was a general secretary of the prince. My mother’s family had been the bakers of the palace for 500 years. My father’s father was a doctor of Sultan Abdulhamid. My mother’s name was given by Şehzade Abdul Halim. We say Şehzade or Beyzade for the kids who have Ottoman imperial family origin. I was a “beyzade”. I was born and grew up in a big chateau. We had nannies and servants who worked for our family. My grandmother finished German and French school. I can say that my first language was French. Still when l think, l think in French so sometimes even if l speak Turkish it is likely to hear some French words from me. When l was a kid, every summer l was sent to London, England for my English and to Switzerland for my French. My auntie, Leyla Gencer, she is a opera soprano, who spent most of her career in Italy. My family was always into art.
2-) What sparked your interest in fashion? What attracted you to begin a career as a fashion designer?
I was born as a fashion designer. Since my childhood l was into sewing and art. My mother was always supporting me and giving me things that l can sew. Once when l was a kid, l was lost in the Chateau. No one could found me for a while. We had a big forest, l was in the corner, singing and trying to sew a thing. So, my story began when l was 4 years old. I was sewing little clothes for my baby doll and when l was 6 years old l sewed a dress for my sister. I was inspired by my grand nanny. She died when she was 98 years old. I was 12 years old when my grand nanny died. She was a very typical Ottoman woman. She was so beautiful, so classy and so bossy. I was a very curious child and always asking her questions. I learnt many things from her. I still keep some of her jewelries and buttons which are like 300 years old now. The second lady that l was so inspired is my auntie Leyla Gencer’s mother. She was a countess. She was Polish. So my grand uncle married a Polish countess. She was in the chateau, too. I loved being next to her. I learnt European style of Ottomans from her. One day we had a big family dinner, after l finished my studies abroad and came back to Istanbul. I decided to continue my career in Turkey. I had an auntie that l can’t say l loved her, but she was a very classy lady and she was always wearing expensive brands. We were having our dinner. She asked me what l was going to do now. I said to her l am a costume designer. She started laughing at me and said: ‘Oh so you think people would wear the things you design! I got so angry and l told her that one day l would be a very famous designer and even you would wear the dresses l design. She also triggered my ambition.
3-) Could you please tell us about your educational background? Were you always interested in fashion as a career path or was it something your family encouraged?
I graduated from the Department of Design at the Royal Academy of Art in Belgium in 1971. After that l went to Paris to do my Master Degree in costume history. When l finished my studies, l went back to Turkey. My mother wanted me to become a designer, but not my father. My father had a very big company in movie business and he always wanted me to study business administration so l can run his businesses. My grandfather is the person who brought the movie business to Turkey for the first time. My father was in charge of the business. In Turkey, they were the only representatives of very big American Hollywood movie companies like Colombia pictures, Paramount pictures. They were delivering movies all around Turkey. My father thought l was studying business when l was studying design. I was hiding it from my father. I kept praying “God, please help me, l want my father to go bankrupt. So that l wouldn’t be a slave of his business.” And one day my father called me and said his business bankrupt. And l said to him that l was studying design not business. He didn’t get upset. I worked between 1971-1973 for some companies. I prepared them Summer and Winter collections. I had lots of opportunities to work for English, American and Italian companies. I made collections and fashion shows in those countries. But l insisted on going back to Turkey and do my job in my country. I found that fashion is so fascist. There shouldn’t be strict rules for fashion. Because the costumes, the dressing should be something you enjoy. So l left fashion in 1973 and l founded my own fashion house. I decided to make things that l like to do and l was always saying myself that l would be Turkish, Anatolian and Ottoman ethnic designer.
- What are you fascinated by and how does it feed into your work?
There are two Cemil inside me. One male Cemil and one female who l call Maya. They are twins. They love each other. Cemil is dressing up Maya. They both are tall, they have the same eyes, same nose and Maya has long black hair. They have a gypsy soul but at the same time they are also very noble.
I can say that: ‘the first thing that effects me is situations’. I am a very colourful person. But l get affected from anything that happens around me, in my country, in the world. As a designer l can’t live like nothing wrong is happening around the world. There are children dying of hunger in Africa, dying in the war in the middle east and so on. There is a big gap between poor and rich people and it causes chaos, just an apocalypse. If l make a collection now, it will be black or red and black collection. Red for blood and fire, black for death. So l prefer not to do a black collection. I still believe that one day everything will change for better.
Second thing is gypsies. They live the moment. It’s said that yesterday is a history, the future is a mystery and today is a gift. So l found out that the life of gypsies is the way we should live this life. They’re earth people, they don’t belong to anywhere. I see myself as a gypsy prince. When l was 5 years old, l was saying to my mother that l was a gypsy. She was getting angry and told me “you aren’t a gypsy, you’re a Beyzade.” When l was in Belgium, l had a gypsy boyfriend. I have many gypsy friends in Turkey. They give me so much inspiration.
- You founded your own fashion house and your own label. When do you think that you became Cemil Ipekci? I mean when did your name become very famous and very successful as a fashion designer?
Believe me l have never thought about this question until this year. After my 48 years work, we found out that there are some people who use my name in their products with no permission. They produce stuff like clothes, wedding dresses and just put my name “Cemil İpekçi” on it. So my lawyer said they use your name. And l asked him why they do that. And he said because your name is a well-known mark. Even there are some companies who used my “Cemil Home” name on their products. Of course we went to the court for it. But that time l understood that l became someone so they steal my name. Probably even when l die, they may steal my name. I think one day when l leave this world, Cemil İpekçi will become a very big name like Chanel, Cristian Dior…
- Do you consider yourself as an international brand?
In many countries such as China, Korea, Greece also in Turkish and Arabic countries people know me well, but still l wouldn’t say l am an international brand. In one way l can consider myself as an international brand because my name is in fashion dictionaries and in google. So when students look up to their dictionaries actually they study me. Once l received a letter from a Malaysian designer and he said to me that he found me in google and wanted to learn many things from me. Those things make me happy. It is not important to be famous. The more important thing is how you feel, how your feelings are with yourself.
7-) What are your strengths and weaknesses?
My weakness is only for children. Because my parents got divorced when l was 6 years old. I don’t have many memories with my mother. Because everything was done by nannies and people who worked for us. I wish my mother had fed me, washed me and played with me instead of nannies. I have lots of feeling for children. So the kids and also very old people are my weakness. I always try to give my love to them.
I am a believer. It’s my strength. I find my power from myself. Maybe l can’t say l’m a good Muslim but l am faithful. My family is not Sunni, they are Bektashi. There are some religious people who are waiting to die so that they can go to heaven. I always say if you really read the holly book, you will understand that heaven and hell are on earth. You can make your life be your heaven or your hell. I have had a very beautiful life and l would accept if God let me live until l am 100 years old. Thanks God he created a very complicating soul but also gave me enough strength to live with any difficulties.
8 -) What were your biggest projects and accomplishments that have made you proud?
I had many projects and many accomplishments in my career. I won 279 awards from all over the world. But if you ask me what will make me be proud, actually the answer will be the project in my mind that l really want it to come true. Before l say goodbye to this world, if l have a chance and the opportunity, l would love to make a very big collection of my life. This would be my story. One earring, one ring and with one design… You could read the story of my life. This is my dream. It will not be just the dresses that l design. There will be live orchestra, Greek, Armenian, Anatolian music in a very big scene and with many top models. So it will be something much further than just an ordinary catwalk. It will be an awesome fashion show. For this dream, l need a sponsor. Unfortunately the government doesn’t give enough support to artists or designers. It’s not like in other European countries such as France, England and Italy. I want to make this project especially for young people to encourage them. How one guy begin to fight in a very difficult country to prove himself and he succeeded. I call myself “Dogu Masali” which means Eastern Fairy tale. This is my last wish, last thing that l want to do. For the rest l think l succeeded all.
9-) ls there anything that you regret in your life?
Yes, there is only one thing that l regret. I had a chance to meet Princess Diana but l missed that opportunity. That’s the only thing l regret.
I made dresses for Princess Margaret. She came to Turkey for summer holidays. And once she told me that she wanted to introduce me to Princess Diana and she said she was sure that Princess Diana would love me and my dresses that l design. I missed this opportunity. I wish l could have met her.
Queen Elizabeth came to Turkey. We were in the same dinner. She invited me to her table and we talked at least 20 minutes. When l saw her beautiful blue eyes, l saw a little child in her eyes. I am sure it hasn’t been easy to be the queen. That evening l said to her that Dear Majesty you are not just the Queen of the United Kingdom, you are also my queen. She was so happy to hear that. She is so beautiful.
10-) As a celebrity how is your daily routine and what are your hobbies?
People think that when you are a celebrity, your life has to be different from others. But for me it is not like that. Becoming a celebrity didn’t change my life. I am still going on the streets, having my sandwich, talking to people and l use the tubes. Sometimes l walk to Karaköy Bridge. I quite like it. I have a bodyguard. He is always in the back and follows me from a distance. It is sad, but unfortunately we need a bodyguard. Because you never know. There are some people who like you, some who don’t like you and some of them want to bother you. I like going to bazaars. I like walking freely and l dress up however l want. I talk to everybody. I don’t keep myself in a golden cage. Sometimes it is a bit tiring because lots of people want to take pictures with me. Once in Bodrum 480 people approached me in the same day to say hi and to take pictures. That day my face was aching. But it made me happy. Because breaking a heart is very easy. I like making people happy because those people made us famous so it is a price for being a celebrity. They give us their love and support so definitely they deserve all these photographs and smiles.
11-) What advice would you give to young designers?
Nowadays there are lots of designers. It is so popular now. In the past everybody wanted to be a dentist, an architect or a doctor. So now many people consider themselves as designers but not really. You can learn how to draw and how to sew but it doesn’t make you a designer. I believe that you can’t be a designer, you are born as a designer. So if you are born as a designer, don’t be afraid of anything. Don’t afraid of hunger, don’t afraid of insults and don’t afraid of people who will stab you. Just go ahead. Because life is a fight. So the most important thing is to be a good fighter and a good survivor. So you can succeed. I believe that if l succeeded, everybody can. I have some students that l am really proud of. And they are so brave just like me. I think l taught them well.
Views expressed are not of The London Post.
Edited by Dr Shahid Qureshi , Group Editor in Chief