Today, black tie events and dress codes are often considered exclusive to statesmen or movie stars. These events often feel intimidating and require men to wear uptight and often uncomfortable formal wear. However, according to Levon Kordonciyan, a tuxedo designer in Istanbul, "Clothing can give people confidence," and a man should always pay attention to what he wears. Kordonciyan was named after his great-grandfather, the master behind the wardrobe of Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a figure well known for his elegant, fashionable clothing, and the young designer has now created a collection of Atatürk's clothes for an exhibition that follows in his grandfather's footsteps.
"The clothes of Atatürk: The most elegant leader of the century" exhibition was held in TED College in Ankara in last month. Kordonciyan said, "It was my dream to come up with such an exhibition since my customers started to bring me tuxedos made by my family in the programs I attend." Kordonciyan took a few moments to conduct an interview with Daily Sabah to discuss his family's success.
When he was asked how he chose the pieces for the exhibition, Kordonciyan said: "First, I started with the navy colored ones, because most people think that he did not wear that color, but this misconception arises from the fact that the photographs of the time didn't accurately capture color. I wanted to show people the most surprising pieces first. I already had four pieces of his. The rest of them were created around two-and-a-half years ago. They were all made with original high-quality fabrics. I started my collection with 16 pieces, but I'm thinking about expanding it to around 40 pieces. You could say I created this with just the 'tip of my needle'."
He pointed out that children seemed to take the most away from the exhibition and that it made them very happy. "Children can see how incredible things were made during a time full of difficult conditions. It is an important lesson for them, because they can understand that they can accomplish much more now with better opportunities."
An exclusive education through generations
Couture, almost exclusively consisting of black tie event clothing, such as tuxedos, frocks, redingotes or bow ties, has created a niche for businesses to pass down from generation to generation in the Kordonciyan family. Levon Kordonciyan, the fourth generation, started working as an apprentice in a Greek-owned tailor shop in Istanbul's Sultanhamam district. After the clothing reforms in the country, Atatürk sent Kordonciyan's grandfather to Paris to follow new developments in fashion and to improve his skills in the profession. "My grandfather got married in Paris. After completing his education, he returned to his homeland and opened a tailor shop in Sultanhamam, which was considered the heart of fashion back then. That's where our family's couture adventure started," Kordonciyan said.
"One of the most important reasons behind our success is that we passed the skill down through our family," Kordonciyan said. "My great-grandfather taught his knowledge and craft to his son, my grandfather, who passed it down to my father. I learned from my grandfather and father. We believe that this education passed from master to apprentice is what has made us so successful," Kordonciyan continued and said: "Our Hollywood adventure started with Frank Sinatra and the "Godfather" movies. My grandfather was able to spread his influence without even leaving his hometown, never even stepping foot in the U.S. Those are important and successful jobs."
The reasons behind his passion for couture are his father and grandfather. "They used to bring the clothes they were working on home, and I grew up in that kind of an environment. I grew up surrounded by love for this profession." Then he smiled and added: "But it was not easy as I thought. My education first started with observing people for hours. My grandfather taught me how important observation was. I needed to understand that what people wear and how clothes look on each and every person is important for creating good clothes."
Kordonciyan believes that Turkey embraces so many qualified experts in their professions. He explained, "We have so many valuable artists, from jewelry masters to leather tailors, and couture is one of the most important examples of that."
Kordonciyan stated that they based their profession on education, and the place they sell clothes is a place to learn at the same time. "We don't just pass down the knowledge to family members. We also educate the people we hire. Moreover, even when boys as young as 7 or 8 visit my shop, I address them with respect. The combination of respect and the clothes educates them on how to be a proper gentleman."
A chance to create a dialogue between people
Furthermore, through renting options Kordonciyan believes that they have a chance to clothe people with different incomes and, more importantly, create ties between the costumers and the producer. "My customers see me as their friend, sometimes even their psychologist. They came here not just to buy clothes, but also to have a conversation. The renting option opens up even more possibilities. I have foreign customers, and I show them our culture during their visits. It is one of the important aspects of what I do in my opinion."
Kordonciyan also underlined the importance of the fabric used for tuxedos. He said: "The fabric used for tuxedos is different. I take unbleached fabrics and clean them in my atelier. This process allows for the oil, dust and dyes in the fabric to be removed and the fibers to be refreshed. After this meticulous cleaning, the lining and fibers of the fabric start to relax. Finally, they are taken to the bobbin winding machines. It takes six months, but this is what creates the quality and gives our tuxedos their jet-black color, which is the original color for these kinds of clothes."
According to the famous tuxedo master, nowadays people, especially the younger generation, have less interest in the quality of the things they wear, choosing to appreciate the ever-changing technology around them instead. "Thus, I hope this exhibition will inspire them because, as I said before, clothing can speak for a person in almost every situation and using the power of this voice is important for every profession."