It's a calm Saturday evening in weekend lockdown. I make myself a hot cuppa, dressed in my fitness gear to set the mood for what I'm about to get into. Taking a cue from TikTok's fashion creators and influencers, I, too, decide to put on my best front-row-inspired outfit, this time for DB Berdan. It's Fashion Scout Digital London Fashion Week.
After demonizing leggings for so long as unsuited to be worn out in public (as I'm sure my great grandmother would have strongly agreed), I have given in and embraced the soft fabric that conforms to my body – we are in a pandemic, for pity's sake, is my reasoning. Perhaps it was only because I hadn't found a flattering yet comfy pair. And the waistband does not dig in! That's it, it's now my new second skin.
The presentation begins, and I am greeted by a very familiar face – Elvin Levinler. The dancer, actress, travel writer and now lifestyle influencer is known and loved by the Turkish public. One month into the first lockdown in March 2020, I had taken up a liking to her yoga series in an effort to keep sane and get rid of the stress pent up inside. Come summer, I had fallen out of love with it, turning instead to swimming, yet we meet again.
As Levinler contorts her body like a human pretzel with the grace of a swan and superhuman strength (I dare you to hold the pose of feathered peacock if you even think of belittling this sport as purely stretching), DB Berdan showers its audience with supportive messages of mental health, making the audience reflect on all that we have lived through in these last few months.
Icy blues, dusty pinks and mauves, shades of seafoam green and blacks dance across the scene, brought to life in chic, form-fitting and dynamic athleisure. Quiet, restful, peaceful are the words that come to mind.
Deniz Berdan says they specifically chose softer shades that have the power to reduce stress. Comfort and ease of movement as well as looking good while doing this was important for her and her daughter's newest collection for DB Berdan.
They chose soft and breathable, high-tech fabrics, and, of course, body-shaping features that act as a corset. Minimalist yet trendy, they are, or in their words, "urban luxe" – at a relatively affordable and ethical price point.
The short presentation demands attention, full of color and movement, very befitting to their athleisure theme. Though the duo had to deal with a last-minute crisis in the lead-up to fashion week, the transition to a digital format was a welcome one.
The Berdans say the industry had long been talking about how physical fashion shows were coming to an end and London Fashion Week was increasingly leaning toward more presentational work than fashion shows.
"The British Fashion Council managed this crisis (with the pandemic) really well. They kept us up to date with closed-door meetings on Zoom. Initially, they organized a seminar that brought China and us all together ... Thinking of shows in a different format helped us develop and opened up new horizons," said Deniz.
Evolve with the times
DB Berdan is not a newbie in the industry by any means; just this year it showcased its 20th season. They have also been a part of countless projects and iconic collaborations.
Within the short span of three months, DB Berdan had to completely revamp their label to survive this new era of fashion – one of comfort, top-dressing and functionality over just looks.
"The principles of our brand changed with the coronavirus. Just like other brands, we, too, evolved and transformed. The most important point of transformation for our brand was that it evolved into one centered around dynamic, high-tech athleisure pieces that would not be contaminated by this virus. Seasons are over; our garments fit every season and were designed in a way that can be enjoyed as streetwear or at home when you crave a comfy day."
This transition was successful but, of course, not without challenges.
"It was like learning about the industry all over again and forgetting everything you've learned or done so far. Before the pandemic, we would be there in-person, overseeing everything. Now our journey between London and Turkey is purely digital. But with this pandemic, we also realized that digital communication has developed so much that we are able to overcome problems with our trusted manufacturers through digital means only," said Deniz.
Fashion is something deeply entrenched in our social, everyday lives. You cannot keep it separate from what happens around the world, stresses Deniz.
"You cannot continue to design party dresses in a time like this; it won't run parallel with your own life and what is happening there outside," she says, adding that DB Berdan has shifted its designs toward ones that will cater to people's needs.
That's one of the reasons why the Berdans overhauled their designs and embraced athleisure.
"I realized that I used to wear a lot of baggy, oversized clothes, but with the pandemic I hated my clothes touching surfaces." Hence the body-conforming fits and high-tech fabrics that are not only comfy but can also endure many, many washes. No floof or dangly bits; all functional, all with a purpose.
Though, don't get us wrong, says Begüm. "You can wear your party or cocktail dresses at home if you like. Deniz chimes in, pointing to her daughter on the screen.
"Like her, in this red shirt and metal necklace. That's because she is happy and comfortable in that. Just do and wear whatever makes you happy," adds Deniz.
The vibrancy of the shade of blue of Begüm's hair has me in a trance. "Just a lot of bleach is the trick," she says, grinning.
A familial affair
Deniz and Begüm aren't the only members of the Berdan family who have found themselves in the fashion and textiles industry. Deniz's mother was also in the business of textiles, so that makes three generations.
"It came naturally (our foray into fashion), it was not a surprise that we decided to follow the same path. I remember, my mom would always have a needle, thread and extra-large fabric shears in her bag," says Deniz Berdan, smiling.
The funny thing is that Deniz's mother didn't really want her or her granddaughter Begüm to get into fashion; it was very demanding and cutthroat.
"No matter what you do, stay out of it, she would say. But which one of us actually listens to our mothers at the time?" says Deniz, drawing chuckles from Begüm.
Being a mother-daughter duo in the fashion world is just like any other day, the Berdans say. "It's business as usual." You have mother-daughter model duos like Cindy Crawford and Kaia Gerber so why not a duo design powerhouse?
Turkish names in London
Why London of all places and why not another fashion capital, I ask.
Apart from familial, educational and business reasons, the Berdans say it's because London is like no other – it is a cultural melting pot.
"London meshes with our sense of style. It's a place where art is in the streets. Yes, the streets of Paris and parts of Italy are like a literal museum, but London's spirit is unique."
"Where else can you hear 400 different languages in one place? Not even in Istanbul. Besides, it's the one place you can feel at home. Everybody is a foreigner here; you can't feel 'foreign.' Everyone is in the same boat," adds Deniz.
"London is a literal mini-globe," says Begüm. They then give me a lovely peek outside of their windows. With a view of the canal, Begüm has her mother beat on views. Gray as it may be, London is still full of richness and color if you know to look in the right places.
Back to the topic of culture. Is being Turkish a hindrance in the fashion world?
"Absolutely not at this point (in time). In fact, there is positive discrimination toward those from different ethnic groups, especially in industries that concern art. They pay close attention to identities and are especially aware that London is a mini-world, and its multiculturality has great PR value," says Deniz.
Made to last
According to DB Berdan, the biggest problem of the 21st century, and especially the unprecedented times we are going through, is overconsumption. But, speaking of now, it was expected to see parallels between the increase in unhappiness and people's shopping and consumption habits, says Deniz. That's why DB Berdan is trying to create products few and far between, that are only of top quality right from its seams and zippers to the fabric.
"We are careful not to do any 'greenwashing' in the collections we make. Not every label that claims it is environmentally friendly is in the real sense," warns Deniz. She points to the hypocrisy of some of the biggest fast fashion brands of today, namely Zara, H&M and its Conscious line.
Compared with virgin polyester, the recycled kind does use less energy and saves plastic from filling up landfills, but it still sheds microfibers into our waters and soil.
Rather than relying on recycled polyester to green your product line, start by producing and consuming less, says Deniz, adding that talking about saving the environment while being one of the biggest polluters in the industry is deceitful.
When it comes to the DB Berdan woman, the mother and daughter duo say she is "vegan, ethical, sensitive to the environment, social issues and inquisitive." "Most importantly, she does not neglect to put on her mask, maintain social distance and wash her hands," Deniz adds. She says the DB Berdan woman is her kind of woman and even more so because the mother and daughter both suffer from diseases of rheumatic nature.
"We buy our fabrics and accessories from reliable sources. We have also minimized our carbon footprint with the pandemic and transport our goods by road to the U.K. (from Turkey). Another sustainable decision we made was to evolve into a transitional system from a seasonal standpoint. This way, our designs can be worn in the summer and winter and can be used for years to come."