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Meet the Turkish designer duo who brought LGBTI politics to London Fashion Week

Meet the Turkish designer duo who brought LGBTI politics to London Fashion Week

Genderless fashion brand DB Berdan brought LGBTI politics to London Fashion Week on Sunday (17 February).

DB Berdan are a Turkish ‘matriarchal company, a real queer brand,’ designer Deniz Berdan told Gay Star News.

The third-generational brand, now based in London, started with Deniz’s mother, a clothing maker.

Deniz, 48, continued the tradition and founded the brand.

And after her daughter, Begum Berdan, 29, finished studying Costume for Performance at the London College of Fashion in 2015, she too took on the family craft.

The pair showed their Fall/Winter 2019/20 collection at Freemasons’ Hall, London, for Fashion Scout.

Turkey banning pride was their motivation

When I met Begum, she led me out of the British Fashion Council showroom to a quiet street on the Northbank, London.

Begum has buzzed, chopped-into blue hair slightly blocked out of view by her baseball cap.

We veered away from the clicks of the street-style cameras and into SOHO Coffee Co., about a block west from the showroom.

Her mother, Deniz, walked in afterwards. Tall with gaudy green hair, she was relieved to be away from all dah-ling dah-lings mwah-mwahs of fashion.

Begum was thirsty. She drank, in a single gulp, half her water bottle in seven seconds.

No wonder she’s thirsty; she debuted her brand’s 14th collection at London Fashion Week last weekend.

And this one was her most politically queer collection yet. 

Talking to Gay Star News, Begum said their brand was a retaliation against their home country.

Turkish officials banned Istanbul Pride in 2016 due to ‘security concerns’.

Turkey’s record of LGBTI rights is notoriously poor, and LGBTI people in Turkey experience widespread abuse and discrimination.

In a recent ILGA-Europe poll of LGBTI rights of 49 countries in Europe and Western Asia, Turkey was placed three places from the bottom of the list of countries polled. Only Armenia and Azerbaijan were further down the list.

While homosexuality is not illegal, the country has seen crackdowns on the LGBTI community under the increasingly authoritarian rule of President Recep Erdoğan.

Taking the Pride to the runway

‘We were very upset about this,’ Begum explained, ‘they claimed Pride was destroying “family values”.

‘So, we took the Pride to the runway, with trans-inclusive models, drag queens, butch queens – the whole range of color.

‘The LGBT community was so left out that they were sensitive to our show.

‘They were crying for joy, clapping and struck by it.

‘After that, we always include the community in our family.’

Fashion is not very diverse

Picture: Jeff Spicer

To both Berdans, patterns can tell stories, and their latest collection tells the story of safe spaces for ‘everyone who gets left out.’

‘We are quite annoyed by the fashion community as it just treats LGBTQ models like trophies. They have one token character and they shout, “We are inclusive, go us!” when the show isn’t actually diverse,’ Begum said, frustrated.

DB Bergan prides itself on its range of non-binary and trans-inclusive clothing.

‘So, we have prints that say, “Fuck your double standards,” and medieval graphics that we turn into LGBT histories. Think country’s flags turned into Pride flags.’

Their collection was impactful and potently political, with models wearing clothing featuring the pink triangle; a symbol used in World War Two to identify LGBTI people in Nazi Concentration Camps.

A key pattern – peach tie-dye sweats with the pink triangle and ‘Fuck your double standards’ digitally printed on them – tells a historically queer story, both past and present, using streetwear.

‘Hear us, see us and accept us’

Don’t microwave the jacket on the left, ok | Picture: Jeff Spicer

Begum’s favourite piece? A puffer jacket made of aluminium foil; ‘You can’t microwave it,’ she clarified.

The collection consisted of multi-chain chokers, patchwork denim blazers and reversible punk puffer jackets that could give a Berlin club kid a run for their buck.

Sinewy models stormed the runway, one decorated with ‘danger’ tape, traffic signs and a graffitied Pride flag.

To Deniz, she hopes people take away a simple message from the clothes: ‘Express yourself.’

While Begum said: ‘Every time we talk [about LGBTI issues] in Turkey, nobody listens. They just forget.

‘They clap, say our show was good when they don’t get the message behind it.

‘Hear us, see us and accept us. We say it thousands of times,’ she laughs, ‘but we will always say it again.

‘We will keep on saying it until someone does.’

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