Vogue – 20 février 2018

How A Legendary Romance Became The Theme Of Erdem’s Latest Collection

For his autumn/winter 2018 show, the designer describes his sea-crossing journey to bring Adele Astaire, the American dancer turned English aristocrat, to life.


For Turkish-Canadian designer Erdem Moralıoğlu, show season starts with an exchange with his favourite music curator, French sound artist Frédéric Sanchez. “We always start banging heads about what the music will be quite early on in the process,” Moralıoğlu tells me at his headquarters in an old Whitechapel warehouse in London’s East End. “There’s always some sort of narrative and he send me things and I send him things. One ritual I find is that by listening to the music – often on the way to work – I can start to visually understand what look one might be, what look two is, etc.”

The soundtrack is still “a work in progress” when we meet, five days before his autumn/winter 2018 show – but the tone is set in old castle stone. A collection of tweedy kilts, corduroy and jewel-encrusted gowns are inspired by “the extraordinary romance” between 1920s American Broadway star Adele Astaire – sister of Fred – and Charles Cavendish, an English lord and son of the 9th Duke of Devonshire. The theme was cemented at Lismore Castle in Ireland, their marital home. “I love the idea of this vaudeville, tinselly, kind of extraordinary girl who came from Hollywood then came to Ireland,” says Moralıoğlu, who visited the castle in Cork. “A shine mixed with something tweedy and woolly – mixing these two kinds of worlds that really don’t mix together at all.”

It’s 8.30 am and two coffees down, Moralıoğlu is sitting for his portrait. Hot onn the heels of a sold-out collaboration with H&M in November, 2018 is coming on in leaps and bounds. In addition to his upcoming runway collection, Moralıoğlu – who founded his label in 2005 and is best known for his demure and decorative gowns – is also designing a series of costumes for a Royal Ballet performance, which premieres in March. “I am thrilled. I am spending so much time at the Opera House at the moment working on the ballet with [choreographer and the Royal Ballet’s Artistic Associate] Christopher Wheeldon, so that’s been the most exciting thing this year, getting the wheels in motion.”

Moralıoğlu came to Lismore Castle by way of Chatsworth House, home to the Devonshires. “I was with my friend Laura Burlington, who is married to William Cavendish, son of the Duke of Devonshire, and I actually ended up going to Ireland. She was showing me around and the perimeter of this pool that Adele Astaire had built really kind of stuck in my head – the outline of this 1920s pool that was then filled in.”

To begin, he looked back to Adele’s early performance days as a dancer. “These kind of drop-waist. 1920s shapes felt really interesting and modern,” he says, with a nod to his splendid silver drop-waist dress embroidered in sequins. “But also these kilts and skirts that had kind of inverted box pleats in wool,” he says pointing to an old photograph of a traditional Irish costume.

He describes the autumn collection as feeling quite “masculine and dark.” Tweeds, such as an oversized double-breasted men’s coat, are combined with bright, light jacquards. “There was also that idea of the formality of a castle and what finishings you would find in there combined with something that’s quite casual and almost day[wear]. Like what would happen if you took Fred Astaire’s jacket or her husband’s tweed coat over this kind of shiny tulle dress.”

Moralıoğlu turns to his mood board, pointing to black and white portraits of Adele. “The graphic polka dots seemed to be a weird recurring theme.” They bounce throughout his own collection in oversized tulle overlays. Then there’s a picture of a Twenties star-spangled swimsuit that Moralıoğlu spotted at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. “I love the idea of the star motif mixed with these very Irish tweeds.” The motif shines on a cape, skirt and dress.

Back at Chatsworth, he worked with the archive and the family walked him through this “whole world”, where Astaire and her future husband met when she was performing in London. Moralıoğlu was presented with some scrapbooks made by a local family in Ireland “who were totally obsessed” with the romance between Adele and Lord Cavendish. “I felt that there was something so wonderful about this family that observed the couple at a distance, and almost documented what would happen to them.”

At this point, I suggest an alternative career as a biographer. “Maybe film,” he muses. “Maybe?” But he’s not serious. He returns to his current muse. “In a way I really need that kind of narrative to be the catalyst of something, and then from there things come. Whether or not the stories are legible when you see the collection in stores, I don’t know, but it’s that tool that I need.”

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