I’M RUNNING, zig-zagging in six-inch heels through the deep and secret bowels of the Houses Of Commons. I have a police escort with me, navigating me through twists and turns of one the most famous buildings in the world.
I’m late, but not fashionably so. After my Uber driver tried to barge through the doors of Westminster in an attempt to get me to my first London Fashion Week show (promptly stopped by police yelling “DO YOU HAVE PERMISSION TO BE HERE?!”), I’m dangerously close to missing the whole thing.
If they want my designs, they will come see me here in Manchester
This glitch would prove to be a suitably theatrical start to what was a romantic, whimsical show - and one that would end with three curious Italian men adorned with multiple silver rings and pin-sharp moustaches inviting me to dinner. Very London. Very fashion.
Hidden inside The House Of Commons, one of Manchester’s most prominent designers, Zeynep Kartal, is showcasing her Spring/Summer 2017 collection for London Fashion Week with a secret catwalk in the Terrace Pavilion overlooking the River Thames – hence the urgency to get there.
It's Kartal’s third year at London Fashion Week, after wowing fashion figureheads at the 2013Vogue Fashion Night in Manchester with a thirteen-piece standout collection. Since then, Lady Gaga has worn her pieces and, more recently, she caused a media storm when Helen Skelton wore one of her short, leg exposing tuxedo-style playsuits to present the BBC Olympics coverage ("I don't know what all the controversy was about, she looked amazing," said Zeynep post-scandal).
While not new to fashion, as a Manchester-based fashion writer I tend to miss out on big, exclusive capital shows such as this. All shows are invite-only, yet the wonderfully gracious Kartal gets me through the door to her show and whisks me past security as if she was actively looking out for Manchester’s own. “Hello darling!” she waves as she’s rushed away to take photographs.
While high-profile LFW shows continued elsewhere with Alexa Chung and Anna Wintour warming front row seats, I just had to see this local trailblazer above all others.
This season’s show theme was ‘A Royal Romance,’ celebrating inspirational female royals who have resided at Buckingham Palace. It was perfectly fitting for the location. On the catwalk, beautiful gowns – Zeynep’s signature – were designed with traditional eighteenth-century vintage Rococo designs in mind and made with silks, chiffons and handmade lace. The collection presented a strong feminine silhouette - another Kartal trademark – with flowing fabrics, ruffled detailing, high neck blouses and intricate rose detailing coming in champagne, aubergine, ivory, blush and pinks: a so-called monarchy colour palette. And then there was the feminine tailoring; tuxedo style blazers and wide legged, incredibly wearable trousers. Beautiful.
Joined by a medley of fashion insiders, it was hard not to feel a great deal of pride for this Manchester designer; and one that studied design at Manchester City College to boot. With so much pressure to stay relevant in the capital and beyond, I wondered and continue to wonder why Zeynep had not decided to up sticks.
“If they want my designs, they will come see me here in Manchester,” the Turkish-born designer told me assuredly, while we had coffee in her showroom on King Street. “I like Manchester, why should I have to leave?”
Why? A good question. Mancunian and Northern designers such as Matthew Williamson and Sarah Burton have found their fortune in London – so it’s certainly doable, but the idea that you have to hightail it down south to find any success in the fashion industry is still expected.
“London is really cosmopolitan, you can find many non-English speakers there so that’s great. My PR company tells me to move to London. Yet Manchester is a really big city, and also still small, the people are very friendly. I don’t want to leave Manchester, I grew up here. So yes, I do the shows and the parties in London, but still I come back.”
I admired Zeynep Kartal’s commitment to staying in the city, as I imagine most new designers would take heed of a call from the big capital. With that said, it felt right to celebrate our Manchester designer with champagne, while overlooking the River Thames. TOWIE’s Lydia Bright was also in attendance, as well as some other fashion big-wigs (I overheard a conversation about Vogue, international fashion houses and top designers). After the show, a warm and smiling Zeynep Kartal rushed about greeting and posing for pictures.
Back in Manchester, I asked Zeynep what had been her most famous designs to date.
“I really liked designing for Lady Gaga,” she revealed, nonchalantly. “Tess Daly is very nice and very friendly, I’ll soon be designing some clothes for X Factor, and I recently made a gorgeous red carpet outfit Maisie Williams from Game Of Thrones.”
The celebrities, the parties, the catwalks are all now typical for the designer. She’s in Vogue - literally. And, while London will always be the hive of fashion and premier designer talent in the UK, we’re keeping this gem to ourselves until she decides otherwise – Zeynep Kartal’s ours, London, and you can’t have her.