Interview with Bilge Köprülü, shoe designer.
An emerging talent with creative ideas and an innovative approach to design, Bilge Köprülü is busy these days. After attending ITU and showcasing at IDW, she has a new line in the works. I visited her Cihangir-based atelier where she described the details of shoe design.

Istanbul Street Style: When did you first start getting into fashion, shoes specifically?
Bilge Köprülü: Actually my background is more in design than it is fashion, and I became interested in shoe design and manufacture in 1998. During my time at ITU, I changed my focus from Urban Planning to Industrial Design. After college, I took part in some internships and then traveled to Italy, where I worked at a manufacturer. This gave me first-hand knowledge of how the manufacturing process is done, an essential part of design.
[Note: In Turkey, generally people who enter the shoe industry start out as an apprentice and work in manufacturing until they are much older. The sector is a male-dominated, guild-like trade where creative design is not emphasized as much as functionality and patterning models that sell to the general public.]
ISS: When was your starting point in terms of design?
BK: Well, after I returned I began to make some samples and prototypes. I set up an atelier and made a portfolio. I began to work in some manufacturing houses back here in Turkey doing design. These manufacturers require that their models are designed for mass production. I generally prefer to create shoes with more attention to detail and have more character.
ISS: And this led you into starting your own line...
BK: Yes, definitely. Two years ago, some of us fellow designers got together and exhibited at Istanbul Design Week.
ISS: I know that event, held annually at the Old Galata Bridge.
BK: Yes, that's the one. We did a showcase again this year. Anyway, the team at Kop-Art had noticed some of my samples and, after almost a year later, approached me about displaying them at their new shop in Beyoğlu. Up until this time, I was normally making custom designs for friends and myself. Then Kop-Art started carrying my designs last August.
ISS: Describe your collection, perhaps as a friend would.
BK: Well, my new projects are somewhat themed after the 1950's gangster and rock & roller scene. During that time period, there was a design called Winklepickers that the rebellious kids used to wear. I'm working with a male producer on the line and we are thinking about calling the line: Billy the Kid, after the legendary outlaw of the cowboy era, although the shoes don't necessarily have any Western elements.
ISS: Fascinating. Okay, what is next big step?
BK: Hopefully London! Design more models; develop a good strong brand for the new line. Things are moving fast. I'd like to carry the line in more boutiques, especially internationally.
ISS: How about a signature style? Across the new collection, do you see cohesiveness? Perhaps a theme that ties the various designs together?
BK: I'm utilizing elements of black & white, emphasizing on white. There is a lot of versatility there. Also we're working with vintage fabrics and artificial leathers that should lend each item a sense of identity.
ISS: I remember seeing designs, some boots that incorporated wool felt...
BK: Yes, the ones that I am wearing actually! These were from last year, but we aren't using wool for the newer models.
ISS: Are there any other designers that you like, or use as points of reference?
BK: Many, for example: Georgina Goodman, the brand name Swear, and Bernhard Wilhelm.
ISS: Me, for the moment I am drawn to Mark Nason, Alexander McQueen for Puma, and John Fluevog. How about art or music? Does any of that influence your work or your design process?
BK: I had an idea about rock & roll. I haven't decided yet whether that would be from a newer band or a classic 50's era group. I really enjoy the older themes.
ISS: What would be your dream project?
BK: I have this vision of a three-floor house! The ground floor would be our retail shop, where customers can come in and looks at the collection. The second floor would be the atelier where we do most of our design and prototype manufacturing; as well we would educate people about our design process and even offer classes in shoe design and construction. Of course, the third floor would be where I live, where I would sleep at night!
ISS: Wow! That's a great plan. Good answer. Could be people come in and have custom shoes made?
BK: Of course.
ISS: I can see it happening already. Of the shoes that you have created, which ones would you say are your favorite?
BK: Probably the gangster models...
ISS: In the setting of Istanbul, do you find it difficult as an independent designer?
BK: Yes, when starting out. But, I am in the process of creating and implementing a production system. At that time, I believe it will be much easier. The shoe industry here has many brands which are very much alike, and are not particularly very stylish, yet they do incorporate a successful production system. My goal is not necessarily to compete with these companies, but to stand out with a more unique look and attention to detail; and implementing good production methods is part of the overall strategy.
ISS: So how would you describe the design scene here in Istanbul? Would you say that it is more cooperative or competitive?
BK: Competitive, for certain.
ISS: I would imagine. Istanbul can be that way. I'm hoping that over the next few years it will become more cooperative, especially among emerging designers. Can you tell me about your actual design process? Where do you begin with a design?
BK: It really begins with a thought, an idea - and then a drawing. During the conceptual phase, I begin with looking for lasts, which in shoe vernacular is essentially a mold used for shaping. I make sketches and cover the last with tape and draw the idea right onto the mold. From this you would make the prototype and test fabrics and leathers and the design begins to take shape.
ISS: A very interesting process, really.
BK: ...and these designs are changing all the time!
Interview by D. Alexander
January 5, 2007
Contact: ISS