Turkish Haute Couture—Rifat Ozbek

For more than twenty years, fashion designer Rifat Ozbek has been proving that Turkish design can still make its mark in the rarified world of haute couture.  Born in 1953 in Istanbul, Ozbek’s family was upper class, highly cultured, and among those who still understood and valued the best of Osmanlı culture.  In 1970, he left Istanbul to study, first architecture and then, fashion design, at St. Martin’s School of Art in London.  After graduating with honors in 1976, Ozbek went to Italy to design clothes for Monsoon, a company that mass-produces ready to wear garments.  In 1984 he established his own company, designed an entire collection that he called Africa, and showed it to everyone who was anyone in his parents’ spacious London apartment.  Africa established him as an exciting, new, up and coming couturier and definitely someone to watch.  For some years after his debut, he showed his yearly collections in Milan and New York (White Voodoo was the name of the collection for his first New York show), however, for some years now he has been showing his collections in Paris, taking his rightful place alongside the likes of Dior, Givenchy, Chanel and Balenciaga. 

Rifat Ozbek now has two clothing linesFuture Ozbek, a prét-a-porter line and Ozbek, a couture line.  In 1995, he launched his own perfume, Ozbek, a blend of jasmine, tuberose, blue hyacinth, freesia, peach, honey and musk.  And last year, he launched a second, Ozbek 1001, which combines a hint of orange on a rose bouquet base, blended with musk, amber and one secret ingredient.  Both perfumes are bottled in beautiful flacons inspired by the minarets of mosques, and are capped by a golden ay yildiz (crescent moon and star).

Known for his skilled cut, unconventional use of color, and surface decoration, Ozbek designs clothes that are poised between fantasy and reality, and evoke, as he himself says, “Eastern European travelers, Anatolian peasants, [and] Cockney rebels . . .” His trademark is interpreting ethnic designs, and he seems limited by neither time nor space when it comes to choosing cultures for inspiration.  Small wonder a recent CNN report stated that a Rifat Ozbek creation “beckons the modern nomad.”  His clothes certainly do demonstrate a mix of sophisticated, sometimes even hard-edged urban designs with traditional, ethnic materials and colors.  In his 1989 fall collection, there were velvet sheath style dresses decorated with North American Indian feathers and beads and in his “White Collection” he was inspired by classical Greco-Roman designs.  Enchanted by pattern, applying his characteristically innovative touch, he often handles familiar fabrics in original ways; for example, he uses silk to make exquisitely patterned cloth, drawing on motifs as diverse as Indonesian ikat patterns and the richly decorated and colored Iznik tiles of his native Turkey.

Unlike most fashion designers, who seem bent on trying to attract publicity whenever possible, Rifat Ozbek is something of a recluse and is notorious for shunning it.  While writing this article, I searched the web for a site that would provide information about how to contact him, or at least his publicist, but to no avail.  He may have no websites of his own, but what I can tell you is that Rifat Ozbek’s clientele now includes celebrities such as Madonna, Cher and Diana Ross and if you search the web you will find sites about him and his designs in no less than ten languages! 

Although he is often described as a designer at the pinnacle of a fabulous career in design, my own feeling that Rifat Ozbek is only just beginning.  Time will tell.

Some information about the designer as well as his fragrances, Ozbek and Ozbek 1001, can be found at the IPD Fragrance site: http://www.ipdfragrance.com/RifatOzbek/Ozbek.htm