Representing the creative future

Tuğcan Dökmen: from Spice Girls to Turkish Men in Polo shirts

The CSM and RCA graduate's take on having a sustainable label in today’s fast-paced industry.

Listening to the entire Harry Potter audiobook series, Desert Island disks, and BBC Radio programmes, Tuğcan Dökmen works her way through sheets of fabric as she considers the gradient and texture of each individual layer. Contrary to music, which acts as a distraction, conversations and continuous narratives help her to focus, and get through work from eight in the morning until one at night. The art of design is a phrase that describes both her process and style, as she laboriously tends to one garment at a time in preparation for stitching the different layers.

Since graduating from Central Saint Martins (BA Fashion Design with Print) and Royal College of Art (MA Fashion Womenswear), Tuğcan launched her own label TĞCN in 2016. Having worked in big open spaces surrounded by colleagues, other designers, and peers throughout her career, she explains the benefits of moving into a new studio: from developing her own mood boards to mulling over ideas in privacy. As we walk up to her newly painted studio space, she fishes out a series of colour palette charts from her coat pocket. She points to a dark shade of green explaining that that was the colour she had originally envisioned for the floor and the pale pink in place was achieved on a whim. The floor is marked off with tape, its scent and sheen indicating that it had been recently painted.

Even as a child, Tuğcan was always drawing. She began to focus on drawing women and eventually on women with different identities. Growing up, her older sister’s interest in the Spice Girls influenced Tuğcan to explore how different characteristics could be represented not only by the individual, but also through her garments – from Baby Spice to Ginger Spice. She began to experiment with the idea of an “ideal” woman through her drawings. “In a way I was drawing these different types of women, to figure out which kind of woman I wanted to be when I grew up,” Tuğcan says. “I’m trying to figure it out even to this day. I still feel a distance from what I draw and who I am.”

However, her decision to pursue fashion was not necessarily influenced by her childhood. Tuğcan has been working with tulle and other kinds of transparent fabric for almost six years, since her BA collection at Central Saint Martins. However, her connection with this particular material is not immediately evident in her past, other than the possibility of some subconscious that comes with being raised by two psychologists. “I don’t come from a family where dressing up was a big deal,” she mentions, “so it’s a bit weird that I ended up in this field… but it came so naturally and I’m still trying to understand why.”

Colour plays an important role in Tuğcan’s designs. Although she uses various different colours – layered to create a range of value and tone – there is a reoccurrence of pink and green in her most recent collection. “That’s exactly what I was thinking today, because I painted my new studio floor in pink. I actually don’t like pink but maybe it’s time to admit that maybe I do like pink. I don’t think I do, but I always end up working with it.”

During her time at Central Saint Martins, Tuğcan was encouraged to create pieces around a narrative that she had built. She continuously came up with different versions of alternate reality to work her collection around. However, in her last year of studying at the RCA, she decided to reference her background, Turkey, for the first time. She took an image from Turkish culture (which later became two images): lined polo shirts, an item of clothing that Turkish men love to wear. Amused, Tuğcan explains that all Turkish men, even her father, wear colourful lined polo shirts – no matter how old they are or what political and social background they come from. Experimenting with laser cut pieces, Tuğcan began to work on layering tulle. “I love that layering different colours on top of each other is, in a way, an unconventional way of painting and “dying” fabric. It’s a very crafty technique but it is not a traditional craft. It comes from me and it is a technique that I manipulated.”

Both moving away from and with her past, Tuğcan is now focusing on repeating and improving what she did before. She talks about the difficulties of working as a young designer and entering the fast paced fashion industry. “If you are a young designer trying to be heard and you want to get attention from press and buyers, it is important to repeat yourself,” she mentions. From a buyer’s perspective, it can be argued that designers should not repeat themselves and come up with something new each season. However, working on her Autumn/Winter collection three months after launching her Spring/Summer 2017 collection, it felt unsustainable both aesthetically and economically to disregard what she has previously worked on. With limited exposure, not many people have seen her work and it is vital for the design as well as the designer to be instantly recognisable. She consciously chose to enforce a sense of continuity and connectivity, in order to overcome the fact that emerging designers do not receive as much coverage or attention as other established brands. Tuğcan is now working towards creating garments that are production friendly without losing the essence of her creativity and design ethic, as she finds a place for her business in the industry.

Taken aback by the question “what do you do when you are not working?” she answers, “I’m always working. It’s the beginning of everything for me.” From her time spent studying fashion to starting up her own label, Tuğcan continues to explore different techniques and concepts that she hopes to reveal in her upcoming collections. Even though her journey as a designer has not been an easy one, she finds motivation in seeing all of her pieces finally come together after months of preparation. Tuğcan hopes to translate her fresh and raw ideas into business-friendly design pieces, as she works towards her next collection.