Photography: Grace Duval
For Chicago designer Eda Yorulmazoglu’s junior collection, she used her own family members as inspiration, reflecting on their oddities and ultimately redefining normality with her interpretation of a “Perfect Nuclear Family.” Light-hearted and uniquely tongue-in-cheek, the rising talent’s perspective on life took a dark turn when her grandfather, who lived with her family for 18 years, passed away last December.
Yorulmazoglu was in need of a distraction and turned to sculpting vases as a way to completely disconnect and feel at ease, her creations becoming the catalyst for a full new collection and deeply personal narrative. The vases, she said, were symbolic of peace and happiness, inspiring her to design garments that acted as vessels for family members’ spirits as a way to help them through the grieving process and spiritually reconnect with her grandfather.
“In life we start as a vase of flowers, growing and changing each day,” Yorulmazoglu explains. “Sometimes we’re up, sometimes we’re down. And there comes a day when it is time to move on and become fertilizer.” She used this concept to create a core character, the Fert, symbolizing the deceased, since her culture refrains from using caskets and instead puts gently wrapped bodies directly into the earth so something new can grow. An incredibly moving experience, Yorulmazoglu sought to rewrite her grandfather’s burial through this collection because she says he always lived life happily.
For her senior collection, “Clem’s Revenge,” the designer created a lineup of key characters all gathered to mourn the loss of their loved one: The Healer, the Hero, the Youngling, the Licker, Crying Mother and finally, Clem, the protagonist who represents the designer seeking revenge on her grandfather’s narrative. “I will never forget the past summer we had together in the hospital room everyday, just us,” she says, “Though it feels dark without you, your spirit will keep us colorful.”
We caught up with the rising designer ahead of the School of the Art Institute Chicago’s senior showcase this Friday at Garfield Park Conservatory. With the common theme, “Reflexion,” students were all challenged to explore the future of fashion in a sustainable world. This is Yorulmazoglu’s interpretation:
After you finished your last collection, what was the early process like for creating another?
During the summer I started drawing, just like I did with my other collection, but there were a lot of distractions. Between going to work and the hospital everyday to keep my grandpa company, I couldn’t think of clothes or concepts. When school started, it was almost the same—nothing stuck. I was so stressed about my family [and] I made the Hug Jacket thinking it would lead to my final collection, but there was something missing. It wasn’t until I starting making sculptures in ceramics, making these creature vases. It became some sort of a mediation, I couldn’t stop, I would work through lunch and barely talk to anyone in class because it was the one time where I could block all the trouble from my mind.
Yorulmazoglu’s illustrations were created after she began sculpting vases. Pictured are what she calls the “vase people,” representing the living. As deformed as they are, they’re happy with themselves and flourish everyday, she says.
How’d sculpting these vases shift your creative process?
These vases made me think about death and the humor that can come from it—kind of like looking at something horribly sad, but finding light in it. On Thanksgiving morning, my grandpa went into a coma. Though we were being separated, I’ve never seen my family closer. There was a certain bond that couldn’t be broken. He finally passed on December 5 and we all flew to Turkey for the funeral. During the funeral, I paid close attention to every detail. It felt very personal. Family and friends used their bare hands, took the body out of the casket and carried him to the grave. My dad got into the grave, so he could help lower the body, then everyone grabbed a shove and started filling in the grave. I’ve never seen anything like this—it was beautiful. Though, as I stood there crying, I kept thinking that this is not who he was. He would be so sad if he saw all these people miserable because of him. That is when I made a choice to redo his funeral. I wanted his life celebrated, not mourned. I decided to use my bare hands to free his spirit in a rightful manner.
What did you learn from your last collection that you implemented in this one?
I learned how to create using my own experiences. Also, to have more confidence to do something more than just clothes. My last collection was a good start and nice to experiment [with] creating a collection based on a narrative I’d created and using clothes for storytelling.
The last collection had such a strong narrative. What’s the story behind these characters?
Last year’s collection was my first take on what family is. They were weird outsiders and accepted each other, reflecting on how my family was. But in the past year, my family and I went through a lot of stress and sadness—the worst we’d ever been because we realized we were losing one of us. With that, I focused on each person and pulled details of how the situation had affected them. The main character is ‘The Fert,’ as in fertilizer, [which] represents the deceased. The other characters take form as vases [to] represent the living. Each character represents a family member of mine. The idea of this collection is that it gives a chance for my family to say our final goodbyes in the rightful manner that suits how my grandfather lived: joyfully.
Yorulmazoglu’s embellished crocs were designed in response to her culture’s burial process. Growing out of the soil and peeping up at you are the deceased’s eyes, she says, some of which are crying if you look closely.
How has this body of work moved beyond just clothing? It looks like you’ve tackled this with a more multi-media approach, through sculpture and illustration, to tell the story.
I’ve explored more mediums this year to develop my story, like drawing, ceramic, writing [and] knitting. I think it’s important to explore a story through multiple points of view. My collection is more than just clothes to me—it’s a spiritual connection to my grandfather. With each drawing, lump of clay, word or knitting, I project my grandfather’s spirit. I want this collection to be seen in many ways, like how it would be seen as a drawing or sculpture. I think it’s interesting to see the differences of material that still give off the same feeling.
Is it important to differentiate between ready-to-wear and costume?
I’m okay if people think my work is costume, but personally I don’t like to put a label on it. Since I am designing for these characters, it could be considered as ready-to-wear for them. They wear these clothes daily, [so] it’s normal to them. Also if you take the clothes apart separately, some can be worn in more casual situations, depending on the person I suppose. I think just because the clothes seem different and unusual, people tend to think ‘costume.’ I just want to make my monsters feel great. I don’t consider myself as a fashion designer or even a costume designer. I think of myself as a creator. I build these characters with spirits. They each have their own characteristics. When people put on the garments, they tend to adapt to the character without even fully understanding them.
What’re you bringing to fashion that no one else is?
I liked to tell stories through my work that are personal to me. Especially with this year’s collection, I explored a way to deal with a huge problem that was tragic, but show it in a colorful way. I like to make garments that are more than just clothes. I build life into these garments and let them tell a story, and I think that is different from what others do. It’s always a very emotional process for me. I want my audience to feel something, not just think they’re nice pieces of clothing. My garments help me through a lot of my own problems. I would hope that whomever is looking at my work can get a sense of relief or escape just even for a moment from whatever they are going through. I don’t intend on making garments that fit into our world. I want to create a world where they can be free.
These vases, also titled “Clem’s Revenge,” were what inspired Yorulmazoglu’s senior collection. Though they’re crying and deformed, the designer says there’s something also very humorous and sweet about them.
Technically, what was the construction process like for these pieces?
Last semester, I learned how to use the knitting machine [and] the rest was history after that. Knitting became like a meditation for me. I couldn’t stop. I problem solved ways to make the knitting into patterns, since I was still new and didn’t know how to pattern correctly on the machine. I basically made my own fabric this semester. I patterned everything considering each quality of the character. For materials and manipulations, I thought of nature, what’s growing and what is dead.
What do you consider the most important marker of your work?
Humor is important for me, because through most situations I feel as though humor is the best way to get through a problem. My family and I use a lot of dark humor to make fun of a situation. We made a lot of jokes throughout my grandfather’s sickness. When it was his birthday, he didn’t want us to sing ‘Happy Birthday,’ so instead we sang, ‘Good Thing You’re Not Dead Yet,’ in the birthday tune in Turkish. We couldn’t stop laughing. I think it’s important to acknowledge both sides, though. The sadness is what really drove this collection, but no one would guess by looking at the collection that it’s actually about someone’s death and I think that’s great. I don’t want to make anyone sad, I want this collection to make people happy and maybe distract them from their problems. My grandfather was never a sad person. He was very positive and happy, and it was his goal to make sure others were the same.