Pratt Institute senior, Buse Ozler, channels her family’s history into a sophisticated and inspired collection.
When designer Buse Ozler moved back to her family’s native Istanbul as a child, she was struck by the sharp class divide when it came to embracing Turkish heritage. “The middle to upper-middle classes saw the American lifestyle as aspirational,” says Ozler. In fact, it wasn’t unheard of for Ozler’s family to save all of their shopping for an annual trip to the States. It was only after she moved to the US and began visiting Turkey “almost as a tourist” that Ozler gained a newfound appreciation for the culture, whether it was visiting the Grand Mosque of the Grand Bazaar. Those experiences, coupled with an early exposure to the design world (her great aunt was a renowned furrier who dressed middle eastern royals and her grandmother is an accomplished seamstress who began teaching Ozler the tricks of the trade when she was around ten), have provided ample inspiration for her work.
Given the artistic branches of your family tree and your early entrée to fashion, you must have known quite early on that you wanted to pursue a career in fashion?
Definitely, I would say around age 10. In addition to spending time with my grandmother sewing, I would plan out my mother’s outfits for work the night before. My mother recognized that I had an eye, realized that it was a career that I could feasibly pursue and promptly bought me my first sketchbook. I’d drawn and painted previously but that was the first time I’d really sketched clothing. And in the summer of 2012 and 2013 I attended a summer program at FIT, followed by a program at Parsons. Actually it was the portfolio I put together that summer that I used to apply to design schools.
And what was that collection like?
It was actually very similar to my senior thesis. I was homesick for Turkey so it was a mix of Western silhouettes, derived from architecture and Turkish-influenced patterns. I’m a really silhouette-based designer so I pay a lot of attention to my patterns. I wanted to use this collection to sort of reclaim my heritage. “I never listened to Turkish music when we lived there; I only listened to American music. This is about celebrating all those things that make me Turkish but also creating something that’s wearable for today.” So many people mine the region for inspiration and the result is often quite literal.
How did you go about incorporating the more traditional elements, but in a subtle way?
Most of the materials, including the coins, the headscarves, the shoes, have been sourced from Turkey and reworked. The embellishments come primarily from my research on Anatolian costume, which involves a lot of coinage. The first few meetings I had with my collection professor, there was a concern that it would come off too literally and call to mind, say, belly dancers. But I was determined and it’s become a crowd favorite, just looking at feedback I’ve received from friends and on social media.
Your grandmother must be thrilled?
She really is, and she’s so proud that the collection is inspired by Turkey and of course she gave me my start in this industry, so for her to see the level of craftsmanship I’m now capable of is really great. And of course putting the region in a more positive light for an American audience is a great thing.
You just graduated. What’s next?
A month off! In Turkey, of course. But I’m currently interviewing for jobs and looking into footwear design as well.
That last bit should come as no surprise as the enterprising Ozler has held internships at major brands from Vera Wang to Marchesa to Rick Owens that span nearly every aspect of the fashion business. “It was really important for me to do that because it’s not just about designing, and I wanted to cover every base and learn as much as possible, from the showroom to the end of the line with the customer,” says Ozler.