Issever Bahri The Long Flow of Memory

Derya Issever and Cimen Bachri
Derya Issever and Cimen Bachri | © Cathleen Wolf

In 2010 two young Turkish fashion designers, Derya Issever and Cimen Bachri joined forces to create the fashion label Issever Bahri. Their common Turkish roots provided the inspiration for their collection, distinguished in 2010 with the Premium Young Designers Award.

© Issever-Bahri © Issever-Bahri | Photo: Dan & Corina Lecca Their memory reaches back to a time in which Turkish guest workers in high-necked collars, vests and loose-fitting jackets came to Germany, where they exchanged this stylish clothing for overalls, in which they henceforth worked as mechanics or construction workers. Photographs of this generation of fathers and grandfathers of Turkish labour migrants adorn the walls of studio of the two fashion designers Derya Issever and Cimen Bachri, who joined forces in 2010 to create the successful fashion label “Issever Bahri.” What strikes one is the fact that in their search for fashion inspiration the two designers did not turn to the Turkish workers’ overalls, but to their elegant three-piece suits and polo necks. These elements are revisited in their collections, removed from their original context, to reappear in the form of fine silk collars emerging from beneath the shirts.

The foreign in one’s own country

© Issever-Bahri © Issever-Bahri | Photo: Dan & Corina Lecca At first glance, the appropriations of Turkish motifs in the apparel of Issever Bahri are not identifiable as stylistic elements of the guest worker generation. But a defining concept in the entire collection that subjects all individual pieces to a strict aesthetic order is clearly evident.

© Issever-Bahri © Issever-Bahri | Photo: Dan & Corina Lecca New and unusual is this fashion’s seeking out of the element of the foreign – and here this does not involve an exotic, idealised image of another culture, but a turn to the fading visual signs of the foreign in one’s own country. A turn to their grandparents’ generation, who ended up in Germany as “guest workers,” as stigmatised “others.” In the case of Derya Issver and Cimen Bachri it is also the search for a common memory of childhood images, of the visit back home in Turkey or in Greece – the memory of cultural peculiarities, which the two designers also see in clothing. It was their joint work on the collections – thus the fashion designers – that truly awakened them to their origins.

Unusual combinations

© Issever-Bahri © Issever-Bahri | Photo: Dan & Corina Lecca The two young women grew up as children of guest worker families in Berlin. Deyra Issever’s grandparents arrived in Berlin with the first wave of Turkish guest workers and started their family. Cimen Bachri’s mother Semra speaks broken German. In the 1980’s, the Turkish family migrated to Berlin from Greece. The two young women became acquainted during their fashion studies at the University of Applied Sciences (Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft) in Berlin, and had already realised several projects together before they took the plunge into self-employment with their descriptive label “Issever Bahri.” A success story, since plainly a concept in the form of traditional craftsmanship combined with modern cuts and exclusive design is well-received by the multicultural Berlin public. Issever Bahri plays with unusual combinations: crocheted segments meet up with luxury fabrics, sophisticated cuts are meshed with Ottoman ornamentation and guest worker looks. In 2010, Issever Bahri won the Premium Young Designers Award in Berlin for their first collection.

Reconstruction of Memory

© Issever-Bahri Photo: Dan & Corina Lecca In their joint atelier, contemporary pieces of clothing are sketched, cuts cover the walls, mother Semra Bachri sits here and crochets individual segments that will later be sewn into the garments. But not only clothing is produced in the Issever Bahri atelier; here, the two young women are working on the reconstruction of memory and thereby on the recovery and revalorisation of an entire generation. “We get the inspiration for our collections from our Turkish cultural roots – Ottoman culture,” the fashion designers explain.

An experiment intended to be original and wearable at the same time. Each collection is preceded by a phase of brainstorming, sketching pictures, telling a story: “The First Guest Worker Generation,” “Ottoman Art and Architecture” are the collections’ themes, which are always about connections, de-contextualisation, and re-enactment.

Cultural Flows

© Issever-Bahri © Issever-Bahri | Photo: Dan & Corina Lecca For instance, traditional handicrafts that are vaguely familiar from the Turkish milieu – enmeshed in new contexts – turn into quotations, fragments, ambassadors of Turkish traditions and finally into costly components of western fashion worlds.

Wholly in the sense of the Indian ethnologist Arjun Appadurai’s terminology, who speaks of “cultural flows,” the ways in which individual cultural elements master the transfer between the worlds and can become bearers of new meanings. In the collections of Issever Bahri, they speak of the two designers’ ability to create new inspiration from the source of their own cultural-memory capital, and thus to create young fashion that is in a position to conquer the catwalks of Paris, Istanbul or Berlin any time.