Başak Cankeş Young Turkish Designer infuses a love of art and travel into her brand


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Başak Cankeş is a young Turkish designer who is fostering a unique fashion concept under the mentorship of The Centre for Fashion Enterprise. Strongly influenced by fine arts, Başak combines her collections for her own brand BASHAQUES with a multi-brand store front and her very own art gallery, all under one roof. OURS magazine interviewed the young designer, delving deeper into the driving forces behind her diverse concept.


Last month you won your place on the YOTA program, a fashion incubator designed to support talent from the Mediterranean, what does this achievement mean to you and your heritage?

For a designer, carrying your brand abroad is the best way to make people hear your voice especially in your own country. YOTA became the bridge which enabled me to get one step closer to achieving my dream, to take my brand abroad and grow it internationally. I don’t think it’s very advantageous to go international after you have a stable brand but I think that having the international aspect and being exposed to the cultural aspect of another country and culture while your brand is growing always adds more to your heritage and also increases creativity. All around the world there are certain structured business plans which are applied for fashion brands to grow. Being exposed to the market here in London and then in NY has made me realise I can actually integrate my brand into different and unique shops all around the world as long as my business plan is in place.


What do you aspire to accomplish during your residency?

The whole program is based on having a mentorship from fashion and business experts who are working with many successful brands from London such as Mary Katrantzou, Erdem, Peter Pilotto, Christopher Kane etc. Learning from these very experienced people adds a lot to me and my vision. They also provide us with a studio space in University of Arts London, in which we are supported to create our new collection. Having mentors at the very beginning of the creation of my brand is an amazing advantage because I believe sometimes people get lost during their creative journey when there is no one experienced to ask and learn from. But being here in YOTA and having all these mentors around me really helped me to refine my style and knowledge in creating a whole new brand from scratch.


When I visit an exhibition of an artist, if the work makes me excited I generally try to think of a way to carry the work with me all the time to look at it.


Bashaques’ is an ambitious mixture of your own collection coupled with a branded store and art gallery concept. What is the driving force behind this concept?

I am a person who is extra creative when I am in love with the place I live. Generally, these places are the ones which are near the sea, where people are happy, intellectual and chilled. That’s why I  wanted to open my first concept store and art gallery in Alacati, which is a small summer village in Turkey just like a film set. All of my customers assemble in Alcati during the summer. This is a great advantage for me since I don’t have to open another shop in a big city where my creativity usually gets killed. Since my shop has a gallery section, I get super inspired by art! Having these two in one space really helps my creativity and inspires me to create my clothes for my own brand. Since I bring the artists that really inspire me to my own gallery, I end up doing collaborations with them for my collection. So the two components really feed off each other and become the driving force.


How do you go about curating the designers and brands included in your multi-brand store?

Apart from my own brand BASHAQUES, we have 45 different brands from all over the world. So I would say traveling during winter allows me to get inspired and also find new designers for the upcoming summer season every year. I also attend trade shows in Paris with my own brand and I use this as an opportunity to visit all the small concept and vintage stores in order to find rare pieces. My biggest inspirations comes from my travels to countries like Malaysia, Africa and Colombia to find special artisan pieces to sell in my shop. I am very careful about the styles of the pieces. I never put two similar designers in the store. The most important thing for me is the creativity and the raw talent of the brand. Having different and unique pieces in the shop also allows me to chat with the clients, which is something I love doing.


Can you describe the moment when the lines between traditional art and fashion began to blur and unite as ‘wearable art’?

When I visit an exhibition of an artist, if the work makes me excited I generally try to think of a way to carry the work with me all the time to look at it. I never liked the idea of an art work to just stay in people’s houses, or on the walls of a gallery. This is why I wanted to find a way to make the art be with me everywhere I go and use it as fabric on the human body.


What is the fashion design landscape like in Turkey today and how does it differ across Alacati and Istanbul?

Turkey has a very large fashion design landscape.We have very successful upcoming designers who are so modern and European but on the other hand we have so many ‘Alaturca’ traditional costume designers. There are so many influences both from the eastern and the western parts. Alacati is always warm and summery whereas Istanbul has four seasons. But both locations are filled with the modern Turkish woman which inspires me both from a cultural and aesthetic perspective. Mediterranean women like to wear colors, is free and doesn’t mind showing her body off. She travels a lot, reads a lot. This is the type of woman who makes me inspired and this helps me to reach out to the European woman too.


Every artwork is presented with its title but I believe once you hear the story behind It, that’s when you really start to really feel the artwork.


You mention that you are a keen traveller, what has been your most memorable moment of inspiration during your travels?

My mother is a tour guide and this is why since I was a little girl I travelled to so many different countries such as Mexico, Thailand, India, Malaysia, Africa and Finland. It’s hard for me to locate a specific memory but what sparked my interest in designing was colorful and summery clothes. I remember when we were visiting Cancun, Mexico and seeing so many colorful people, very happy with their light summer dresses I got super inspired. While my mother was trying to buy me some childish white cotton traditional Mexican dresses, I was only interested in the colorful ones and thought about how stylish they were. That shopping moment and the rest of the fashion arguments I had with my mother actually gave me the push to start my own design line and wear what ever I want, the way I wanted. I felt free!


Who are some Mediterranean designers that have served as inspiration for you over the years?

Erdem, Mary Katrantzou, Bora Aksu and Hussein Chalayan.


Never take criticism too seriously, especially when it comes from people in the fashion industry who do not create their own brand.


You reference the quote by Aristotle “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance” how does this mentality resonate with your designs and what message do you wish to communicate to the women who wear them?

Every artwork is presented with its title but I believe once you hear the story behind It, that’s when you really start to really feel the artwork. For me, If the meaning is not explained the piece just stays on the wall as an aesthetic object which only fulfills your eye. In every collection I create, I try to feel what the artist felt while doing his/her artwork and translate that meaning to the fabric with my own designs. For example in my first collection I got an inspiration from Murathan Ozbek’s ‘photograph which is called ‘My Dear Son.’ This piece is based on the memory of letters sent from his mother. Rather than printing Murathan’s Photography on the dresses, I adapted images and textures which came from the piece and letters in the piece. And I believe this quote from Aristotle signifies this. This is what I call ‘inward significance.’


What goes into the curation of the art exhibitions that take place in the gallery including the selection of featured artists?

I try to choose from upcoming artists and artisans if it’s a solo exhibition. The art always has to have a connection with me and also be suitable for my future collections. If I feel that their artwork could inspire me to design a collection I contact them and invite them in to my gallery. Sometimes in the quieter summer months we make collaborations with the established galleries of Istanbul, taking the galleries pieces to the store attracts the same clientele. If I like an artist’s work a lot I offer them a private exhibition afterwards.


Who are some up and coming artists in Turkey whom you admire?

Murathan Ozbek, Fırat Neziroglu, Emre Namyeter, Burcak Bingöl and from the long established ones Yasemin Cengiz Çağatay, Yigit Yazıcı, Mehmet Sinan Kuran, Canan Tolon.


What is your best character quality which inadvertently passes on to your fashion creations?

My freedom and obsession.


What do you aspire for your brand and next collection?

I am working on how an architectural piece can be translated to fabric with tapestry art. My inspiration is Antoni Gaudi and my artist is Fırat Neziroğlu who is a very talented tapestry artist in Turkey. For the summer pieces I was inspired by Casa Battle and the mosaic technique Trencadis and for the winter pieces I was inspired by the astonishing huge black iron doors which have giant holes on them. So you can expect to see a lot of holes in my coming collection!


What single piece of advice would you pass along to aspiring young fashion designers?

Never take criticism too seriously, especially when it comes from people in the fashion industry who do not create their own brand.