At 26, Lidya Zenginel has already become a material storyteller and design radical – creating clothes the narrate her life story
It was the 8th of February. Red material adorned the interior of Central Saint Martins (CSM) – although not the type you’d expect to witness within a fashion school. A poster scrawled in capitalised sans serif, “Turkey-Syria Earthquake Emergency Appeal. Donate Now!” It was two days since disaster struck.
One girl stood with matching maroon hair beneath the banner. Her name, Lidya Zenginel. Central Saint Martins’ very own fashion activist.
Born and raised in Turkey, Lidya graduated with a BA in Textile and Fashion Design, and an internship at the acclaimed brand Sudi Etuz under her (Diesel) belt. Now studying on CSM’s Graduate Design Diploma course, her creative approach seems to have migrated from technical perfectionism – into a realm of conceptuality.
“In Turkey, it’s all about a put-together outcome, the idea isn’t as important. But here I enjoy designing because I can be open-minded. I can experiment without worrying if a stupid stitch is wrong.”
She takes the term ‘ground-breaking’ literally, her latest design derives from the natural disaster of her native country, and textile tycoon. “In Turkey, we’re in national grief but here it’s like nothing’s happened, and I realised that I was rushing the grieving process because life goes on – and I had deadlines to meet.”
Unable to move past that day, she communicates how her mental aftershock manifested into a rush. Although not explicitly cementing this visually, she showcased the physical side-effects within her project, taking this time to slow disaster down, as if frozen in time.
Clothes can reveal a lot more about you than you think. Lidya speaks from experience, “when you rush, you’ll lose things, like a button and then put it in the wrong hole. You trip and fall, give yourself a paper cut, and you spill coffee on your finest white shirt. Nothing goes the right way.” This chaos happens to be at the forefront of Lidya’s latest attire.
The designer revealed samples of a repurposed shirt, a tie frozen in motion from the speed of hurry, in a ribbed coral-coloured towelling. There’s are missing sleeve and buttons, draped material, and a second tie bestowed the unconventional role of a belt adding a-symmetry. A pocket holds a note saying, ‘I’m not having tutorials with you now.’ Time is a notion that ceases to exist in Lidya’s tangible world, using it as a way of regaining control when having to create in crisis – and of course, meet deadlines.
“And I want to come up with solutions, solving the rush that reflects on our clothes”.
Fashion moves past an aesthetic art, it turns into a narrative of Lidya’s life. In a personal project, she confronts societal issues in Turkey, using a traumatic childhood story. She lets me in on her secret. “There’s an image on Google” she whispers, “It’s my headmaster presenting me a Quran for winning first place in a painting competition, even though he knew I was Christian, and I have this broken smile, holding it in my hand.”
So, like a true artist, she illustrates the scene on white calico (a designer’s canvas). She painted it free hand, rugged and dark blue, ripping it in a performance, then hand stitched a collection from the torn material.
The clothes made up a closet consisting of, trousers, a corset, a button-up shirt, jeans, and gloves. Piece by piece she tore the image, saying “now I can move on, carrying the stains and only a little bit of that pain.”
Documenting the climax with a video of the garments inside a washing machine. The cyclical motion mimicked the mental spiral she felt at the time. The 26-year-old hoped that the image washed off, (spoiler: it did not). She laughs at the unhappy ending, shocked to find the image still mocking her, she admitted defeat, having expected the painting to erase. Lidya took to social media to commemorate the comedic scenario, wearing an image of the stern man in blue, whilst her face is plastered with a contrasting smile.
Social media has opened doors for the Turkish-Syrian designer, and experimentation – she never shied away from. Gaining traction from her previous capsule collection titled ‘Lab-Grown’, which won third place, and walked the runway at Istanbul fashion week in 2020. The collection materialised from social and political unrest, whilst confronting the mundane dystopia she felt Turkey was becoming.
“It was as if I predicated Covid because I was creating this world that needed to be sterilized, it was so cold and dark as if grown in a Lab. I felt humanity was in a bad phase, humankind especially because of fast fashion and capitalism. The collection was my safe space, almost untouchable.”
Within this world, Lidya begins by sketching characters of her own, explaining “I want to dress them in real life, but there’s nobody out there like them, so I make my own muses, they’re the imaginary people I make clothes for.”
Her visions come to life, animated on male models, believing that masculine silhouettes are freer, natural, more blended, and straight. All garments stem from the ‘Lab-Grown’ environment, a black coated denim trench, inspired by a surgical apron that at first glance appears leather. She accessorises other looks with inflated green neon gloves, which I can only imagine was inspired by Turkey obtaining one of the highest interest rates in the world.
Always against the grain, even before studying fashion, Lidya described herself as a crafty kid. Never satisfied, she recalls constantly reshaping something, making it into a wearable part of herself. So, it saddens her that Turkish fashion goes unnoticed, having cancelled Istanbul Fashion week this year amidst economic crises. “The Turkish designers I know, they’re style is very different and unordinary in Turkey, like mine – no one gets it, and it’s not accepted in society. And because we cannot change this environment, design becomes our escape – because why should we let it define us? And that’s all I’m doing … I’m just rejecting that.”
She tapped into her feminine flare whilst working at Sudi Etuz, a Turkey based womenswear brand known for its pink and tulle. Her designs became playful, a colour palette of vivid pink and reds. She drew inspiration from drag queens, and soon gained recognition from Turkish celebrities, Kerim Candurmaz, and Aleyna Tilki who she described as being the ‘Turkish Avril Lavigne.’
Since, her designs have been featured in GQ Style, Elle Turkey, and earlier last month, Pap Magazine. Her Y2K meets Matrix aesthetic unseen in Turkey prior. Contacted via Instagram, editorials sported a sheer grey heart-printed graphic vest-top which proclaimed the wearer a ‘bad bitch with a big heart.’
She went on, “Which was about self-love, and not pressuring yourself because I was so unmotivated, and I would always tell myself that it was okay.” She weaves a part of herself in every garment, making clothing that literally comforts the wearer.
She currently designs freelance for Turkish streetwear brand Freedom of Space, but Lidya hopes to further her career in London. Although she says she’d love to go back to Turkey and tear down the media’s westernised standard of fashion. Using design radicalism as not a mere form of art, but a medium to spread her story to the world.
“I believe your work is part of you. It doesn’t have to be, but for me it is, and right now, I’m designing whatever I feel like. Physically I am here, but mentally I’m in Turkey.” She says her current mindset is to ‘fake it till she makes it.’ She smiles, the sound of sewing machines buzz as we sit in the studio laughing at the sound of the cliché, because we both know she’s going to do anything but ‘fake it’.