Who would have thought that Pigeon feathers and beetle shells were Haute Couture-worthy materials? With only three collection made on his own, the young, Antwerp-trained fashion designer Serkan Cura reanimated the art of fashionable plumage. Sleek met the designer in his Parisian showroom in order to talk about a forgotten handicraft that flirts with feathers.
Feather-craft seems to be a dying savoir-faire. What sparked your passion for feathery Couture?
I think it all started when I was 13 years old. I used to live in Brussels, next to a flea market and hats with feather applications fascinated me. This is where I discovered my first hats, all made out of bird-of-paradise feathers. Then, I studied fashion design in Antwerp, at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, where I pushed my passion a bit further: I worked on a cage for my collection, made out of 500 pheasant feathers, which got me good reviews in local newspapers and magazines. Finally, before starting my own brand, I worked at Jean-Paul Gaultier’s couture and prêt-à-porter ateliers in Paris for four years, where I specialised in fur and feathers. Then, the last artisanal house in Paris that worked with feathers had to shut down recently – they gave me the opportunity to save a part of their feather stocks and archives before they sold everything. I think that I am the only person left in Paris who works with feathers in an artisanal way. Chanel still does too for some Haute Couture pieces, but that’s all. I currently teach this special craft in Paris at the “Lycée Octave Feuillet” that is focused on artisanal metiers. I think it is important to preserve this type of know-how, before everybody forgets all about it.
Where do you actually source your feathers?
I won’t reveal all my contacts and sources of course… but most of my feathers came from the old stocks I acquired from artisans that were closing their business. Sometimes, I also have to travel far away – I usually go to South Africa twice a year to get ostrich feathers. Then, I also have a few contacts to farmers and raisers who give me feathers after their birds moulted. I have to adapt to nature – I solely adapt to moulting periods, I would never harm a bird – so sometimes it takes ages to finish a dress. Once, I wanted to make an outfit solely from parrot feathers, and it took me about 2 years to collect them all! But I don’t use feathers only, even if they are my main passion. This tuxedo for example and a matching apple-shaped evening bag (Serkan points on a emerald green and orange coloured, edgy tuxedo and purse) are entirely made out of beetle shells.
Yes burned out beetle shells! They look fashionable, don’t they? The strange thing is that beetle shells used to come along only in shiny emerald green or violet hues. Now, with the ongoing metamorphoses due to climate change, and certainly also because nature tries to protect its creations from us human predators, most of the beetle shells come with orange hued highlights.
You made 10 silhouettes for your latest Spring-Summer 2013 collection…how long does it actually take to finish off a piece?
You’ve got to know that I work on my own, in my apartment. I have every feather that you can image: bird-of-paradise, pink flamingo, pheasants, ostrich, heron, pigeon feathers…my place is a true mess! The funny thing is, when you look at one of my outfits, you sometimes have the impression that I use different types of coloured feathers – but it’s not true, Every outfit is made of one single type of feather that is adjusted in different ways, in order to create an optical effect that makes you think that there are different colours – but in the end, your eye makes you think it is different, because of various light impacts. I work on every single feather, one by one. Each feather is completely edged, glued on its ends and plucked. Most of them are glued on the garments, but I also embroider them on the linings or corsets of my silhouettes. In this way, the feather outfit becomes truly resistant – you can pull them – they won’t break – and even wash them with your laundry if you want! I had a few kind assistants that helped me towards the end of my work on the new couture collection, but usually I am on my own and it can take up to three months to finish an outfit.
So far, you focused on costume-like Haute-Couture… would you dare to use feathers for ready-to-wear?
(Serkan smiles) I actually have plans for ready-to-wear, but it’s too early to tell! Anyway, until then, you’re more than welcome to wear one of my creations if you want!