Q&A: Nurcin Sebuk
The head designer at Nu on slow fashion, the breaking down of gendered dressing and the discovery of beauty in disorder
Interview: Clare Finney
Why the name, Nu?
Quite simply, it is the first two letters of my name, Nurcin Sebuk. My friends have always called me Nu, ever since I was in fashion college, and our founder and creative director Hunkan Tellioglu, said: “This must be our brand.” Lower case, the ‘n’ and the ‘u’ are the opposite of each other, and they interlock. Hunkan wanted to reflect what he thought was my most powerful asset, which is combining unexpected things. It was something we had always joked about together—and I think it works for our clothes and our brand.
Does this element of unexpectedness manifest itself in your clothes?
I think our clothes are unexpected—I believe that is why Nu has been so successful in Europe: because we are small and niche, and we challenge ourselves. Our materials come from many places all around the world—Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Japan—but the most important thing is how we shape the material. We do a lot of research and development on fabrics and processes, we invest in manufacturing to the point of madness, and our production is entirely in-house, here in Istanbul.
Concentrating research, design and production in one place is highly unusual for this day and age. What are the advantages?
We are like a family here. If you visit us, you will find we are less like a factory, more a big family home. We have the passion of a family, the energy of family, and this comes through in what we create. If you think about it, you spend more of your life with your colleagues than with blood relatives. That binds us in different dimensions, across pattern-makers, designers and manufacturing teams.
Presumably there is an important ethical dimension to this way of working as well...
Being ethical is about respecting yourself as well as others. At Nu, we focus a lot on wellbeing, and on the high morality of everyone in the company—because it affects everyone: our employers, our customers and ourselves.
How does this high morality come into the manufacturing of the clothing?
I know our fabric suppliers, I have visited them, I know the owners of most of the companies. They come to Turkey and visit us here. And because from the moment we receive the materials all the production takes place here, we only have a very short supply chain. Our manifesto is about constant improvement, through research, learning, using your senses, knowing your limits, but knowing how much you can force them.
Where does Nu sit in a world ever more concerned with the environment, slow fashion, recycling and reusing?
Since day one, Nu has been against fast fashion. We reject any kind of fast consuming, be it fast eating or fast dressing. Fortunately, the world is at a stage now where many of the pre-established values are being questioned and re-evaluated. More and more people are being mindful of the origin and manufacture of products. I am so proud that we have clients asking for the same trousers we made almost 20 years ago, because they have finally worn out. We still go on making them when they ask. I really regret the rise of fast fashion, and I hope everything will change in time. Otherwise we will eat the world.
Making clothes for both men and women, how do you tread the line between the two genders?
I actually think Nu is genderless. We make garments for people. They are simple garments. People think simplicity is easy, but to do it well is not. It is an attitude that cannot be learned. We see the masculine and the feminine coming together more and more, looking more and more like each other. Sensuality is no longer feminine. Strength is no longer masculine. We know men who buy things from the ladies’ section of our boutiques. The first time the sales assistants saw this they were shocked—but I said, “Why are you shocked? If they want to dress like that, they can dress like that.”
Fashion is a way of self-expression, not definition. It shouldn’t dictate how you are treated—that is in how you carry yourself. Determining anything with strict lines and rules is counter to the spirit of life and counter to nature. The designer Yohji Yamamoto, who is like a guru to me, once told me perfection is an ugly thing, that everything must have disorder in it. I thought he was crazy at the time, but now I think he is right. Real perfection is in the harmony of what you don’t expect—no rules and no prescriptions.
What was the gap you saw in the fashion market in 2002?
If I had seen a gap, I didn’t know I had seen it. I think I just subconsciously didn’t want to reproduce what was expected. We have no standpoint at Nu beyond being who we are and expressing it in a way that we know. I think every good designer is the same. I don’t think they are looking to produce exactly what you think people need: that’s too easy. I don’t concentrate on strategy, really, but as a designer I don’t think you really know what has influenced you—it is an insight. It just comes out.
How has Nu changed since the early days?
I am proud to say that in terms of attitude Nu has not changed. It is like a human being. You can change lots of things—the body, the clothes, the job, the friends—but the DNA stays the same. It is the same thing with brands. Colours, fabrics, models and processes can change, but the attitude is what remains. I am not against adapting, of course—you must adapt to survive—but you need that core entity. Louis Vuitton, Dior, Balenciaga—they are different people, in different settings, thanks to the young people that have come to work with them. But still, after all these years, their DNA has not changed.
Where do you find inspiration for new collections?
Incredible architecture, statues, films, literature—so many things can influence you as you think of a new collection. I am not influenced by trends, but of course I do see and observe and question what I hear and see around me. It’s like Van Gogh designing from nature. I am sure he is not designing the exact sunflowers he saw, but he’s internalised it. It comes out subconsciously. That is a rather grand example I have given, but I hope you understand!
What prompted your decision to open your first London store here in Marylebone?
I think Marylebone is a harmony of cultures, locals, tourists, expats—it is the only part of London where I would wish to live. We have so much in common. It is niche, it is accepting without being marginalising, it is a calm place away from the noise at the heart of London. We were actually recommended to launch our first store in a different part of London initially, but we rejected it because Marylebone is us: if our collection was a place, it would be called Marylebone.