John Paul Ataker F/W 2017


This morning was a time for firsts. It was the first time I repeated a venue for a fashion show, making the trek to Pier 59 Studios in Chelsea for the second show this week. It was the first time I sat behind Miss America, and the winner of Miss Universe, Olivia Culpo. And it was the first time in my entire life where I have been exposed to Kurdish fashion.

Well, for the record, I’m not sure if designer Numan Ataker himself is Kurdish. He does come from an atelier family which stretches back for generations and since leaving his native Turkey a few decades ago he’s been plying his fashion in NYC. When I say Kurdish, and, specifically, Yazidi, I’m talking about the designs for his Fall/Winter 2017 collection. They harken back to that late Victorian Age when the British had solidified their hold of the Middle East, silver-plate photographs were becoming all the rage, and the Orient was oh so haute couture.

So what does Yazidi fashion, brought under the curatorial and modernizing influence of Britain, look like? The black, crucifix-pattern makeup which adorns the models and the haunting string music in the background, during the walk, root the line in the preternatural. That comes, I guess, from wanting to capture the nomadism of the Kurds, and from doubling down on their elaborate infusion of social norms with spiritual significance.

Ataker builds all of that into the clothes. Staid dresses of black velvet, gold brocade, and broad, paper-flat collars start everything out with seductive demure. Baubles of lace, which swing ever so slightly as you strut, make some of the dresses a little more breathable, and a little more skin-bearing, without compromising your patrician demeanor. There are gold leaves and tassels, blowing in the wind, which wondrously mattes the quirkiness of the Yazidi without compromising their cultural distinction.

Of course, there are drawbacks to Ataker’s fidelity. Kurdish women are generally pretty tall and they have terrific bone structure, so, naturally, these clothes work best if you’re thin, almost waifish, and have great cheekbones with a high, prominent nose. If you’re more curvaceous, or your face is round, you’re probably going to want to pass on the line. Actually, even if you have that perfect 90-60-90 hourglass figure, you’ll find that your options are limited to only the most exquisite pieces. The Egyptian blue midriff and eggshell pantsuit, while beautiful, are too straightforward and form-fitting. They are garments which live and die by the body and the confidence of the women who wear them, and I don’t think they have a place in the fashion of a nomadic tribe, however much it has been modernized.

But that’s not to say that I shun all of Ataker’s departure from the rigid design guidelines which he set for himself. In most cases, yes, I would say stick to the intercut layers of black. But with two of the pieces, you absolutely have to go for the white. One of them, which I can only describe as Cleopatra at cocktail hour, doesn’t even really depart from his vision so much if we accept that “ the Orient” was a pretty squishy, vaporous term which often included Egypt.

Never mind all of that, let’s focus on the dress. Gold trim accentuates a laser-cut jacquard, which swaddles your torso and hips so exquisitely that you seem to glide across the room without ever moving your feet. On a technical note, I’m incredibly impressed with how Ataker, and give some credit here too to his assistants and tailors, merged the seams around the waist. The finished product simultaneously furnishes the impression of a one-piece, full body Kurdish garb and a classic Prada evening dress.

With regards to the other exceptional piece both  John Paul Ataker and I, saved the best for last. Yes, it’s too dainty to have really come from Eastern Turkey and, yes, it looks more European than nomadic. But the organdy dress with gold hems, a chiffon trail, and a hand woven belt makes for such a stunning centerpiece that it makes me want to get married just for the chance to see a girl dress up. Does anyone want to be my Valentine?