Arzu Kaprol: A Garment Architect with the Spirit of an Astronaut / Demet Cengiz

The end of the 1880s… The last descendants of a disintegrating empire trying to take their souls to the motherland… One of them sets out from Crimea, another takes train after train…

Born in Bursa in 1973, Arzu Kaprol stands as the fourth or fifth generation descendant of families who carry the “experience of leaving one’s homeland”. Her father’s side migrated from Crimea, and her mother’s side from Bulgaria. She grows up immersed in the narratives and experiences of migration, learning about its challenges and complexities. Life has always been full of miracles and miraculous coincidences…

Her father’s side of the family is in the leather business and has always had boys… Arzu is the first girl born to the family… Little Arzu dreams of becoming an astronaut. The little girl who crafts space stories, fashioning spaceships from buttons in her mother’s atelier, is unaware that one day she will rise to become such a fashion designer that her fame would extend beyond the borders of Türkiye.

Fourth Generation Tailor

Her mother’s side is rather conservative, while her father’s is more science oriented. The father admires three things: Atatürk, cybernetics and Nazim Hikmet. They have a huge library in their home. Her father owns a leather shop in the Grand Bazaar, yet beyond, he is a man devoted to reading and introspection, leading a life rich with inner contemplation.

The mother is the child of a mother who remembers the Greek soldiers from World War I… The grandmother sewed her daughter’s and her husband’s garments with care; her husband was a school principal during World War II. She inherits her tailoring from her mother… Both her mother and her grandmother dress the people around them, albeit not for a price. Arzu Kaprol is the fourth female tailor of the family…

A family which likes to dress well, and is financially a tad above middle class… Her older brother, 12 years older than him, took over the leather business from her father’s side.

A Fire and a Sewing Machine

After her parents got married, one day the great Bursa Grand Bazaar fire breaks out, causing her father’s side to lose all of their assets. In their huge mansion, they’re left unable to afford even bread. That day, her mother Sezin Seval Ozbakis starts sewing for money to help the family. Her father, the school principal, brings her a sewing machine on the back of his bicycle. It’s like a movie scene…

Her mother’s tailoring career, which takes off with a fire and a disaster, progresses to owning a well-known fashion house in Bursa and being the tailor to many brides. Her mother and Yildirim Mayruk were trained by the same master. In her teens, Arzu Kaprol starts cutting up and making garments in her mother’s fashion house.

Pictures Painted on Walls

One of the pivotal decisions that influenced Arzu Kaprol’s future was her father’s choice to enroll her in Bursa College (then known as Namik Sozeri). Known for an effective and modern educational approach, Bursa College fosters individuals who later excel in expressing themselves confidently in life…

Ayse, a newly graduated art teacher from high school, shapes the color and form of her own life. Although there are no painting classes, her teacher sees Ayse’s paintings. First her teacher opens her a room so she can paint in lunch breaks. Young Arzu paints pictures on all the walls in the eating hall which was newly built in the school, and she is even excused from classes to do so. Attention from local press builds the confidence of this high school student. Now, Arzu Kaprol is fully set to become a fashion designer! She wants to enter Mimar Sinan University. Her whole family supports this dream.

The Miraculous Coincidences of Life

Before fashion design, Arzu Kaprol also had a music career that is little known of. Between the ages of 12-16, she played the keyboard with her schoolmate Sebnem Ferah in Türkiye’s first female rock band Volvox. The miraculous coincidences of life keep emerging, and the two start playing at daytime concerts. The exhilarating excitement of sharing the stage with Teoman, Erkin Koray, and Cem Karaca continues until she begins university.

Arzu goes to Istanbul and the rest of the group move to Ankara. Ozlem Tekin replaces Arzu in Ankara. Tekin is also from Bursa, but meets Volvox in Ankara.

Very Hardworking “Worst Illustrator”

At Mimar Sinan Arzu is the worst painter in the class, but she works hard. She has all of her drawings reviewed by her teachers and regularly applies to competitions. By the time she graduates, she still hasn’t achieved the level of line expression she aspires to. But imagine a person who draws all the time, strengthening her hand muscles as she draws.

Arzu Kaprol establishes her presence in the fashion world by winning the “Avant-Garde Designer” award from Beymen Academia in 1995. She successfully completes the Perfectionnement program at the Paris American Academy. In 1998, she unveils her eponymous brand to fashion enthusiasts.

The collections of the five equal winners in the competition are sold in Beymen stores under their own names. It is not just a competition that grants awards. It carries a designer to a whole new level, schooling them with the expertise to create garments that can be promptly produced and sold in stores. Perhaps that is why she is most grateful to Beymen Academia, which gained her the ability to survive on her profession.

Her mother always helps her daughter on her professional journey. From crafting the patterns for the initial fashion shows to sewing the competition collections, there exists a profound bond between mother and daughter, intertwined by threads and needles, unbreakable by any scissor.

Her Hand Touches the Stars

During her two-year contract with Beymen, she also opens her first design office in partnership with her university professor Tamer Muftuoglu. What happened next? We all know what followed. She is named “Fashion Designer of the Year” by Fashion TV in 2007, and also by Elle Style Awards in 2011. She dresses celebrities such as Meg Ryan, Kelly Rowland and Chanel Iman.

While it’s impossible to list all her achievements and awards, here are a few examples:

She does Türkiye’s first hologram fashion show in 2015, the Digital Symphony event in 2016, which integrates design, music, dance, and technology with a multidisciplinary approach, as well as Türkiye’s first digital couture show in 2016.

She designs a “Smart Jacket” which adapts its functions according to changes in climate.

Her designs garner acclaim at fashion weeks in Paris, New York, and are acquired by the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) museum collections, where they are showcased in a permanent exhibition.

She becomes the sole female designer to present at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York for Amfar’s 25th anniversary, where her technological garments are auctioned.

She takes on the role of Wearable Technologies Coordinator at Informatics Valley in 2021.

Beginning with the uniform design for the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) and extending to specialized attire for F16 pilots, she then designing uniforms for numerous private companies in the field of uniform design and production, as well as for various countries’ defense industries.

She revamps the uniforms of the Istanbul Fire Brigades in 2021.

With the commission from TUBITAK Polar Research Institute (KAREMAM), she designs protective clothing for Turkish scientists participating in the Antarctic expedition to withstand extreme conditions. For this project, she travels to Antarctica under pandemic conditions and stays on a research vessel.

As her twin sons Derin and Doruk grow up, so does her passion for life.

The Secret to Her Success?

Asked what her secret was, here’s Arzu Kaprol answer:

“Hard work. Not giving up. Whatever life brings, let it bring… All of these things may not always be very motivating, nevertheless, the secret lies in not giving up and believing. This belief isn’t a naive, a Pollyanna belief. Nor is it out of self-pity. You always believe that there is a way. None of us can predict our next moment. Whatever the moment permits… Whatever I can do well for a living, professionally and as a human being… How can I be useful to life?”

Her professional drive stems from creating garments that benefit both individuals and the environment, perhaps because she sees her role in life as adorning the human body. To her, clothes are living organisms that accompany the existence of life, rather than mere aesthetic formations. She refers to her profession not as fashion design, but as human innovation design.

She cares for everything that surrounds our bodies in every aspect of life as a whole. “A human being’s existence in this world is their unique soul; we each exist in this life with a unique body which carries this soul, and our clothes are the closest accompaniment to this unique existence and the only design that moves with the bodies. So I care a lot about what we wrap this existence with,” she says.

Arzu Kaprol is a positive designer with a strong spiritual side who reckons nurturing herself internally. And her dream is to design an astronaut suit…