Meet the Lichting 2023 finalists: Ulkuhan Akgul

After receiving an abundant amount of open call applications, the Lichting jury announced their selection of 10 final candidates that will be competing against each other for the Lichting 2023 title. Before their debut to the public during Amsterdam Fashion Week Edition 2023, AFW sat down with each participant to talk about their collection and their plans for the upcoming Lichting show. This week we would like to introduce you to Ulkuhan Akgul.


Can you tell me something about yourself and your trajectory as a fashion student?
In my youth, I always felt like the one that didn’t quite fit, a perpetual outsider in my own story. As Turk and a Muslim, my journey from the familiar streets of Rotterdam to the captivating embrace of Amsterdam marked a profound shift in my world. Amsterdam beckoned me with promises of unbound liberty and endless horizons. I believed I was entering a city where dreams materialised effortlessly. Yet, what unfurled before me was a city transformed into an Instagram Valhalla, a sanctuary for media zealots who weighed their worth in virtual likes. A realm where genuine connections seemed as scarce as water in a desert. Despite this surreal transformation, Amsterdam remained my chosen path. Amidst the cacophony of digital clamour, I found my voice in the realm of fashion. Like so many other creative souls, I donned this medium not just as a canvas, but as my lexicon; a language of fabric and style through which I could communicate my essence and channel my restless energy. Fashion was my manifesto of rebellion, an ode to authenticity, a statement of activism painted in threads and textures. It was my solace and sanctuary, a channel for emotions too complex to be confined to conventional words. And while the world might struggle to decipher my chosen outlet, I found liberation in the fact that it was mine alone. Beyond the realm of judgment or easy understanding. 

How did the concept of your graduation collection come to being?
In a world consumed by the pursuit of digital connections and superficial love, I found myself nestled within the confines of a modest 20-square-meter room. While the masses swiped and scrolled in search of affection, my focus was entirely different. Seated at my desk, I was engrossed in a task that seemed paradoxical in nature. My mission wasn’t to find love, nor was it to establish any sort of personal connection. Instead, I was tirelessly attempting to establish a connection of a different kind – a link to a realm where anonymity and authenticity converged. As I navigated the virtual labyrinth, my fingers danced across the keyboard, diligently working to establish a secure tunnel through the digital fog. A good VPN was my bridge to this alternate reality, a portal to a world where I yearned to simply be myself. Within the vast expanse of the online universe, I sought a haven reminiscent of a child in a limitless library – a place devoid of constraints and brimming with boundless freedom. A realm where barriers dissolved and inhibitions melted away. A sanctuary where I could wander unshackled down the rabbit hole known as the deep web. My curiosity was drawn to the shadows, my mind captivated by the allure of the dark and enigmatic. A guilty pleasure it may have been, but I was on a quest to explore the twisted corners and hidden enclaves that existed beyond the reach of ordinary browsers. Humanity has traded their possessions and their privacy, surrendered the essence of their existence all in the name of progress. This behemoth known as social media had slithered into our very being – our faces, our fingerprints, our memories all stored in the ever-watchful embrace of the digital realm. The irony was undeniable, a world where we bared our souls and our data, yet wrapped our identities in layers of digital veils. As I delved deeper into this world, I began to discern patterns and layers within the web – a digital tapestry woven from the threads of algorithms and artificial intelligence. The pixels on my screen changed into vibrant colour palettes, and the content in front of me transformed into a wellspring of inspiration. In the midst of my solitary exploration, I came to realise that the online world, for all its complexity and convolution, was still an untamed frontier. It was a canvas of human expression, a mix of technology and artistry that held untold potential. As I continued my mission, I found myself not only unravelling the intricate strands of the digital tapestry but also weaving my own threads into its rich fabric. And so, in that unassuming 20-square-meter room, I straddled the boundary between the real and the virtual, a modern-day explorer charting the uncharted territories of the digital landscape. As the world swiped for love, I jumped into the depths of the web, carving my own path through the layers of algorithms, the hues of colour, and the boundless realms of inspiration that lay before me.

What important themes do you address with your collection?
As I navigated through the intricate layers of the web, a collection emerged, reflecting my bipolar nature and the complex blend of societal and personal elements. From the surface web to the elusive dark web, I explored it all, realising how discreet we are about our true online selves. Our Co-stars, algorithms, and even a higher power visualised our hidden struggles. I’m enamoured by technology and artificial intelligence, yet I yearn for human control. But reality reminds us that the dark web can harbour sinister powers like: drug cartels, sex trafficking and even a hitmen. Amidst these revelations, I confess to an online identity disorder – concealing my thoughts and history. Shouldn’t we break this pattern? Let’s confront our concealed darkness and share our hidden musings openly. By addressing our shadows, we can understand ourselves better and forge deeper connections. It’s time to shed light on our digital depths and embrace our unfiltered identities.

How would you describe your signature as a designer? How does this reflect in your collection?
I’m definitely all over the place, and I love it. I describe myself as a responsible transgressive multidisciplinary designer. When you look at my collection – you’ll see a wild mix of shapes, colours, and materials, many of which I’ve up-cycled and repurposed. But what really gets me excited is my fusion of couture and robotics. It’s like telling stories through art and technology. Every piece I create has a narrative; a tale woven into its very essence. The runway becomes a stage where my mechanised creations come to life. I want my work to inspire others to break free from the ordinary. As I look ahead, I see a world where creativity knows no bounds, where innovation and art merge seamlessly. In the end, I’m more than just a designer – I’m a catalyst for change, a whirlwind of ideas that sweeps people off their feet and propels them into a future where the impossible is merely a challenge waiting to be conquered.

Which piece from the collection are you most proud of? Why?
The green beaded look called: “she is not a woke word”, adorned with 36,000 Hama beads, stands as my proudest achievement. It’s a testament to my dedication, handwoven from start to finish. What makes it even more special is that it encapsulates an eerie ad from the dark web—an advertisement selling human identities. I took a leap of faith, meticulously translating the image into beads, weaving each one uncertain if it would work. The risk of not being able to execute this paid off, as the intricate patterns and scything lines came together seamlessly, mirroring the haunting ad in a stunning display of artistry in fashion and courage.

What would be the ideal way to present your collection to the public in September? Can you already say something about what you currently have in mind?
I thrive on unsettling norms through daring imagery. This collection is an artistic dare – a fusion of styles that startles and unsettles, all to illuminate the allure within darkness. Models, seemingly injured yet boldly naked, glide to an intense melody. Unconventional elements challenge established beauty standards. The audience squirms, their discomfort a bridge to deeper insight. My intent is not shock, but to reveal. To disrupt assumptions, unravelling the exquisite within flaws. Faces in the crowd reveal surprise, uncertainty, and intrigue.  As the last piece graces the runway, I know I’ve kindled a fire of contemplation. Comfort within discomfort – that’s the tapestry I’ve woven.

Photo credits:
Photographer: Mees mulder
Make-up: Patricija Kostelic
Hair: Kenan Gokturk
Styling & Edit: Ulkuhan Akgul

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