Police Uniforms

Faruk Saraç, who put the Ottoman sultans on the catwalk with his ‘Garments of the Sultans’ collection, is pursuing the historical theme in his ‘Police Yesterday and Today’.

First it was the ‘Golden Wings’ costumes documenting the life of Turkey’s first pilot, Fethi Bey; then ‘Yellow Zeybek’, which took a view of Atatürk’s wardrobe, followed by the ‘Garments of the Sultans’ collection. The figures in this year’s Faruk Saraç project are the officers known as the Subaşı (Chief of Police), Bostancıbaşı (Commander of the Imperial Guards), Böcekbaşı (chief of the detective department), and Kullukçu Çavuşu (‘agent’), all representing various ranks in the Ottoman Police Corps. We talked with Saraç, who has just finished work on his ‘Police Yesterday and Today’ collection, and asked him about the stages through which the project evolved and the very difficult process of putting it all together. “This project,” said Saraç, “which is documentary in nature, came about at the behest of our General Director of Security, Gökhan Aydıner. He asked me to put on a fashion show for the 161st anniversary of the founding of the police force in Turkey. So I said, okay, let’s put together a comprehensive project that is documentary in nature.” The 400-piece collection is the product of a meticulous study that took six months. This narrative history of police uniforms encompasses the period both prior to and following the actual establishment of a Police Corps in 1845. Based on their studies, which stretch from the founding era of the Ottoman dynasty to the conquest of Istanbul, from the Tanzimat (19th century reforms) to the Constitution, and from the early years of the Republic right up to our day, Faruk Saraç and his team incorporate in their designs all the changes that took place in the social structure. Saraç sums up these changes as follows: “A transition from the turban to the fez is observed in police uniforms in the Tanzimat and Constitutional periods. Then, with the Republic, this change is manifested in the cap.”

The sources used in the ‘Garments of the Sultans’ collection were useful again in putting together the new collection. Recourse was also had to the archives of the Ankara Directorate of Security for the uniforms worn in the other periods. Some 600 black-and-white photographs were carefully examined, and, following the archival study, tailors rolled up their sleeves and began sewing the uniforms. Using cottons, shantung, 25-30-year-old flannels, and special fabrics woven in the southern province of Hatay, a collection was created, every piece of which, accessories included, has the same design as its original. The shoes are handmade. The fabric required for the uniform of the Kullukçu (what we would call an ‘agent’ today) was imported specially from Italy, his shoes are made of kidskin, and the pen-case he wears in his girdle is 150 years old. His handkerchief, his dagger and all his other accessories are the result of a painstaking study by a team of 200 people. With upwards of fifty thousand stitches, the uniform of the Üsküdar Police Chief, who served from 1882 to 1885, is one of the most impressive pieces in the collection for Saraç.

The collection is going to be presented in a fashion show at the Bilkent Hotel in Ankara on 10 April and at a reception on 11 April in Istanbul’s Çırağan Palace, to which 1200 guests from the business, art, political and sports worlds have been invited. A fencing team will also be part of the show, which is being choreographed by Uğurkan Erez with sound and light by Selçuk Hiper. The uniforms of the Police Fencing School, founded in 1909, will be displayed on the catwalk by close to twenty children between the ages of eight and ten. The guards’ uniforms are another colorful aspect of the show. “We came up with a very charming skit,” says Faruk Saraç, explaining that when the night watchmen tap the ground six times in succession with their sticks as they make their rounds, residents understand that it is the sixth hour of the night and all is well. The costumes will be worn by 34 professional models and close to twenty police officers.

Faruk Saraç is making a gift of the entire collection to the Police Academy Museum in Ankara with the aim of passing it on to future generations. Saraç describes his sensitivity on this point as follows: “An archive needs to be assembled very well. We need to take charge of our history. Our team worked night and day for six months. It took us three months just to make the Kadı’s (Judge’s) caftan, but it was worth it. I think it’s an important step. I decided to give the collection to the museum so as to leave it as a legacy for future generations.” At the request of the police, Saraç is also redesigning the caps worn by the traffic police and regular officers. When asked if he had other historical projects up his sleeve, Faruk Saraç did not hesitate: “Of course!” This year has been his most intense in terms of projects. A future project will involve the redesigning of the uniforms of the five thousand police who serve at Turkey’s airports. The designs and colors are being specially prepared. Turkish railroad personnel uniforms are also being redesigned by Saraç. But the venture about which Faruk Saraç is most excited is that of designing costumes for a film on the life of Mevlâna Jelaleddin Rumi, a project on which he is eager to put his signature. As we approached the end of our interview, Saraç said tantalizingly: “I am soon going to undertake a project never attempted before in the world. I can’t reveal the details but everyone is going to be very surprised.” “Not even a hint?” I asked. His reply: “All I can tell you is that I’m going to go back seven thousand years!”