Ilke Cop: Elegance with edge conquers world of fashion


The work of Brussels-based fashion designer Ilke Cop reveals myriad influences, from pop culture to art history

Be yourself

Launching your own fashion label is always risky, especially if you’ve just finished school. Fuelled by the success of her graduation show, Ilke Cop took the giant leap after getting her degree from Sint-Niklaas Academy in East Flanders.

“Before that I never even considered starting my own brand – I didn’t think it was possible,” the 29-year-old says. “But it was such a great feeling to show my creations to people, and the reactions were so positive that I thought I’d just make a few pieces and try to sell them. Then it grew out of all proportion.”

Since then, Cop (pictured) has launched five collections, each one inspired by a different theme, revealing myriad influences from pop culture to art history. The upcoming Fall/Winter collection under the name Dear Freddy, for instance, is subtly based on 1970s and ’80s slasher films. 

“Besides drawing my inspirations from the visual aspect, I have very mixed feelings about these horror films,” Cop says. “I’m fascinated by this tension between attraction and repulsion, which I tried to channel into my work.”

Past collections were inspired by the travelling circuses of the 19th century, sci-fi comic books, and even Hieronymus Bosch’s masterpiece “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, but they all have a clear common denominator.

For non-conformists

Cop’s creations are easily recognisable, bringing together sophistication, playfulness and a pronounced preference for vibrant colours. Fittingly, the brand’s tagline reads “urban couture for the non-conformist”.

Her pieces skilfully merge elegance with edginess, but despite being a little out of the ordinary, Cop says, they are meant to be worn by just about everyone – as opposed to high fashion that is so extravagant it only works on a catwalk.

My clothes are for people who enjoy showing themselves and who are not afraid to be a little different

- Ilke Cop

“My clothes are for people who enjoy showing themselves and who are not afraid to be a little different,” she says. “At the same time, I pay a lot of attention to how comfortable they are. I want my clients to have fun in them.” 

While the collections were originally designed for women, Cop also makes pieces with both genders in mind. “I don’t want to exclude anyone from wearing my clothes,” she says, “and as gender has become more and more fluid in today’s society, I think this is the right choice.”

Although Cop was born and raised in Antwerp, widely known as Belgium’s fashion capital, she decided to live and work in Brussels, where she has her studio. “In Brussels, the fashion scene is more aware of what’s happening internationally,” she says. “The local scene here is less coherent, more diverse and open. There’s more room for things that are different.”

Fair and square

Over the years, Cop has won several awards, managed to get her collection into stores in Japan and South Korea, and has enjoyed quite a lot of press coverage. Asked for the highlight of her career, however, she points elsewhere. “The greatest joy for me is when people try on my clothes and are visibly happy with them.”

It hasn’t always been an easy ride. Launching your own business, and having to deal with all aspects from creation to administration and sales, can prove challenging. Cop: “The most difficult thing is to find a balance between the artistic aspect and the commercial needs, and create a niche market for yourself.”

In Brussels, the fashion scene is more aware of what’s happening internationally. There’s more room for things that are different

Dealing with shops and finding places that will sell your things can be equally difficult, as it requires participating in expensive salons and showrooms. That’s why Cop has decided to launch her own webshop this month. “I want to be closer to the customer,” she explains.

Cop describes herself as a designer and businesswoman with principles – not only in terms of her artistic vision, but also in the social and environmental aspects of her work. The production of her collections is based entirely in Antwerp, and the materials come from Europe. 

“I want to give something back to my country, and social and ecological responsibility is essential to my brand’s identity,” she says. “Producing everything in Asia, for example, would also affect the quality and make it more difficult for me to be in control.”

Photo: Shari Ruzzi