An Insider in Both Worlds: A Classroom and a Runway

Dr. Kurt Mertel is an assistant professor of philosophy at AUS.

By Meera Shaheen

“My classroom is my runway,” said Dr. Kurt Mertel, assistant professor of philosophy at the American University of Sharjah. With a bachelor’s degree in political science, a master’s and a doctorate in philosophy and an exquisite fashion taste, Mertel is no ordinary professor. 

Foregoing the monochrome suit and tie look, he expresses his love for fashion by always standing out with unique outfit compositions.

Mertel was exposed to the fashion scene as a child through his mother. He developed his love for different clothes, fabrics, colors and textures at a young age. Born and raised in Canada but ethnically Turkish, he spent most of his summers in Turkey, where he bought most of his clothes. When he would go back home to Canada, he would always be praised for his style that would distinguish him from the rest. Mertel worked in retail fashion and visual merchandising while being an undergraduate student in Toronto. 

This stylish professor is known amongst most of his students for bringing extraordinary outfits to class daily.  

He said, “the way I dress is an expression of my individuality; the more I started to express myself through fashion, the more I was able to connect meaningfully to students in the classroom.” 

Mertel believes that fashion allows him to establish a connection with his students and reveal his personality. Standing before his students teaching philosophy in a bright orange blazer and checkered pants, Mertel describes his class as a show.

“There are no two Shakespeare shows that are the same, just like my classes,” said Mertel. 

Kurt Mertel combines academia with fashion under a philosophical umbrella.

He describes his teaching as an onstage performance. Dressed in different outfits every day, no two looks are the same.

Despite being extremely passionate about fashion, Mertel did not pursue a career in it as he believed he didn’t have the necessary design skills. However, the philosophy professor has found a way of combining both his passion and career into possibly teaching a unique course called “Philosophy of Fashion” in the near future. Mertel also incorporates his passion into his job by using examples from the fashion world in his lectures.

Mertel believes that fashion “beautifies” our everyday being in the world. “Fashion, as an aesthetic, has the potential to both challenge and provide a reprieve from the everyday imperatives of functionality, optimality, and efficiency,” said Mertel.

He views fashion as a means of expressing aspects and taste of an individual’s experience.  The modelesque philosophy professor always dresses in different bright colors, patterns and textures. He is tall, wears stylish glasses and has hair that is dyed with multiple colors. Mertel doesn’t stick to one specific fabric. His clothes are always a combination of different materials, making him always stand out in a group of people.

One of Mertel’s students once suggested that he creates a book of different outfits with the purpose of demonstrating his unique style. They have also suggested that he creates an Instagram account for his fashion interest. Mertel describes his fashion taste using these three words, eclectic, fluid and experimental. 

His favorite designer is Rick Owens, a luxury designer that stands out for his “grungy glamorous” aesthetic. With Mertel’s friendly, welcoming personality and enthusiastic teaching style, his courses are always at maximum capacity. Amongst all students, he is famous for being the “tall stylish philosophy professor.”

Mertel’s advice for anyone interested in the fashion world but hesitant, is to always be playful and experimental with what they wear as a start. 

“People think fashion is about certain styles and pieces but it’s also about how they feel in those clothes, it’s about the experience,” said Mertel. 

He believes that for one to look good in what they are wearing they must feel good in it. This is the only way to make an outfit work. Personal style is not necessarily about the clothes themselves but rather it is also about the feelings and emotions felt wearing these clothes. Mertel says that joy is an important element to add to our style. People need to be confident in their clothes because their confidence is what projects the beauty of their style.

Mertel has only received compliments and praise for his style, leaving him with only a bigger motive to embrace his individuality through his outfits.

Mertel said, “at the end, it is much worse to censor yourself in order to avoid criticism.”

He believes it is much worse to dress how everyone else expects you to, as you are sacrificing a lot in toning down your individuality rather than expressing it. Mertel encourages anyone interested in the fashion industry to pursue their passion and reflect their individuality through their own personal style.