Here’s a small sample of photos from a lifestyle shoot I did here in Istanbul with some stunning all-natural textiles hand-loomed right here in Turkey for Atolyia. The shots, which are being used for mail-outs and for the media will also soon adorn their new website too. The collection, which is produced using traditional methods, includes blankets, throws, hamam towels (pestemals), cushions and goat hair kilims all of which possess the sort of amazing lustre you can only really find in traditional craft textiles. On the two-day shoot I was also so fortunate to work with the multi-talented, knee-slappingly funny Selin Sönmez, a great friend from my days at 34 Magazine, as my stylist. With the combination of great content and a superb stylist, the photo shoot was really a rewarding experience.
Atolyia (previously Hamamist) has been enjoying big success lately, growing from both online retailing and wholesale operations and will soon open a shop in Sydney, Australia where two of the partners currently live. I’m really pleased and proud to help communicate the beauty of these unique products which are made using traditional Anatolian methods.
I’ve always admired people who can make music. There’s something about them, as if their minds existed in two or more universes simultaneously. Which makes me think that the people who craft musical instruments for professionals must be attuned to some truly special wavelengths. On Friday I happened to meet such an exceptional guy, someone who has been creating instruments since his mid-teens. While he’s now approaching 30, he has the keen gleam in his eye of someone who is making a living doing exactly what he loves. A self-described “gypsy” originally from Albania, Briken Aliu came to Istanbul with no friends and no Turkish as a teenager and has since set himself up as a preeminent musical instrument artisan, first apprenticing with Murat Sezen. While the economy has had an impact on his trade, at any one time he’s working on at least 6-7 projects, including a remake of a guitar that Django Reinhardt favoured. His expertise isn’t restricted to any particular style, either. He’s adept at fashioning Balkan instruments, electric guitars, jazz, classical, bass — you name it. Mr Aliu loves music, which is probably how he infuses such spirit into his work. His custom projects usually take about 3 months to complete. To see more from this gifted craftsman, please visit Briken Guitars. He’s making the music of our sphere more beautiful one note at a time.
Whenever I’m in the Covered Bazaar there’s one place I choose to go to first — Dhoku. Not only do I find their modern take on the craft of kilim-making beautiful, I really like the family involved in creating and selling them. I can easily see a few hours disappear with no problem over a glass of tea. Today when I stopped by to see them, I saw that there was a new addition to the family. A brand new tile and ceramics store. One of the reasons I became friends with these guys is that I’ve always liked the way the Güreli family does business. They have a sense of humour and are plenty of fun and never pushy with sales. They’ve brought that same sensibility to life in their new venture, and are providing the full range of plates and tiles, from handcrafted and artisan to the more commercially made quartz-free porcelain. Essentially what this means is that you can find a range of styles and designs from something very affordable as a courtesy for your second cousin thrice removed to a hand-painted treasure that should stay in the family for generations. Their new store is tastefully chock-a-block with plates, tiles, vases and kaftans, and Mevlevi figures and is a throughly welcoming experience in both the manner in which the works are presented and in the approach of the gentlemen who work there. Hayirli olsun! I say.
Kapalıçarşı, Takkeciler Sokak no: 41-43, Fatih, Istanbul
+90 212 522 4242
I don’t know about you, but I like a well made shoe. In fact, I prefer a pair. These days, however, it seems you have to go to Italy or Spain to find a good handcrafted shoemaker … or so I thought. Skeptical? I was too. Despite a tip from my friend, Metin — a man of substance and style —I learned about a fine shoemaker in my own backyard. Much to my amazement, beneath Yeni Camii (New Mosque) in Yeniköy, there is, in fact, an artisan shoemaker. He is also turning out some extremely stylish men’s boots in supple leather and silky soft suede, and has been doing so for no less than about 50 years. To my embarrassment, I walked by his shop for almost two-and-a-half years without a second glance. Perhaps it’s because it seems like a relatively modest storefront and workshop. Let this be a lesson to me to be more attentive. Osman Usta has clients from as far afield as England, France, Argentina, Spain. Now the term usta (master) is somewhat overused in Turkey as it can refer to anyone from the guy slicing slivers of döner off the spit, to a second-rate carpenter, or to a man like Osman. In this case, however, the title is well earned. While I sipped a tea I had the pleasure of watching him work. It’s truly something to behold. I will definitely be seeking him out the next time I look for a new pair of suede or lea footwear. In fact, I can hardly wait to put in an order for some shoes from the Master beneath the mosque.
Küçüktepe Sokak No. 15, Yeniköy, Istanbul +90 212 262 3760
At 79A Kumbaracı Yokuşu, the street that falls from Istiklal Caddesi to Tophane, exists a portal into a another world. This is the dükkan of master craftsman, Nihat Usta. Every day Nihat Usta boards the early morning motorboat to make his way from Anadolu Kavağı to his Pera workshop where he restores the most incredible furniture from another era. From his shop emanates a glow. Is it the materials like mother of pearl and wood that he works with? Or the aura of a man who can create something that much of us only dream of? In any case, there’s something vital as well as timeless (at least, I hope so) about this place. Let’s hope that businesses like Nihat’s thrive for years to come. They are something that keep the spirit of places like Beyoğlu from becoming artificial or feeling gentrified. Thanks for keeping it real, Nihat Usta.
Don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for workshops. I think it’s great to see how people work, how they create. Today I went to the old city as we just move house and are in need of some new lighting. I decided to go old school, as in Ottoman old school. For some of my Turkish friends Ottoman touches around the house can feel a little kitsch, but I like an eclectic mix of contemporary and old, and one of the things I really enjoy, kitsch or not, are Ottoman-style lamps.
In order to see if I could save some money, I decided to pay a visit to a han where I remembered seeing a lamp maker. At first, I thought he was gone but then I called out up the stair above the closed dükkan above and then then popped my head up the stair, where I was fortunate enough to find Ejder Bey. Ejder means “dragon” in Turkish, which is kind of cool. This dragon doesn’t breathe fire, however. Instead, he breathes light into lamps. Not only did I find a good price on some Ottoman style lighting, I got to hang out and see him assemble the pieces. I really enjoyed his workshop. All the bits and pieces, the metal shavings on the floor. I love the mess in here. There’s something very satisfying about the disarray. A tidy workshop seems dishonest somehow, don’t you think?
THIS NEIGHBORHOOD BELONGS TO ANOTHER ERA OF ISTANBUL.
Don’t know about you, but there are times I want to live an urban life without all the latté and fast food chains, which seem to be claiming more and more prime real estate and more and more of our everyday lives. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not above using them, it’s just they get a little tiring, manufacturing the same experience over and over.
That’s why I felt so refreshed the other day when I heeded historian Selin Barlas‘ advice and headed to Kuzguncuk. There wasn’t one branded paper coffee cup rolling around the streets, or simit chain store in sight. Instead there was relaxed local scene, where people clearly knew one another and weren’t in any hurry to be somewhere else. Kuzguncuk is a self-contained, functioning neighborhood with its own post office, a butcher’s, several bakeries and a host of independent little cafes and boutiques interspersed throughout its high street and side-streets. There’s a mix of new and old, but none of it feels artificial or imposed.
There’s also a terrific little square looking out onto the Bosporus, bounded by a row of yalis on one side and Çinaralti Cafe and Ismet Baba fish restaurant on the other. Locals and interlopers like me are welcome sit on benches, refreshing themselves with tea, Turkish coffee or fresh squeezed orange juice as behemoth freighters fill the glistening blue corridor mute as ghosts.
Perhaps that’s what makes the place. It seems to me that the locals are all actively engaged in and enjoy their own neighborhood. It’s the difference between a neighborhood and community, or a house and a home. There’s a feeling of belonging here. That’s something you just can’t synthesize, or buy at a Starbucks.
To say I was charmed would be an understatement. There was something here I haven’t experienced in a long time, and call me sentimental, but I don’t want it to change.
ROMANI FLOWER BUCKETS ACCENTUATING THE LOCAL COLOR.
INTERESTING SHOP WINDOWS.
ISMET BABA FISH RESTAURANT.
What makes a neighborhood more than just a place to live? How do you experience a sense of belonging, or community? Can we go back to a time when a neighborhood was more than just a stopover to take a breath as we run from one place to next? Should we? Is that neighborhood feeling irretrievable? Maybe we should be rootless or risk getting stuck? What do you think? Is a sense of place important?
Talk to me … I’m listening.
One of Turkey’s most creative enterprises resurrects classic designs for a new century by taking rundown rugs, hard-done-by halis, and death row kilims and rehabilitating them for a chance to be trodden on all over again by the well-heeled.
Five years ago it wasn’t always easy to find something genuinely Turkish and interesting for the home which was also genuinely different. Moreover, finding something to give to a Turk, who grew up surrounded by what a foreigner might consider new and exotic was even more of a challenge. Then an actress friend and neighbor introduced me to Mehmet Gureli and his original Ethnicon line of patchwork kilims. Read More…