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Galata: A new chapter

Istanbul’s historic Galata neighbourhood has been transformed into the city’s most vibrant fashion destination, writes Vanessa H. Larson

Feature

by Vanessa H. Larson
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The centre of Istanbul’s fashion scene has traditionally been Nişantaşı, home to designer boutiques and the flagship stores of major brands. But in the last few years, Galata has rapidly overtaken Nişantaşı as the best place to find rising Turkish designers, hip shops that carry select international labels and eclectic concept stores.

Galata is one of Istanbul’s oldest quarters: it was first settled in the fifth century. The Galata Tower, built in 1348, is the neighbourhood’s centrepiece, offering a superb view of the Golden Horn and surrounding city from the top. Since 1453, when the Ottomans conquered Istanbul, Galata has retained a unique character as a place where people of different backgrounds live side by side.

It is a neighbourhood where narrow, cobbled streets are lined with century-old Ottoman apartment buildings with elegant stone facades and wrought-iron balconies. Galata’s fortunes gradually declined during the latter half of the 20th century as other parts of the city rose in importance, and sadly, many ancient edifices are crumbling into disrepair. But as designers, artists, expatriates and others have moved in, attracted by the area’s authenticity and history, a wave of restoration has preserved many buildings.

It may have been Bahar Korçan, an established Turkish designer, who set the wheels in motion for Galata to become a fashion hub when she moved her studio from Nişantaşı to Galata in 2005. In May 2007, the Fashion Designers Association of Turkey – which Korçan helped found and which she headed until recently – launched GalataModa, a fair for local designers held in the square around Galata Tower. GalataModa, which has taken place two or three times a year since, put Galata on the city’s fashion map.  Before long, designers were moving in, and since 2009 the neighbourhood has taken off, with some two dozen new venues.

Deniz Karaman opened Lastik Pabuç, Turkey’s first trainer boutique, with a business partner in August 2009. ‘We saw that Galata had great potential, and it’s definitely been successful,’ he says. The store’s designer and retro trainers and accessories and uber-hip atmosphere quickly earned it a devoted following. Lastik Pabuç hosts a different visiting designer every six months; Umut Eker, who designs accessories for men, holds the title from February through July 2011.

Galata’s fashion and design shops are concentrated on two streets, with a few other venues scattered nearby. Serdar-ı Ekrem Caddesi is home to the boutiques of established Turkish designers such as Korçan and Arzu Kaprol, along with a crop of emerging talent including Simay Bülbül, known for her distinctive style and robust use of leather, and Aida Pekin, who creates whimsical, modern jewellery, some of it with an Istanbul theme. Atelier 55 carries chic Turkish and international clothing, jewellery and accessories labels mostly not sold elsewhere in Istanbul, while design and brand consultancy firm Lunapark’s eponymous concept store sells tableware, home décor and gourmet food items produced by Turkish designers and companies, along with coffee-table books on Turkey.

Building, which opened in early 2009, was one of the first venues to open on Serdar-ı Ekrem and is one of the most innovative, with a focus on cultivating budding new designers. Building displays work by more than a dozen clothing and jewellery designers at a time for periods of several months. For some this represents their first chance to show a collection, but others, such as Zeynep Tosun and Gül Ağış, already have name recognition. ‘We are the first place to start selling young Turkish designers. Building is like a stage for designers to show themselves in Galata,’ explains Bahar Arasan, Building’s fashion coordinator.

Laundromat on Galip Dede Caddesi also shows collections by a rotating group of up-and-coming local designers, in addition to those of its owners Yasemin Özeri and Öykü Thurston. Just opposite the tower, the tiny shop La Mariquita carries select pieces from well-known Turkish designers such as Gamze Saraçoğlu and Hatice Gökçe and funky yet girly clothes, jewellery and accessories by a range of young designers.

Galata’s other main shopping street, Camekan Sokak, which curves around behind the tower, has a more bohemian feel – perhaps not surprising for a street that until quite recently was packed with the workshops of welders, printers and other tradesmen. The tiny lane now has a mix of cafes and shops, among them Lastik Pabuç and Molly’s Cafe, whose cosy atmosphere, homemade food and events including live music and poetry readings attract a lively clientele. Second Chance, owned by model Ahu Yağtu, stocks vintage designer items, while Paris Texas offers pieces from prestigious designer brands such as Marc Jacobs and Chloé. Several stores sell local handicrafts and souvenir items; the most interesting and long-standing is Lal, which carries unique Turkish-themed apparel and accessories.

A city as ancient as Istanbul has seen many transformations over the years. Who can tell which district will be next to follow Galata’s recent makeover into a designer destination?

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