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Istanbul’s new nostalgia


A remarkable museum and some intriguing boutiques are taking their cues from decades gone by. Julia Harte discovers Istanbul’s enthusiasm for recent history

Julia Harte ,

It’s rare to find a museum in Istanbul that features recent historical artefacts such as old movie tickets, pocket watches, half-full tea glasses, toy trains, slippers and family photos. But Orhan Pamuk’s enthralling new venture, Masumiyet Müzesi, the Museum of Innocence, does just that.

Opened in April 2012, it’s based on the Nobel Prize-winning novelist’s 2008 book of the same name, in which a romance between 18-year-old shopgirl Füsun and wealthy Istanbul businessman Kemal becomes their mutual undoing. The novel traces their relationship against the context of Istanbul in the 1970s, rapidly modernising and driven by deepening class and cultural divides. Each display case in the museum features an arrangement of items mentioned in a corresponding chapter of the book.

Worthy of preservation
Pamuk said at the museum’s opening that he meant to convey the idea ‘that our daily lives are honourable – that the details of our gestures, our words, our smells, our sounds, our objects, are worthy of preservation.’ As if offering a tour of the memory chambers of an ageing Istanbul socialite, the museum’s displays show the frivolous details that constituted daily life for well-heeled Istanbul residents several decades ago, from the snacks they nibbled to the shoes they wore. The museum offers a temporary journey back in time – and into the fictional lives of the characters in the novel.

The opening of Masumiyet Müzesi marks a new cultural era in Istanbul, characterised by an enthusiasm for preserving recent history through material accessories and embracing a retro design aesthetic. The run-down, somewhat dilapidated neighbourhood where Pamuk bought the building for his museum more than a decade ago has since become one of Istanbul’s most intriguing destinations.

Istanbul nostalgia
Most of the shops on Çukurcuma Caddesi, where Masumiyet Müzesi is located, are antique dealers and vintage stores selling pieces of Istanbul nostalgia that wouldn’t look out of place in the museum itself. And the highly fashionable locals strolling around the neighbourhood are as likely to be wearing 50s-era pieces from the nearest vintage shop as they are to be sporting a major brand.

Just up the hill from the museum is the Cihangir neighbourhood, home to a number of retro clothing shops, including Mozk, which sells vintage women’s clothing and accessories as well as restored antique furniture. The offerings at Mozk are arranged, museum-like, in tasteful displays in a series of rooms that unfold like a bygone apartment. Bottles, gloves, watches and jewellery are laid out in boudoir dressing tables that are also for sale, as are the elaborately carved and painted wardrobes that house the clothing.

Vintage designs
Mozk has more international fashion than most of the other vintage clothing shops in the neighbourhood, offering pieces from designers like Chanel, Prada and Roberto Cavalli. ‘We only offer one of every piece, and we can offer products from almost every part of the world,’ says Berk Özkanlı, who, with Selda Bola, established the shop in 2009. Some stylish stores, such as Ottoec on Yeniçarşı Caddesi, have tapped into the retro trend with new apparel inspired by vintage designs. A whimsical retro theme runs through the items on Ottoec’s shelves, from saddle shoes patterned with old comic strips, maps and newspaper print to calico-patterned handbags and tasteful costume jewellery. Though Ottoec is not strictly a vintage shop, its popularity is undoubtedly fuelled by the nostalgic twist it puts on everyday fashions.

Down the hill in Karaköy, vintage sunglasses boutique Fashion@Eye is another destination for retro fashion lovers. The pet project of Hakan San, a PR consultant who is the son of two long-standing Istanbul opticians, Fashion@Eye started out as a pop-up shop located in the Fransız İş Hanı shopping passage but became so popular that now, ‘we are here to stay,’ according to San. Ranging from classic to eclectic, the frequently changing collection at Fashion@Eye includes pieces from brands such as Christian Dior, Gucci and Safilo. Almost all of the glasses are first-hand, unused vintage pieces, mainly from the 1970s and 1980s, that San has enhanced with modern UV protective lenses, for MGM film star allure alongside modern technology.

Lively and full of excitement
Clothing and accessories shops aren’t the only stores that have caught Istanbul’s current nostalgia bug. The Lomography Gallery opened in March 2012 in the trendsetting Galata neighbourhood and has been wowing visitors with its creative cameras ever since. Lomography is a style of artistic, experimental photography that began in the 1990s when a group of Viennese students found an obscure camera made in Soviet Russia and were astounded by the vibrant colours of the photos it produced.

‘Istanbul is so lively and full of excitement, with a young and experimental population that is open to new ideas and products,’ says Nural İdrisoğlu, the Turkey representative of the global lomography company. Even before the gallery opened, she says, the local lomography community ‘was already looking forward to having a store in the city.’ Time travel has never been so appealing, or so very stylish.

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