It took an embarrassing encounter with fashion doyenne Suzy Menkes to plant the seed for Midnight Express, recalls Turkish designer Banu Bora. Until recently, visitors to Istanbul interested in Turkish designers found themselves traipsing around the city, seeking out individual showrooms and ateliers; there was simply no place that sold multiple collections. Menkes remarked on this to Bora during a trip to the city. As Bora recalls, ‘When she asked this, we were embarrassed. “Isn’t there anything like that in Istanbul?”’ She acted on the conversation, and opened Midnight Express with her interior-designer husband Tayfun Mumcu in late 2007. The boutiques carry clothing, jewellery, bags and housewares by Turkish and international designers.
An Istanbul native, Bora worked with Jasper Conran in London and in Turkey’s fashion industry for a dozen years before launching her elegant yet bohemian Banu Bora collection in 2007. She also designs a more casual Midnight Express line, sold only at Midnight Express. Mumcu, the interior designer behind several Beymen department stores, conceived the Midnight Express interiors, down to their furniture; the stores also carry his housewares, including pillows, table settings and glassware. Every item in the stores, from clothes to furniture, is for sale.
Alongside Bora’s and Mumcu’s designs, Midnight Express carries a handpicked collection of Turkish and foreign designers, many of whom do not have their own boutiques or who are not sold elsewhere in Turkey. Turkish designers’ collections include those of Bora Aksu, Ümit Ünal, Hakan Yıldırım, and up-and-coming New York-based Aslı Filinta, while featured international designers include Sretsis and April, May. The shops sell accessories and handbags by Paris-based Turkish sisters Yazbukey; vintage- and Turkish-inspired bags by Misela; and jewellery by Apriati, Miss Bibi, and others.
The selection reflects the owners’ personal tastes and the designers that interest them. As Bora explains, ‘It’s very personal: items that we like and use in our daily lives, things I would like to wear.’ She notes that her choice of designers is not based on how well known they are but on the quality of their work. ‘I don’t care if they are known or not, if I believe in a product. Because to be known is something that maybe you have to invest a lot of finances in. A lot of people don’t have that chance; it doesn’t mean that they don’t have the talent.’
Bora found that there was an even greater need for Midnight Express than she had thought. Midnight Express took hold quickly, and the store now has three locations: a boutique in Istanbul’s upscale shopping district of Nişantaşı and two shops in the Bosphorus neighbourhood Bebek that focus on clothing and jewellery, respectively.
The collection at Midnight Express is eclectic and dynamic, and is also attractive because merchandise is reasonably priced. According to Bora, ‘I’m not a rich person myself. I look at things like a normal consumer would.’ As a result, the store attracts a wide range of customers. ‘We have clients from high society, artists, young people working, people who want to share this experience.’
Midnight Express is also a happy hunting ground for unique gifts, especially for something different from typical souvenirs. Items such as Özlem Tuna’s elegant, modern versions of Turkish coffee cups and saucers and Turkish-themed jewellery by Kismet are likely to interest visitors. Perhaps this is why Istanbul expats have become particular fans. ‘Foreigners who live here really understood the message of the shop from the beginning; they really supported the shop and us,’ says Bora.
As for the name, Bora and Mumcu chose it in order to make fun of the sensational 1978 film that hardly presented Turkey in a positive light. ‘I think it’s so funny because it’s the most known Turkish brand. So it would have been a pity if a Turkish person hadn’t taken that brand.’ And not just taken it, but reclaimed it and redefined it…
Midnight Express, Kadirgalar Cad. Acik Hava Apt. No: 8/3, Nisantasi, +90 212 251 1968