We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. You can change this and find out more by following this link

Reshaping retail: Istanbul’s department stores

Istanbul’s top department stores offer discerning consumers not just a wide array of luxury brands but entire lifestyles, as Jennifer Hattam discovers


Nearly 80 years ago, a young man named Vitali Hakko set out to make a name for himself by selling hats in a small shop in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet neighbourhood. Today, his descendants provide an entire way of life through Vakko, a leading Turkish brand which has a five-storey department store in the city centre.

A purveyor of lifestyles
The company helped to bring the concept of department stores to Turkey and Vakko has everything today’s consumer would expect including bridal gowns, perfumes, home textiles and accessories, a ‘cruise collection’ for outfitting yachts, and exclusive couture designs from the likes of Herve Leger, Marchesa and Badgley Mischka. Vakko’s department store on Abdi İpekçi Caddesi in Nişantaşı, designed by award-winning Turkish architecture studio Autoban, is especially proud of its own labels, with elegant displays for its popular, rich chocolates and world-famous silk scarves near the entrance. Vakko also has branches at the Akmerkez, İstinye Park and Kanyon malls alongside specialist boutiques including Vakko Wedding Houses in Istanbul’s most desirable areas.

It is clear from the range available that the company sees itself as a purveyor of lifestyles, not simply products. ‘What sets Vakko apart is being not just a fashion brand but appealing to all five senses,’ says corporate communications director Meltem Kazaz. ‘Being a luxury brand means setting the trends, so it is only natural that we tell our customers what to wear, how to accessorise and where to go.’

The world’s first department stores, among them Selfridges in London and Le Bon Marché in Paris, grew from humble origins to revolutionise the shopping experience by offering a wide array of products and brands in one place. When the first Vakko fashion store opened in 1962 it was the country’s largest clothing shop; it was also a trendsetter in offering luxury apparel and superior customer service. Istanbul now boasts an international fashion department store, Harvey Nichols, alongside other leading Turkish retailers such as Beymen and Brandroom.

Beymen founder Osman Boyner, whose family has a long history in the textile industry, opened the company’s first store in Şişli in 1971 with a menswear collection designed in collaboration with Italian fashion-house owner Silvano Corsini. Since then, Beymen has played a key role in bringing top international labels to Turkey; as well as developing its own brand, it has cultivated home-grown design talent, counting Arzu Kaprol and İdil Tarzi among its discoveries.

Up-and-coming designers
The company opened its first department store in 1983, in Ankara, and now has branches in Akmerkez mall and in İstinye Park mall, and a flagship store on Abdi İpekçi Caddesi. Unveiled in 2003 it is now one of Nişantaşı’s most recognisable venues; anchored by the trendy Brasserie Nişantaşı on street level, the store comprises seven floors of fine products. The fashion items available include Missoni dresses, Jimmy Choo shoes and statement-making Yves Saint Laurent jewellery. Among the homewares and accessories are Selamlique sterling-silver cezve for preparing Turkish coffee, handmade Boga cufflinks decorated with Ottoman sultans’ seals or traditional Turkish shadow puppets, and Beymen’s own leather wallets and clutches.

‘While there is a big demand for established brands such as Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Zegna and Valentino, the Turkish customer is also a very close follower of up-and-coming designers and styles,’ says Beymen marketing representative Emir Alemdar. ‘Beymen offers a very wide range of classic brands and products, but the introduction of new ones also plays an important role in our buying strategy.’

Beyond basic necessities
Vakko and Beymen capitalised on the expansion of Turkey’s ready-to-wear sector in the 1990s and a concurrent boom in large shopping centres that has continued to the present. ‘The continuous growth of Turkey’s economy has given rise to a new middle class and more wealth among the already rich,’ says Zeynep Arhon of Istanbul-based trend consultancy TrendDesk. ‘This transformation has led to increased foot traffic at premium department stores as people become more eager to explore novelties, try new brands and spend beyond basic necessities.’

Premier UK fashion retailer Harvey Nichols is among the international chains seeking to tap into Turkey’s growing market for luxury goods. Its spacious store at Kanyon mall was among the company’s first forays outside Western Europe and it carries a broad range of top-end brands while housing mini-boutiques for designers Azzedine Alaïa, Donna Karan, Michael Kors and Sonia Rykiel. There is also an Agent Provocateur lingerie boutique, a hair salon and spa treatment rooms.

Turkey’s Demsa Group, which brought Harvey Nichols to the country, has also established its own retail concept, Brandroom, which houses a lively collection of more than 300 new and established luxury and designer brands from around the world. For those in need of a break while shopping, Brandroom’s flagship store in Nişantaşı has recently welcomed the first branch of Patisserie de Pera, purveyor of decadent cakes and cookies at the landmark Pera Palace Hotel. Istanbul’s shopping terrain is changing, and department stores are rising through the ranks.



Travel Pack