Textiles have a long history in Turkey. Since the Turks’ Mongolian ancestors took control of the Silk Route in the 13th century, fabrics have been an important part of Ottoman culture. Western languages are indebted to the region for words such as cotton, damask, mohair, taffeta and seersucker, which all originated in the Ottoman empire, and modern-day Turkey is one of the largest fabric producers in the world. Turkish companies have been exporting mass-produced textiles to all corners of the globe since the 80s; more recently, local artisans have resurrected traditional techniques to offer linens of the highest quality and workmanship. Some of the best are to be found in Istanbul.
Tulu Textiles was created by American-born Elizabeth Hewitt. Hewitt has studied textiles since her teenage years and she moved from the US to Turkey seven years ago. Oscar de la Renta hired her in 2004 to research and interpret traditional central Asian designs for his couture collection and she has worked with him ever since. Hewitt collects and deals in antique textiles and has thousands of examples in her library, to which she adds on her frequent trips to Russia, India and Central Asia and her travels throughout Turkey. In 2008, she launched her own line of sumptuous housewares. Her four-storey, turn-of-the-century Ottoman building is located close to the Blue Mosque and her wares can be found in publications such as World of Interiors and House Beautiful. Hewitt’s designs are handmade in Turkey, Uzbekistan and India. Tulu sells hand-blocked fabrics by the yard (purchased by the Obamas’ interior designer Michael Smith) as well as draperies, napkins, tablecloths, throw pillows and bed linen. Hewitt describes Tulu as ‘a designer’s place where you can bypass the designer’. Her designs pop with colour, yet remain airy. For those who love antique pieces, Tulu also carries a variety of old suzanis, saris and caftans.
Not far from Tulu is another spot where designers and retail buyers find inspiration. Abdulla has become a name synonymous with traditional Turkish textiles. Designer and proprietor Metin Tosun opened his first outlet in the Grand Bazaar 15 years ago to offer unique items such as hamam towels to the discerning consumer; ever since, his pieces have popped up in the pages of Elle and House & Garden. Tosun’s products range from towels, linens, tablecloths, throws, woven tapestries and kilims, to soaps, hamam shoes and little whirling dervish candle holders, which move with the flame’s heat. He uses only natural dyes and fibres, such as silk, hemp, linen, cotton and goat hair, and his factory in Anatolia employs mid-century machines and techniques such as boiling raw silk in olive oil soap. Tosun preserves the ancient Ottoman art of weaving; his pieces, while classic, also appeal to the modern aesthetic.
In the Bebek neighbourhood, far from the bustle of the old town, Serenk interprets Turkish luxury with a decidedly clean, European aesthetic. This family business is run by Ömer and Yasemin Dincer and Ömer’s sister Aslı. The Serenk workshop in Istanbul produces high-thread-count cottons, linens and a variety of jacquards. Serenk’s pieces drew the attention of Beymen, the luxury Turkish department store, for which the brand produces its eponymous collection. Customers can also buy direct from Serenk’s chic showroom, where products can be personalised, a range of monogramming options is offered, and custom orders can be placed. The product line covers everything from napery and bed linen to boat accessories. Serenk also carries a select number of European lines from Belgium and Italy, where Aslı studied design, to complement its own offerings, which embody continental elegance.
Dr Yalçın Ayaslı, founding trustee of the Turkish Cultural Foundation, decided to help revive Turkish arts facing extinction, working in partnership with the high-end Armaggan store. In the process, he has provided jobs for women who have come from 25 towns across Turkey to work in the Istanbul atelier. Armaggan’s presentation of caftans, robes, dresses, shawls, tablecloths and bed linen is flawless in its stunning Nişantaşı flagship outlet. The pieces exude understated refinement, although they allude to Ottoman grandeur. The fabrics, made of natural fibres and organic dyes, are woven on 200-year-old jacquard handlooms. Browsers feel compelled to take something home, whether an example of the unique textiles or Armaggan’s other, equally tantalising, home accessories and jewellery.
Though Turkish textiles are not rare in other countries, such elegant pieces found in situ gives Made in Turkey a new meaning. A perfectly set table or a bed made up with invitingly crisp sheets will always recall Istanbul; these are souvenirs which will become heirlooms.