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x0x Fount of ethnic inspiration
By BENAN KAPUCU
When Cemil Ipekci describes Istanbul's Grand or
`Covered' Bazaar, his own colours mingle with those of
this `timeless' and enchanted space.
"The Covered Bazaar, a covered box", said the modern
Istanbul poet, Orhan Veli. Doesn't life flow
differently at the Grand Bazaar? In what other part of
Istanbul, indeed in what other part of the world, can
you find so many different times under a single roof? A
rainbow of colours made up of crimsons, greens,
purples; objects reflecting different beliefs and
cultures. Every person who belongs to these lands can
find a piece of himself in the Grand Bazaar's
labyrinthine streets. We would like to look at the
Grand Bazaar from the perspective of the famous Turkish
fashion designer, Cemil Ipekci, who takes us on a
journey through history's multiple layers. A journey on
which we are accompanied by magical spells, trees of
life, needlework, and chintamani motifs.
THE OTTOMAN SOUL
Our meeting place is the Fes Café, one of the Grand
Bazaar's modern venues.
Ipekci sips a cup of coffee here every time he comes to
the Bazaar. He says he likes it because `it reminds
people once again of the forgotten Grand Bazaar'. The
Bazaar has a special meaning of course for a designer
who, throughout the thirty-plus years of his
professional career, has always interpreted the Ottoman
in his collections, taking his visual language from its
synthesis of cultures: `This place nourishes me,' he
says. `It's also a place that reminds me over and over
again of my entire life... I was only three or four
years old the first time I came to the Grand Bazaar. I
came here every week with my mother and my two
grandmothers. We always bought something, drank tea and
then went down to Eminonu.' A habit going back to his
boyhood days... Ipekci emphasises that he owes his
unique outlook and his reputation as an ethnic designer
to the culture he acquired in the Grand Bazaar:
`Exactly fifty-four years ago I started getting to know
lots of people and jewellers in the Grand Bazaar, lots
of stones and old jewellery too. Ottoman mores and
customs surrounded and shaped me. Who knows, maybe
that's why I always feel I'm as solid as the Bazaar
The designer does not believe in rejecting custom and
tradition in the name of `modernisation' but believes
that cultures are only enriched if they are
re-interpreted by the new age. The two separate Abdulla
shops on Halicilar Caddesi, the avenue of the carpet
merchants, satisfies this aspiration of Ipekci's.
`Abdulla brought a new approach to the Bazaar.
That's why I like his place. The decor and presentation
are modern but the soaps and towels and the blue beads
hanging at the door are all exactly as they were in the
old days...' Leaving Abdulla, we follow Ipekci to the
shops he frequents. Our next stop is on Terlikciler
Sokak, the street of the slipper merchants, a shop
where Afghan and Turkmen goods are sold. Its name,
What all they have here! Traditional jewellery made of
German silver and semi-precious stones, children's
clothes decorated with seashells and old coins, spice
These are the pieces Ipekci included in large numbers
in his 1992 embroidery collection called `Suzeni', a
Persian word meaning `needlework', a form of decorative
embroidery that started in Iran and was later picked up
by the Uzbeks, Turkmens and Ottomans. `Five years ago
the Uzbeks, Turkmens, Kyrgyz and Tatars started
reviving our authentic ancient culture. Fifty years ago
there wasn't anything called Uzbek work, but when you
stroll through the Grand Bazaar today you can see
motifs going back to our Asian roots.'
`IN THE TIME OF THE GYPSIES'
Each one of these pieces tells a different story,
expresses different feelings. And this is what
impresses Ipekci. Pointing out the traces of the
cultures assimilated and spread by the nomads in the
lands through which they passed, he explains
enthusiastically: `Look at these children's clothes!
This floral motif, for example, is the `flower of life'
which goes back to the earliest periods of Mesopotamia.
You can see it on Byzantine gravestones, and in Roman
jewellery as well.
And the seashells used as decoration show that half of
the Gobi desert used to be a sea.' Everything in this
shop is a source of inspiration for Ipekci's `Sahire'
(Sorceress) collection, which tells the story of the
Turks' conversion from Shamanism to Islam.
The next stop on our Grand Bazaar tour is a shop on
Perdahcilar Caddesi, Muhlis Gunbatti's place selling
covers and caftans decorated with needlework. Examples
of Maras and Selimiye work are brought out one by one.
He also has an interesting story to tell: `In the
seventeenth century the Ottoman Sultan sent a wife to
the Sultan of Malaysia, a woman of Antep who was highly
skilled in the local technique of embroidery with gold
thread. She taught everyone in the palace, and
eventually it became Malaysia's traditional embroidery.
While we pay a thousand dollars for one piece, over
there the women do it for five dollars so of course the
whole world has it done there.
That's how we gave this art away back in the
seventeenth century.' As we admire the lovely
needlework, we notice a `tree of life' motif on one
300-year-old piece. `This is truly significant,' says
Ipekci, taking us straight back to our Shamanist roots:
`We turned from Shamanism to Islam, but we never
abandoned our beliefs. The god of land, the god of the
sky, scraps of cloth tied on trees as votive offerings,
the Chintamani... Its three dots symbolize eternal
life, and the curving shapes the fertility of woman--a
talisman exhibiting traces of Buddhism and Shamanism.
Among Muslims it was worn only by the Ottoman sultans,
with a prayer embroidered over it. And I find that very
THE MAGIC OF ANATOLIAN CLOTH
We turn now to Yaglikcilar Caddesi, a street lined with
shops selling regional textiles. Ipekci is in his
element at the Sivas Tokat Pazar at no. 55. Here Murat
Danis, an old friend of the Ipekci family, sells cotton
flannels, Denizli `buldan' textiles, bridal gowns and
trousseau fabrics that he collects from all over
Anatolia. `I owe my identity as Cemil Ipekci to this
man!' he says, `with whom I've done business every
since I opened my first boutique, called Cingene
(`Gypsy'), in 1974. This shop is my true niche in the
Grand Bazaar. I buy all my fabrics here. The flannel in
the clothes I made for Azra Akin was from here. There's
something magical about these fabrics.'
`THE EMERALD IS MY STONE'
At the end of our journey into the different layers of
history, we turn to the Bedesten, the old market at the
heart of the Grand Bazaar.
Selcuk Ipek is a shop where Ipekci listens and learns:
`Selcuk is very important to me because I get all my
jewellery, or have it made, here.
I like the crazy side of everything in life! People who
work in the arts have to go beyond the mind. And Selcuk
is like that, he's mad! Like me, he believes in the
power and energy of stones. We meet here once a week on
Saturday afternoons. Sometimes jewellery is being made.
Taking a break here and chatting is like restoring your
soul...' A talisman of every culture and every belief
hangs round his neck...
An original Chinese coin, an Indian `Om' inscription...
His lucky stone is the emerald: `I've had a huge
interest in the emerald all my life, ever since
childhood. The first time I cried as a baby, I stopped
when I grabbed onto my mother's emerald necklace. I
have an inexplicable love for that stone. I get lost in
I have a big emerald ring and a collection of emerald
seals. The emerald is actually a very sacred stone. It
brings luck, and life...' The Grand Bazaar's `magic'
too lies in the way it is able to embrace all cultures,
beliefs and vanishing values. What else could it be
that binds Cemil Ipekci to this place with such a deep
sense of belonging?