Unlike most other emerging markets, which have imported and adopted Western luxury to the detriment of local craftsmanship, Turkey’s economic boom has had an inspiring effect on the the country’s immense cultural heritage, reviving crafts and traditions which, for centuries, have been the envy of the world – ceramics, architecture, textiles, jewellery, carpets and furniture.
Although at first glance, the Turkish luxury market may seem to have been overtaken and dominated by international luxury brands, for several years, this is no longer the case. Locally grown luxury brands, based on centuries of traditional craftsmanship have emerged and the majority of their customers are increasingly locals, Turkish from all over the country. I have found this awakening as laying the grounds for a genuine local market with endless potential, with the wealthy appreciating equally local and international luxury brands.
Sevan Bicakci, Gilan, Armaggan are just some of the local Turkish luxury jewellery brands which have been creating exceptional pieces inspired by Ottoman culture subtly re-interpreted through a contemporary twist. Sevan Bicakci whose emblematic high jewellery rings are not only worn by celebrities, all over the world but have also become the object of adoration by comtemporary jewellery collectors. And it’s not only about the spectacular precious stones, but also about the creativity and innovation the designer implements in each and every piece. When asked how he came up with the idea of a stunning fountain pen in the shape of a parrot adorned in black diamonds or the symbolistic imagery in the centrepiece of a certain ring, he could not provide an explanation. His creativity is not driven by a business plan, market research or the need to please a certain clientele. It is about those who share and appreciate his vision and see beyond.
Armaggan has also provided me with a most pleasant surprise. A few blocks from Sevan Bikakci’s boutique, also in the area of the Old Bazzar in Sultanahmet, the sould of the Ottoman Empire, a Turkish born entrepreneur living abroad, has built a concept department store rivalling the most sophisticated such concept stores around the world.
While, the owner could well have leased the space in the building which he acquired for a hefty monthly rent, he chose to errect a temple as an homage to Ottoman craftsmanship and creativity from silverwear, high jewellery, carpets, bed linen, towels, leather bags, scarves to gourmet delicacies – they are all internally manufactured, each bearing a unique Armaggan contemporary interpretation. Ample spaces providing generous display for each product category are complemented by a stunning vertical natural garden, an understated designed restaurant with traditional Turkish dishes, a cafe and an art gallery displaying works of art by talented Turkish artists.
The beautifully hand made leather bags and small leather accessories by Armaggan could naturally rival any major international brand, Turkey always having been known for the exceptional quality of its leather manufacturing and processing. Armaggan’s exquisit leather bags and accessories, including a leather home collection which features a leather window blind, all annihilate the remaining small shops of the nearby bazar still selling fake Guccis and Chanel bags.
Asli Tunca is yet another magical place which I discovered opposite the famous “Fransiz Sarayi” near Istiklal Street. Hugely passionate architects and interior designers Asli Tunca & Carl Vercauteren have given birth to a space which is more than a gallery or store – it is a meeting place, a stage where beautiful interior design pieces are displayed and appreciated.
International luxury home collections brands are mostly present in multi-brand stores (exception – Frette with a mono-brand store in Nisantasi area), the best selling international brands being Armani, Fendi and Ralph Lauren. As for luxury furniture, international brands are widely present in Istanbul through multi-brand stores. With the booming premium housing market, over 1.000 ultra luxury residentials units currently under construction are more than 50% sold. That is why, luxury interiors and homewear present the highest opportunity for growth among all luxury sectors in Turkey. According to various reports by the major realtors present in Turkey, a third of ultra-luxury residentials are bought by foreigners, especially from the Middle East and Central Asia.
Along with fashion and accessories, watches is probably the most developped luxury sector in Turkey, with all major international luxury watchmakers present in Istanbul, many of them with mono-brand boutiques – Vacheron Constantin, Patek Philippe, Rolex, Omega etc. Despite the significant higher pricing due to import taxation, the major local luxury watch retailers have succeeded in winning over locals and frequent visitors with an exceptional customer service and stores which provide the highest standard interiors. According to a survey among the 3 most important watch retailers and five watch brands with a long time presence in Turkey, the Turkish luxury watch sector has been steadily increasing at a 10 to 15% annual growth rate. Over 50% of sales are made to Turkish nationals, of which a third from outside Istanbul and the rest to CIS and Central Asia wealthy travellers, most corporate. CPP estimates Turkey’s luxury watch market at 150 million euro sales per year and with the ongoing trend of many brands opting for moo-brand stores, the market could double within the next 5 years.
Oliver Petcu in Istanbul