Letter From Istanbul

Turkey may be mired in political uncertainty, but when it comes to buying expensive merchandise, fashionable Istanbul women are no slouches.

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Night view of Bosphorus.

Photo By Mehmet Kacmaz/NarPhotos

Turkey may be mired in political uncertainty and striving to join the European Union, but when it comes to buying expensive merchandise, fashionable Istanbul women are no slouches.

As Turkey’s most populated and wealthiest city continues to become a holiday destination — with new hotels and restaurants springing up across the Bosphorus strait that divides Istanbul into European and Asian sectors — foreign shoppers are discovering the joys of buying here.

Let them spend on Turkish looks, asserted designer Bahar Korcan, who helped pioneer the fledgling Istanbul Fashion Lab, which features select Turkish designers’ fashion shows and aims to join the international fashion calendar. It also hopes to stress the importance of design to Turkey’s textile and apparel industries.

“We have set up a platform to support young designers and for foreign buyers to understand us correctly,” Korcan explains. “We aim for Istanbul Fashion Lab to grow and grow.”

For decades, textiles and apparel have been the driving force in Turkish fashion. If you stroll the back streets of Nisantasi to the Sisli district, you pass Osmanbey, a stretch of wholesalers showcasing apparel labels selling markets from Russia to the Arab world. While many of the industry’s facilities may be based outside Istanbul, Osmanbey’s 700-member OTIAD, or Osmanbey Textile Businessmen’s Association, is a high-profile leader of fashion and textile business executives.

The Osmanbey area is home to some 4,000 large and small outlets, with total trade volume over $10 billion a year. “The role of Osmanbey is very significant to the perspective of Turkey’s textile and apparel industry, which has been growing by 10 to 15 percent every year,” confirmed OTIAD chairman Gaffar Koca.

So it may be no wonder the fashion-conscious W Hotels chose Istanbul for its first European offshoot. Spotlighting Turkish interior decor, the hotel is set in a row of restored Ottoman houses cocooned by high-end boutiques.

A few hundred meters up the hill, in Istanbul’s chic Nisantasi district, trendy Turkish children and their image-conscious moms stand out. Istanbul Fashion Academy abuts the new City’s shopping center, home to Jean Paul Gaultier and Roberto Cavalli, among others.

In nearby narrow streets, top labels like Burberry and Louis Vuitton rub shoulders with outlets by Turkish designers such as Arzu Kaprol, Korcan and Cemil Ipekçi.

Rare as it is in this decidedly Western district, there is even couture for the covered Muslim woman: Rabia Yalçin’s often daring gowns can be worn as is, or accessorized with cunning capes and hats for more modesty.

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