Wanderlust with Cynthia Rosenfeld

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Istanbul-based swimwear brand OYE (an acronym for Open Your Eyes, oyeswimwear.com) designs bikinis, mono-kinis and one-piece suits that have nothing in common with the burqa. But to many of her fans around the world, Ayça Sadikolu is a Muslim bikini designer. Distinguished by graphic cutouts, plunging necklines and suggestive wrapping, OYE’s Jersey Lomellina stretch-fabric suits sell at Neiman Marcus in the US, as well as across Europe and in Asia at exclusive resorts.

Sadikolu successfully petitioned to have the word ‘Muslim’ removed from her Turkish identity card registration. Still, recent times have shifted many people towards assumptions and stereotyping, if not all-out profiling, leaving some who suit up in OYE surprised that such revealing designs originate in the Muslim world.

Indeed, in Istanbul, I’ve discovered countless examples of innovative, covetable designs emerging. Sadikolu introduced me to Ela Onur, who founded lingerie brand Else (elselingerie.com) in 2007 in response to her own frustration at the functional yet completely uninspired underthings available in Turkey. Onur meets me at an airy café in the chic Niantai neighbourhood, where no one is remotely surprised to see her pull out vintage-inspired pin-up bras embellished with chiffon and ruffles. To stop me from writing ‘Muslim lingerie designer’, she shoves a sexy scarlet garter belt from her most recent Lace Tattoo collection in my hands, and still nobody flinches when I hold it up to admire the handiwork before ordering a few pairs of lacy knickers for myself. ‘Research’, I rationalise.

Other promising young Turkish designers I come across create amazing work without straying as far from their heritage. On the Asian side of the Bosphorus, I visit jeweller Bengü Karaca (bengukaraca.com) who trained in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. Her first customers were Sufi whirling dervishes, which is how I feel, my head spinning as I traipse around her bling-filled showroom, grabbing one gem-encrusted yet affordable bauble after another. Karaca wants her jewellery to be everyday-wearable yet meaningful, such as a delicate rose-gold chain necklace with a single charm of the Vav, one of 99 names (number six, to be precise) for ‘God’ in Islam. I admire a ring festooned with Ottoman calligraphy and another piece incorporating a secret Sufi symbol for Allah.

Encouraged by these discoveries, I seek out Zeynep Keyman on my last night in the Turkish capital, braving rain and epic traffic. Keyman is behind artisanal bath amenity and candle brand Lokum Istanbul (lokumistanbul.co.uk), with ‘lokum’ being the local word for what we call ‘Turkish delight’ candy. She infuses each item with delightful Turkish scents like rose, orange and fig. I leave with her latest Istanbul Ritual candle, with a refreshing and modern aroma ‘inspired by the synagogues, mosques and churches of old Istanbul’, she tells me. Before I head out of her French-boudoir-inspired shop back into the downpour, she proudly shows me a recent article in the British press calling her the ‘Jo Malone of the Muslim world’. At least I know not every talent in town will wince at this ironic twist... 

Follow Cynthia on Twitter: @CynthiaRoams

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