First Big Arabic-focused Bookshop Opens in Istanbul


Last week, Syrian publishers helped open the first major Arabic-focused bookshop in Istanbul, a four-floor, multilingual and multigenre space:

An opening-day photo from the Safahat Facebook page. An opening-day photo from the Pages Facebook page.

The newly opened “Pages” Bookshop is located in the historic Fatih district, close to the Kariye Museum. According to a feature in Publishing Perspectives by Olivia Snaije, more than “2,000 titles will be available in Arabic, Turkish, English, and French in a 210 square-meter space spread over four floors.”

It also boasts a café.

The bookshop is the brainchild of Gulnar Hajo and Samer al-Kadri, founders Bright Fingers children’s publishing house.

Like an estimated 350,000 other Syrian refugees living in Istanbul, Hajo and al-Kadri left Syria with their two daughters, first setting up in Jordan and later moving to Istanbul in 2013. Al-Kadri told Publishing Perspectives that he saw the need to establish a bookshop where books in Arabic were readily available. He told

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Exhibition unveils influence of Ottoman culture on Western artists


Early examples of the cultural and artistic exchange between the East and the West in a new exhibition, ‘The Sultan’s World,’ in Brussels illustrate how Ottomans were depicted in Western art

While leafing through books on world history, one might come upon the famous portrait of Mehmed the Conquer by renowned Italian artist Gentile Bellini, depicting the sultan under a carved stone arch, a symbol of power since the Roman period. Commissioned by the Venetian Republic to paint portraits of the sultan and his court, Bellini was one of the first Western artists to travel to Istanbul and was a source of inspiration for his following counterparts.

The exhibition “The Sultan’s World: The Ottoman Orient in Renaissance Art” explores the perception of Renaissance artists who reflected an imperial culture in their works. It is at the Center for Fine Arts (BOZAR) in Brussels until May 31. The exhibition contains works from notable Renaissance artists such as Bellini, Albrecht Dürer, Hans Memling, Paolo Veronese and Titian. Organized within the context of the EU-supported project Ottomans and Europeans, the exhibition showcases nearly 160 works of art and precious objects including Ottoman weaponry, scientific instruments and manuscripts. Opened on February 27, “The Sultan’s World” shows a fascinating mutual attraction and cultural exchange that deserves to be covered in depth.

Italian painter Tititan’s “La Sultana Rossa” is a striking example of how elite Ottoman women like the daughters of sultans were represented in 16th century High Renaissance art celebrating aesthetics and soft colors on canvas. Billed as the first art historian, Giorgio Vasari identified the woman in the painting as Roxelana, also known as Hürrem Sultan, the beloved wife of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. Her royal velvet attire, jeweled bracelet and headdress adorned with pearls and sapphires are enough to create an exotic mystique, also seen in other paintings from the period. The imagined portrait makes reference to status and political significance with Roxelana’s confident gaze and a marten on her hand. Indeed, animals in paintings sometimes suggest wealth and nobility as seen in Da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine.”

The next item, a tulip description by Swiss botanist and 16th century encyclopedist Conrad Gessner shows that the interaction between the East and the West was not limited to cultural artistic exchange, but also through the geographical influence. According to historical accounts, the first tulips in Europe were described by Gessner, who saw them in a garden of an Austrian magistrate. German diplomat Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq is believed to have brought the first tulip bulb to Europe from Istanbul in the same century. In her literary critique “Beyond East and West: The Language of Tulips” exclusively written for the exhibition, renowned author Elif Şafak said: “While cultural/political teachings divide us into mental categories of ‘us’ versus ‘them,’ the tulip, in its modesty and simplicity, reminds us of our common humanity. The tulip speaks the ancient language of poetry. Anyone can understand this language, East or West; Christian, Muslim, Jewish or agnostic. … The flower reminds us that even during times of conflict and confusion, and perhaps especially during times of conflict and confusion, there are values that remain basic and common to all of us, and these are values that no dogma or prejudice can take away from our souls.”

A glance at certain Renaissance artists such as Sandro Botticelli, one of the most acclaimed Italian painters from the Florence School reveals an interesting component of European paintings – Islamic carpets. Botticelli’s portrait of poet Cristoforo Landino and author Federico da Montefeltro features a Holbein carpet. Named after German painter Hans Holbein the Younger, who depicted a similar carpet in one of his works, the carpets were woven in Anatolia in the 14th century and became popular in Europe a century later. The images of these priceless textiles were first seen in religious paintings and later in portraits, as an indication of high social and economic status.


Intellectually gifted fashion maestro Hussein Chalayan transforms his creations Intellectually gifted fashion maestro Hussein Chalayan creates collections based on the theme of transformation, writes Vivian Chen


It would be a crime to pigeonhole Hussein Chalayan. Best known for fashion design, the two-time British Designer of the Year has also had his works displayed at prestigious art museums, and his avant-garde catwalks are often dubbed performing art shows in their own league.

The boundary-breaking creative mastermind has made forays into various creative aspects, from art to architecture to film and theatre. Known as one of the industry’s most intellectual designers, Chalayan has debuted short films at the Venice Biennale, and his retrospective exhibitions have been staged at museums across the globe.

After earning a fashion design degree from London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design (close to the time when the other two celebrated British designers, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen, graduated), Chalayan started his own label in 1993 and has since come a long way.

His graduation collection, titled “The Tangent Flows”, which featured oxidised silk dresses buried underneath a friend’s garden for months, was such a hit that influential buyer store Browns bought the entire collection.

Following the hit debut, Chalayan’s intellectual approach to fashion continues to inspire. His experimental showpieces include the famous “coffee table dress” – a mahogany coffee table that morphs into a geometrical skirt – and the futuristic “womb” Lady Gaga broke out from at the Grammys in 2011. This theme of transformation has been revisited by the designer. His autumn/winter 2000 collection featured garments that doubled as sofa covers. Instead of trotting down the runway, Chalayan’s models interacted with furniture on stage.

His 2007 spring/summer series took transformation to another level. The entire collection conceptualised around the theme sent models trotting off the runway in outfits featuring built-in mechanisms which transformed floor-length Victorian gowns into 1920s flappers.

It’s not just showmanship that won Chalayan accolades as one of the world’s best fashion maestros, but his ability to combine spectacular optical effects and commerce in fashion. “The [showpieces] do have a role but, more importantly, they turn into wearable clothes which actually took the most time to construct,” he says.

Last year was an especially productive one for Chalayan. Alongside his own eponymous label, he took on a lot of responsibility, including designing French fashion house Vionnet’s demi-couture collection, relaunching Chalayan menswear after an eight-year break, and collaborating with famous architect Zaha Hadid to design costumes for the opera Cosi Fan Tutte which opened in May in Los Angeles. The production has made possible other high-profile creative collaborations such as Frank Gehry with Rodarte and Jean Nouvel with Azzedine Alaia.

Hussein Chalayan is a man of many talents. Apart from fashion, he has also dabbled in art and theatre.

The disciplines may vary, yet the core of Chalayan’s design philosophy remains the same. “They are part of the same world,” he says. “Other projects help me discover new ideas that end up [inspiring] new collections.”

While Chalayan could be the most experimental designer you come across, he’s known to be true to his legacy and in this case, for the revival of Chalayan menswear and maison Vionnet. “I wanted to re-introduce Chalayan menswear as we had been getting a lot of requests,” the designer says. “The new collection is very much an extension of the house silhouettes from the past Chalayan menswear – part structured, part relaxed. [The collection] appeals to a classic but also an experimental individual.”

The result is a much-anticipated men’s capsule collection consisting of 22 styles, some of which Chalayan showed alongside his spring/summer 2015 women’s collection. Both collections are built upon Moorish inspirations. In the men’s collection, tailored silhouettes dipped in a kaleidoscope of light green prints inspired by Moorish weaves and jacquard patterns make versatile wardrobe staples.

Similar aesthetics and tastes are evident in Vionnet’s demi-couture series that Chalayan has taken under his wings for the past year. He has done two collections since.

The silhouettes and constructions of his latest collection for Vionnet bear Chalayan’s signature touch, yet are executed with Vionnet’s classism and elegance in mind – think knee-length tube dresses with extended hem lines tied into a knot on the side and two-tone gowns featuring colour-contrasting pleated organza appliqué. “It’s an honorary project in light of the House of Vionnet’s spirit and imagining what [its founder] Madeleine Vionnet would have liked if she were still alive today,” Chalayan says.

Two pieces from Hussein Chalayan’s relaunched menswear. The collection comes from Moorish inspirations and is part structured, part relaxed.

Chalayan is no stranger to collaborations. Prior to the Vionnet project, he has worked extensively with other creative units. He has worked as creative director of international labels including Asprey, TSE New York and Puma. His stellar list of creative intellectual collaborators include actors, artists, musicians, theatre performers such as Academy Award-winning Tilda Swinton, dancer-choreographer Michael Clark and artist Nick Knight. Chalayan says the criterion he looks for in collaborators is that they share the spirit of doing something new.

His recent collaboration with famous architect Hadid is on couture level, according to Chalayan. Designing costumes for performers is a couture project, he says. Although Hadid has been a long-time friend, Chalayan says the synergy of them working together was refreshing. “It’s like many blind dates that culminate in something very exciting at the end,” he says. “We both experiment and we are both interested in form and movement.”

Chalayan says he continues to be inspired by modern women and wants to design empowering fashion for them. “I believe in carefully considered designs executed precisely with a delicate sense of construction and finish,” he says.” The woman I like dresses for the occasion and can be masculine one day and extremely feminine the next. She is a warm, curious individual.”

Warm and curious, just what we could say about Chalayan. But then again, he has so many star qualities.

A transformable dress from Hussein Chalayan’s previous collections



Graduates from London’s Central Saint Martin’s School of Art and Design

1999 and 2000

Wins British Designer of the Year award


Moves London show to Paris


Directs short film titled Absent Presence,shown at the Venice Biennale


Gets an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List


Becomes creative director of Puma


Stages two exhibitions to show retrospectives of his work


Launches his first fragrance Airborne


Signs licensing agreement with Venetian-based manufacturer Pier S.p.A for the production and distribution of his womenswear


Relaunches Chalayan menswear