Where did ‘Alice in Wonderland’ go when she fell down the rabbit hole?… To another world. And that is where I went when I was invited into ‘Civan’ – bespoke tailoring in Istanbul.
The text book name ‘Civan’ (Jivahn) simply means handsome, young man. But, the story behind this brand is much more involved.
Bahar, a 31 year old textile designer and co-creator of Civan, says, “Civan is unique, with an intellectual background. It is inspired by past traditions in tailoring and production. And by Istanbul’s history and stories.”
Our interview takes place in the centre of the small store. We are seated at a dining table, underneath a simple chandelier, both of which have been plucked from a different time, but from the same city.
The world of Civan surrounds us and old Istanbul is watching, from the eyes of vintage mannequins, framed pictures and a clutter of nick nacks.
Bahar enhances this old Istanbul touch with a natural beauty, without airbrushed makeup strokes. Her style seems to blend with the notion of a classic period now passed.
We discuss the Civan style and she describes its concept as “not a real man. It is not trying to be masculine, it has more of a dandy touch”.
Bahar then introduces me to the cultural phrase ‘Istanbul Beyefendisi’ or ‘Istanbul gentleman’ and continues, “We go by that definition to describe our brand. But, we call him ‘Civan Bey’.”
“We created a character. He is charming because of his clothing. We created a story for the brand, because we are inspired by real stories of the past. We are not artists making conceptual art.”
What are the qualities of a gentleman?
Is he someone who is kind, sophisticated, polite? We look for inner qualities because we are told not to judge a book by its cover.
But perhaps in Civan’s case it is okay to judge on appearance.
One look at the materials, designs, stitching, internationally sourced antique buttons, and you understand him to be of a debonair quality.
This can all be assumed even before you see him open a door for a lady. Before you see him pull out her chair or stand when she leaves the table. These are the marks of a gentleman. And this is Civan.
Flick through the catalogue and you think “I want to be that man. Make me a Civan Bey.”
Or, scroll through their website. The fashion shoots and poetic descriptions embody a forgotten deportment and etiquette.
Bahar launched Civan just over two years ago with friend of 12 years Kerem Küçükgürel, who was unable to join us for the interview. Kerem, 34, has a background in industrial and interior design.
They use the words ‘Tailored for gentleman’, ‘Handcrafted in Istanbul’ and ‘Timeless elegance’ to market Civan and opened their shop in the most ideal Istanbul location – Çukurcuma.
Complimenting their store, the Çukurcuma street is lined with antique shops. Bahar tells me, “We are inspired by the detailing of the old furniture in these streets, the old suitcases…”
“We are driven by past traditions and our traditions come from the minorities that lived here. Armenians, Greeks… They had good taste and the best of everything. The best jewellery, the best dresses, the best suits.”
She says the Çukurcuma area, although in the heart of the city, is “isolated from the rest of Istanbul with a quality crowd and a great mixture of people. They are less ignorant. There are more people questioning things and working hard.”
Keeping with the theme of nostalgia, Bahar describes her Istanbul of ten years ago.
“It gave me goosebumps walking on Istiklal street. There was a mixture and mozaic of images. There was a real contrast with churches and small stores that carried the traditions of old Istanbul. It was a period when Istanbulites spent more time visiting the cinema and art galleries.”Bahar
Walk Istiklal today and you may notice it is now smudged with major retail chains, the cinemas converted to shopping malls and the old Istanbul traders forced out with high rents.
If you want to escape this current Istanbul, seep into the sidestreets of Istiklal and find Civan. Be brave. Look through the designs, the fabrics, choose your buttons. But, don’t miss the accessories!
Bowties are a major part of the Civan collection. With over 15 designs, with unusual fabrics, they extend far beyond the classic shape.
Bahar says, “High level men wore bowties and accessories around the neck. The fixed accessory was a part of a man’s look. Nowadays, they have lost it. They wear a tie because they have to.”
Don’t do something just because you have to. Remove your tie and think of these words from the Civan world wide web:
“He wore a Civan bowtie, then he lived happily ever after.”
Written by Sheldon Heyes
Model photos kindly supplied and property of Civan
Civan – www.civanblogging.com – Çukurcuma Caddesi, No. 42, Beyoğlu/Istanbul
If you enjoyed reading this, then you may also enjoy ‘Istanbul fashion week‘, introducing and showcasing Istanbul designer – Niyazi Erdoğan