ISTANBUL — Forget bazaars. Haggling over finds is so yesterday for the Turkish shopper, who is waiting, credit card at the ready, for a pageant of new stores to move into the nation’s largest city.
Burberry last month opened its first stand-alone store in Istanbul’s increasingly glamorous Baghdad Avenue, confirming the growing appeal of the Turkish market for global brands following the country’s recovery from a devastating economic crisis and the newly begun talks about admitting Turkey into the European Union.
“The Turkish market represents an exciting development potential for Burberry,” said Rose Marie Bravo, the company’s chief executive officer. Having scouted the region, and decided there would be more than enough Turkish shoppers ready to buy into the designer and, importantly, very British, product, Burberry decided to take the plunge with Turkish partner Eren Holding.
The quintessential British store’s presence in Istanbul foreshadows the arrival of another London import, Harvey Nichols, which will open next year in an upmarket shopping-and-living space in the modern business district of Levent.
Harvey Nichols ceo Joseph Wan, who recently was in Istanbul to promote the new store, said Turkey’s aspirational population provided a hot target market in an area where the competition was not nearly as developed as in such Western cities as New York and Paris.
“We chose Turkey for the great interest the population takes in fashion,” said Wan in introducing the $15 million Istanbul project.
The Turkish economy, which in 2001 plunged into its worst crisis since World War II, has finally recovered. The economy grew by 9.9 percent last year — a record — compared with a 9.5 GNP percent decline in 2001, which was also a record. Inflation fell to 9.32 percent last year, the first time it hit single figures for more than 30 years, compared with 68.5 percent in 2001. Consumer confidence is booming and credit card usage is high.
Istanbul is the center of most of this economic activity. With a population believed to be in excess of 12 million, there are an awful lot of shoppers about, even if you only count the wealthiest strata, and the number of outlets for them to satisfy their retail urges grows daily.
At the new Burberry store, an image of Kate Moss, wearing a dress in the brand’s famous check, stares out across the grass verge from under a Mondrian-style grid of wooden slats — in fact, oak panels forming a stylized version of the Burberry check — that wrap the exterior of the shop. Inside, the interior of muted neutrals and large leather benches echoes the flagship on London’s Bond Street. Selling both the Burberry London and Prorsum collections, the 10,550-square-foot, two-story store was designed by architects Mark Pinney Associates.
At the heart of the exclusive Suadiye end of Baghdad Avenue, Burberry is in good company since a few feet along the street lie Louis Vuitton and Escada. Not far away are the internationally successful Turkish jeweler Gilan, where necklaces in gold and coral can sell for $2,500 and more. Across the road lies the restored wooden villa housing Vakko, the upmarket Turkish department store, where moneyed Turks can buy anything from the lavish Ottoman-style home furnishings to Vera Wang wedding dresses. The street also houses two Zaras, two Starbucks, a Rolex store, Paul & Shark and a Tommy Hilfiger, to name but a few. Farther up, MAC Cosmetics and a store for Apple computers are slated to open soon.
“This prime retail location in one of the city’s most distinguished shopping areas gives us an exciting opportunity to showcase our comprehensive product portfolio to the region’s sophisticated customer base,” said Bravo.
On the Asian side of a city split between two continents, Baghdad Avenue — in an area that was once the summer holiday haunt for Istanbul society — can command rents of more than $100,000 a month for its top properties and is a major contributor to the Turkish economy. It has long been recognized as one of the smartest districts in town — locals dress up even if just taking a stroll there — but, until recently, most designer brands preferred the European hub of the Nisantasi area, which is currently home to names such as Roberto Cavalli, Giorgio Armani and Gucci.
In choosing to locate on Baghdad Avenue, Burberry is tapping into the air of prosperity that surrounds the 6.2-mile-long street, which claims to be the fifth-longest in Europe. As traffic clogs up Nisantasi and poseurs begin to outnumber shoppers, Baghdad Avenue’s wide, tree-lined sidewalks and less ostentatious but wealthy customers are coming into their own.
“Nisantasi is where people have their showcases, but if you are really serious you have a store in Baghdad Avenue or one of the malls,” said Metin Gursoy, Turkey’s first independent fashion public relations executive, who hopes to sell his recently launched swimwear collection Too Hot on Baghdad Avenue.
Classifying Baghdad Avenue as a “kind of open-air mall, where everything is tidy, clean and easy to find,” Gursoy predicts the mall phenomenon will only get bigger with time.
And it is true that, while higgledy-piggledy Nisantasi has charm and history, the moneyed Turk favors a more homogenous, smart environment to flaunt her credit card these days — i.e., a mall.
Which is why developers are flocking to open new ones. The award-winning Akmerkez, in Etiler on the European side of Istanbul, currently leads the field in mall culture, but it will soon face stiff challenges from two megacenters bringing in a slew of new brands from abroad.
First up, and expected to open this fall, is the Cevahir shopping center in Sisli, with 1.1 million square feet of retail space slated to include a 48,420-square-foot multistory Debenhams, the British department store.
Even higher-profile is Kanyon, a giant space for open-air shopping in the heart of the city’s business district of Levent, designed and built by architects Jerde Partnership and Tabanlioglu Mimarlik and engineers Arup, of Sydney Opera House fame. Kanyon is where Harvey Nichols will be making its first foray into Turkey as part of a global expansion plan. The 86,000-square-foot store, due to open in September 2006, will be the fifth international Harvey Nichols outlet and is expected to stock collections by top Turkish designers such as Atil Kutoglu and Turkish-Cypriot-born Hussein Chalayan.
“We see huge potential for the retail sector in Turkey,” said Wan. “Istanbul has a population larger than London and a fast-growing market for consumer and luxury brands. It’s a cosmopolitan city with a lot of beautiful people who clearly enjoy dressing up.”
If Harvey Nichols is not enough, Kanyon will also include a Furla store and Turkey’s first Zara Home among the 30 new names due to open there.
Burc Cemiloglu, of Unitim, Harvey Nichols’ local partner, said Turks were among the best clients at the London flagship. “When we found out that out of the 35 countries whose nationals shopped there, Turks were fifth in terms of spending, we were surprised….Now we are going to get their lists of Turkish customers.”