DE­SIGN Yelda Bayrak­tar’s Couth col­lec­tion blends art and tra­di­tion with mod­ern de­sign

De­signed by Yelda Bayrak­tar in con­junc­tion with artists and ar­ti­sans across Africa, Couth is a col­lec­tion of ap­parel and home­ware that blends art, tra­di­tion and mod­ern de­sign

House and Leisure (South Africa) - - Contents - TEXT JES­SICA ROSS PHO­TO­GRAPHS MICKY HOYLE, SUP­PLIED

Turkey was my com­fort zone, and I find com­fort zones un­com­fort­able,’ says Yelda Bayrak­tar, sound­ing out each syl­la­ble of the word in her ac­cented English as if to em­pha­sise her dis­taste for a sim­ple, easy-go­ing ex­is­tence. The no­tion of cu­rios­ity strongly res­onates with the Turkey na­tive, who fled Is­tan­bul for life in Africa – from Morocco to Dakar, Nige­ria to South Africa – 17 years ago and who, as an ex­pe­ri­enced in­te­rior de­signer and buyer, never saw her­self launch­ing a life­style brand at this stage of her life. ‘I was con­sult­ing for an in­ter­na­tional com­pany in­ter­ested in in­vest­ing in South African fash­ion, and they had such a vague, clichéd idea of what African de­sign is, so I put to­gether a pre­sen­ta­tion of what I know and un­der­stand from the con­ti­nent,’ she says. And so Couth was born: a unique alchemy of Yelda’s pas­sions for craft, col­lab­o­ra­tion, de­sign and art un­der one fash­ion and home­ware la­bel.

Couth’s niche is in bring­ing to­gether Yelda’s de­sign savvy with au­then­tic crafts­man­ship and high-qual­ity ma­te­ri­als. The re­sult is one-of-a-kind items tai­lored so metic­u­lously that they look as if they came off a pro­duc­tion line rather than be­ing hand­made in a stu­dio. ‘ While I’m a for­eigner, I am still an in­sider here in Africa,’ Yelda ex­plains of her place in the Euro­pean mar­ket, ‘and I use that to get the right bal­ance of skills and to en­sure that qual­ity, style and crafts­man­ship are all at their best for ev­ery de­sign.’ Col­lab­o­ra­tion is at the heart of this process, and Yelda is incredibly se­lec­tive when it comes to choos­ing prospec­tive cre­atives. ‘One of my favourite ex­pe­ri­ences was with Peta Becker,’ Yelda says. ‘She was so col­lab­o­ra­tive and ex­cited.’ The artist and founder of Pro­jekt, an ar­ti­san fair­trade col­lec­tive based in Wood­stock, Cape Town, worked closely with Yelda to cre­ate knit­ted jewellery and a se­ries of cro­cheted pock­ets based on con­tem­po­rary and ab­stract masks.

Forg­ing in­di­vid­ual pieces with a hand­picked se­lec­tion of artists and ar­ti­sans across the con­ti­nent means that Couth’s in­au­gu­ral col­lec­tion is by no means large, but – com­pris­ing ev­ery­thing from kaf­tans and hats to masks and vases – it is com­pre­hen­sive in its of­fer­ing. Col­lab­o­rat­ing with ceram­i­cist Cle­mentina van der Walt, Yelda recon­cep­tu­alised a tra­di­tional African mask in a strik­ing cerulean wall piece, while Swazi­land-based or­gan­i­sa­tion Gone Ru­ral helped to cre­ate a vi­brant hand­wo­ven tray ta­ble, and Frances van Has­selt lent her mo­hair ex­per­tise to a play­ful pom-pom rug. Some of the de­signs – such as the hand­made ap­plique Asafo shirt in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Heart­works or the Jun­gle Moth knit­ted brooch by Becker – of­fer a mod­ern in­ter­pre­ta­tion of tourist-driven ‘cu­rio’ art, al­most chal­leng­ing pre­con­ceived no­tions of African de­sign through an in­ter­na­tional gaze.

Yelda’s cre­ative his­tory has taken her across the con­ti­nent – from co-cu­rat­ing Vi­tra De­sign Mu­seum’s Mak­ing Africa exhibition to in­te­ri­ors and buy­ing for Alára con­cept store in La­gos (de­signed by Bri­tish-Ghana­ian ar­chi­tect Sir David Ad­jaye) – and while she has looked to far-flung des­ti­na­tions such as Por­tu­gal and Is­tan­bul for her tex­tiles, Yelda finds in­spi­ra­tion in all cor­ners of Africa – most re­cently, in Dakar, Sene­gal.

‘Af­ter I bought a piece of art there that I’d never usu­ally buy, my hus­band [artist Porky He­fer] joked, “You must be a to­tally dif­fer­ent per­son in Dakar”, and I think that’s true,’ she says. ‘There’s a kind of colour and cre­ativ­ity ex­plo­sion when you are there, and that’s what I brought back with me.’

As a re­sult, Couth’s next edi­tion, called Artwear – which will be a range of fash­ion cre­ated with lo­cal artists with whom Yelda would like to col­lab­o­rate, such as Siwa Mgob­oza, Marsi van de Heu­vel, Pi­eter Hugo, Athi-Pa­tra Ruga and Ard­more artists for pat­tern mak­ing for Couth – prom­ises to be far brighter than the sub­dued earthy neu­trals that dom­i­nated her ini­tial edi­tion. ‘It has to be ex­cit­ing,’ Yelda says, ‘oth­er­wise Africa – and the world – doesn’t need to see an­other brand.’

T HIS PAGE, CLOCKWISE F ROM TOP LEFT Yelda sits in a Nest chair made by her hus­band, artist Porky He­fer; the top of a Ku­masi sidetable; Face pen­dant; the Couth show­room fea­tures a range of works by artists and ar­ti­sans across Africa, such as ceram­ics and wo­ven pieces; Land­scape pen­dant.

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