Rene Women Interviews 0005: Banu Kent
Today, we’re stepping into Istanbul’s vibrant Grand Bazaar, a sensory marvel where ancient treasures and modern inspiration collide. It can be overwhelming for even the most seasoned traveler and so we’ve enlisted the help of Istanbulite and jewelry artisan Banu Kent to share her tips for navigating this cultural maze. She’ll share her own strategies for uncovering hidden gems and unique design elements, while also savoring the energy of the bustling crowds. Banu’s passion for the bazaar is infectious as she shares her favorite spots, including the enchanting ‘Old Bedesten.’ The rich historical tapestry of the Grand Bazaar has shaped her perspective, and the culinary delights within its lanes offer a delicious pause in this mesmerizing adventure. Thank you for joining us in exploring the magic!
First, a little bit about the artist, and our Grand Bazaar travel guide. Banu Kent is a talented jewelry artisan based in Istanbul, Turkey. With a deep-rooted passion for design and a keen eye for unique materials, she has become known for her exquisite creations. Banu’s creative journey has been shaped by her family’s legacy as antique dealers, and this rich history infuses her work with a captivating blend of tradition and innovation. Her love for the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, where she finds inspiration and hidden gems, is a testament to her connection with the city’s culture and vibrant energy. Banu’s designs reflect her love for storytelling and the beauty of timeless craftsmanship.
If you’re ready, let’s dive into her strategies for uncovering hidden treasures and finding unique jewelry materials and design inspiration!
SS: Stepping into the bustling atmosphere of the Grand Bazaar can be an overwhelming experience. Could you share any strategies or tips for navigating the bazaar and uncovering hidden gems for unique jewelry materials or design inspiration?
BK:Visiting the bazaar (besides work) is one of my favorite things to do in Istanbul.. I still get lost in the small alleys and colorful courtyards each time I go, so no strategies found so far!
When you are a first time visitor, I would suggest taking your time to take in the energy of the crowds and all the different sounds around you. It can be tiring but if you slow down and start seeing things- the bazaar opens itself to you immediately. You might see a small part of the old hand painted ceilings between the many shop signs, an old courtyard with statue remains from the Byzantine era, or a tiny 1sqm shop selling old watches etc. Try to let yourself be guided by the crowds, that’s how you will discover local spots. The bazaar is truly amazing!
SS: With its labyrinthine alleys and countless shops, the Grand Bazaar offers a vast array of choices. Are there any specific jewelry shops or artisans in the bazaar that you admire or frequently visit for inspiration?
BK: yes! The ‘Old Bedesten’ is a heaven for all antique jewelry lovers. There are few shops where I would go for history lessons, listening to stories or just admiring the jaw dropping jewels. You will find a big collection of antiques at ‘Mavi Kose’ in the Bedesten and ‘Lale Vintage’ which is on the Kalpakcilar street.
SS: The Grand Bazaar has a rich history dating back centuries. Are there any historical stories about the bazaar that have left a lasting impact on you and shaped your perspective as a jewelry designer?
BK: Both my great grandfather and grandfather were well known antique dealers for carpets and semi precious gemstones. Their two storied store was in Zincirli Han which is set in the most beautiful courtyard of the bazaar. I grew up hearing their stories and adventures. Even today, I would find their traces in old phone books or in the memories of the elder artisans and shopkeepers from the bazaar.
SS: If you were going to spend a morning or afternoon at the Grand Bazaar, where would you take a break or get food? Would you sit down or take some food that you could walk around with?
BK: The bazaar is a food heaven if you know where to go… Sadly there aren’t many choices if you are a vegetarian but try Aslan or Bahar, they always have fresh meze’s and are favourites of the local shopkeepers. For kebap, Dogan is my favourite. You have to go there early if you want to taste their ‘guvec’, most of the time it is already finished before 1pm. There is a chicken kebap place just a few steps away from the Mer exit, you will see it on your left side. There is no name or a place to sit, but you can recognize it from the big crowd. Pick your number and wait for your turn. It will be worthed!
SS: Tell us about your own experience apprenticing for a jewelry artisan in the market? What was it like? How long were you there? What do you miss about the experience?
BK: Once you step into the world of goldsmithing, you are a student for life as there is no limit to the things you learn. Everyday is a new experience!
I’ve been lucky enough to apprentice for a well known goldsmith who has been in the Grand Bazaar for a few generations. The first time I set foot in his workshop I would never imagine it would be a life changing moment. I found Eren Usta (that’s his name) when I was looking for a silversmith who could make me a pendant with a crystal I found in a random shop in the bazaar. He basically told me he didn’t have the time to make the pendant as it was a weird design which I scribbled on a piece of paper. Instead, he offered to teach me the skill so I could do it myself. He sent me off to come back the next day. So I did. I loved working on the bench and getting my hands dirty so much that I returned to that little workshop day after day. After a year I had my first pieces ready, all made with crystals and weird looking. This was my first collection in 2011 and how I started building der-liebling.
I’ve been lucky to have met Eren Usta and all the other Usta’s along my journey as a goldsmith. They’ve been so kind to share their knowledge and friendship without asking for anything in return.
What I miss the most… I guess our conversations and laughs around the bench with a warm cay.
SS: Why is the Galata neighborhood a perfect location for your own shop / studio?
BK: For me the real Istanbul is Galata. It is the neighborhood where once rich Levanten’s used to live. I love seeing the influence of Art Deco and Art Nouveau mingling the with late Ottoman architecture. Oh, I love architecture!
Almost everyday I cross from Asia to the European continent to get to work. I’ll walk pass the Galata Tower hearing the bells of the Crimean church. My atelier is at the end of the Serdar-i Ekrem street which has been and still is the most picturesque streets of Galata. The journey is a true mix of cultures and religions. That’s what excites me about this neighborhood. Plus, it is very close to the Grand Bazaar where my other atelier is!
From Banu’s insightful interview, we can extract several valuable life lessons:
- Embrace the Unknown: Banu’s admission of getting lost in the Grand Bazaar’s alleys reflects the beauty of exploration. In life, it’s essential to embrace the unknown, as it often leads to unexpected treasures and opportunities.
- Slow Down and Observe: By suggesting that first-time visitors take their time to absorb the energy of the crowds and surroundings, Banu reminds us to slow down, be present, and truly see the beauty in the world around us.
- Let Curiosity Be Your Guide: Banu encourages us to be guided by the crowds in the bazaar, allowing curiosity to lead us to hidden local spots. This teaches us to remain open-minded, to seek out new experiences, and to trust our instincts.
- Value History and Stories: Banu’s admiration for the ‘Old Bedesten’ and her appreciation for the historical stories and experiences from her family’s legacy emphasize the importance of valuing history and the lessons it holds for our own growth.
- Cultural Appreciation: The richness of Istanbul’s culture, from architecture to cuisine, deeply inspires Banu. This underscores the beauty of appreciating and learning from different cultures, expanding our perspectives, and fostering a greater understanding of the world.
- Lifelong Learning: Banu’s journey as a goldsmith reminds us that we are all students for life. There is no limit to the things we can learn, and every day presents an opportunity for growth and self-improvement.
- Generosity and Collaboration: Banu’s story of Eren Usta’s kindness in teaching her a skill for creating her jewelry collection showcases the power of generosity and collaboration. It’s a reminder that sharing knowledge and building meaningful relationships can lead to mutual success and fulfillment.
- Follow Your Passion: Banu’s love for the Grand Bazaar and her dedication to her craft demonstrate the importance of following your passions. By aligning our work with our passions, we can find fulfillment and create something truly meaningful.
- Adaptability: Banu’s journey from the bazaar to her atelier in the Galata neighborhood highlights adaptability. Embracing change and seeking opportunities in new environments can lead to exciting growth and experiences.
- Appreciate the Journey: Banu’s description of her daily journey, passing the Galata Tower and the Crimean church bells, emphasizes the beauty of the journey itself. It’s a reminder that life is about the experiences we accumulate along the way, not just the destination.
These life lessons from Banu Kent’s interview can inspire us to embrace curiosity, history, collaboration, and the beauty of life’s journey.