Yelda Bayraktar discusses her new brand expression derived from an evolution of artisanal experiences

"I rode out of Istanbul on a motorcycle 16 years ago and have never looked back,” says Turkish designer, curator and consultant Yelda Bayraktar. With her hometown firmly planted in the rear view mirror, she set her sights on South Africa, where Bayraktar has since become an authority on the continent's art and design legacy. She helped curate Vitra Design Museum’s international exhibition Making Africa, contributed to Gestalten’s significant Africa Rising tome, and worked on interiors for the David Adjaye-designed Alara concept store in Lagos.

But her latest project - a lifestyle collection called Couth - perhaps best combines Bayraktar’s own creative vision with her passion for African craft. "My previous experiences exposed me to very interesting people. I came across incredible skills, techniques and art forms that were dying out,” she says. To help rectify this, she decided to collaborate with the artisans that inspire her, fusing her business and design knowledge with their singular handiwork. The upshot is an “entirely new brand expression” that is wonderfully contemporary but derived from "an evolution of experience.”

Bayraktar tells us, "Being an outsider means one appreciates everything as if it is for the first time - more than locals would or could do. There is a freshness in seeing things without prejudice. No inherited or historical clichés, familiarity or memories associated with things.” For Couth, this translates into goods such as a cotton poplin shirt with appliqué details inspired by traditional Ghanaian flags, ceramic pendants that draw shape from a building in Lusaka, Zambia, or panga panga furniture designed by Botswana-based Peter Mabeo.

“I hope to give African artisanal work of the best quality the attention it deserves”

Being that her background is in artistry and not fashion, Couth is built around a sense of longevity over trends. Bayraktar says African design is generally not associated with quality, "but almost always with creativity,” and she wants to upend that mode of thinking. “I hope to change this perspective and give African artisanal work of the best quality the attention it deserves.” In seeing her stunning assortment of simple yet utterly refined home, art and apparel items, it seems Bayraktar is the perfect person for this task.

The workmanship is so detailed, she says the embroidery (done by a collective of 25 women from the Congo, Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa) for her Botanical Necklasssss is "almost too perfect, that buyers might think they are machine made!” Of the kaftan series, each one is a unique piece that you “could call wearable art.” She’s worked tirelessly for two years to ensure every item adds value to Africa’s on-going design conversation while creating an authentic offering for anyone exploring the continent’s rich artisanal history.

"Each product comes from the creative hand of an artist, designer or artisan and is thus imbued with the maker’s respective attention, love and time,” she says. They will continue to add new elements and collaborate with people that are as excited about the ideas as much as she is (like her husband, designer Porky Hefer) to grow the collection in a natural way.

For now Couth is selling from its beautiful Cape Dutch-style showroom in Cape Town, but will soon be in like-minded stores in Milan, London, Paris, New York, Berlin and Istanbul, with an online shop to follow.


Restaurants: Chef's Warehouse, Pot Luck Club, Hallelujah, Hemelhuis, Chef's at Gardens and the recently opened Sunny Side.

Bars: Power & Glory and Clark's.

Art: National Gallery, Stevenson Gallery, WhatIfTheWorld and Goodman Gallery. September sees the much-anticipated opening of Zeitz Mocaa as well as A4 Gallery.

Design galleries and studios: Southern Guild, Silo Gallery, Gregor Jenkin Design Studio, Bronze Age and Atang Tshikare Studio.

Sites to visit: Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Paarl Monument and an architectural tour of the city including the Old Mutual Building, Adderley and Darling Streets.

Photography Nico Kirijno, Tao Farren Hefer
Words Karen Day

Visit Couth

Published on 16/08/2017