‘What’s to debate?’ was the emailed reply to my statement ‘I’m debating it.’ when Carol Sebert of Creative Matters inquired as to whether or not I was going to attend the inaugural Istanbul Carpet Week, and so it was that the decision was made. Another email confirming my attendance, this one to the event’s organizers, was speedily sent and, with a little travel itinerary magic, Carol and I arranged to meet en route in Toronto’s Pearson Airport as to enjoy each others company on the ten (10) hour flight.
Nothing is better at giving you a glimpse into the persona of a friend than sitting next to them on an intercontinental flight. Shared hopes of our third seat mate not arriving (He did!), wondering what culinary delights await on Turkish Airlines (Kebab!), and anticipation of an exciting week of rug and carpet presentations and buying as we both explore Istanbul for the first time (Texture!), were all topics of idle conversation. As we settled into the flight I opted to ‘watch’ a series of lower concept action adventure and sci-fi movies, whereas Carol – in an ernest effort to truly define ‘binge consumption’ – set out to catch up on the final season of the more high-brow ‘Downton Abbey’; all of it. Ten (10) hours and innumerable disapproving remarks from the Dowager Countess later we arrive in Istanbul to begin our joint adventure in carpets, culture, food, history, camaraderie, and design. Join us now as we discuss the events of the week, Over (Turkish) Coffee in Istanbul.
Location: Kahve Dünyasi, Nuru Osmaniye, Istanbul, Turkey
Time and Date: 9:00 AM, Sunday, 9 October 2016
Note Bene: Carol and I found a mutual appreciation for Turkish Coffee.
The Ruggist (MC): Thanks for agreeing to this interview Carol. It’s a shame the other coffee shop (Hafiz Mustafa in case you are wondering, which also happens to be the cafe shown in the photo above.) isn’t open this morning, I really wanted more of the Turkish Delight we had there on our first day out. I had no idea it was so good, considering the sorry excuse for Turkish Delight most Canadians know.
Carol Sebert (CS): That is so true. Anyway, this place is will do, it looks just as nice, albeit without the Turkish Delight. We’ll have to stop at another shop on the way back to the Hotel. I want to bring some sweets back for the office staff. Once I go on about how good they were, I don’t think I would be able to get away without bringing at least a little back.
MC: Of course! Well shall get started then?
CS: By all means.
<The cafe is situated along a pedestrian only stretch of the street and Carol and I take up seats al fresco because as Canadians we revel in any opportunity to sit outside in mid-October. We each order a double Turkish coffee.>
MC: So this has been an amazing week. Well not really a week, but that’s what they are calling it. Regardless it has been amazing. Great presentations, yours included of course, great food, and this city… what a remarkable place. What will you take back from Istanbul?
CS: Hmmmm. I think the exposure to new architectural elements is what strikes me the most. We’re here in this amazing place, a kind of crossroads of world history. It’s not fully Islamic, maybe it’s the European influence and heritage as well. There is such an immersion in decoration.
MC: On everything!! I cannot believe how ornate everything is. From manhole covers to damask-like designs on tiles, to mosaics, to.. to well pretty much patterning and embellishment on every surface. What else?
CS: I really enjoyed the Islamic Museum and the Carpet Museum. Seeing these ancient carpets really gives you an appreciation of the construction. That they have survived so long is a testament to the way they were made and quality workmanship. And to be here with with such luminaries as Alberto and Jim gives a perspective I, as someone not as versed in antique carpets, would not have otherwise. This massively reinforced my appreciation of antique carpets. [Carol is referring to renown new and antique carpet dealer Alberto Levi of Milan and the equally esteemed Jim Ffrench of Beauvais Carpets of New York.]
MC: Wasn’t that amazing? When we were at the Carpet Museum Jim was explaining to me why one carpet was more desirable and academically interesting than another. You’re right, it was a special treat. But luminaries? It’s interesting to hear you say that. I always marvel at whom we individually look up to and respect. For you to call them luminaries seems odd, considering you’re one of the people who presented this week. They came here in part to see you. Are you not also a luminary?
CS: I guess in one way that is true.
MC: Well I would argue you are an authority on modern carpets and that your work will one day be classed as a great example of early 21st century carpet making.
CS: Thank you. I think you are right about carpets being examples of their eras. Listening to others talk about carpets has inspired me to delve deep into the history of carpets, investigating the figures and the icons, the iconography. From those carpets to the carpets we are making today, they are all part of the continuum of carpet making. It’s a real honour, and very humbling, to think our work at Creative Matters could be considered part of that.
MC: So what defines a Creative Matters carpet?
CS: We have a brand not a look. Our individual collections tend to have a look, but not the company overall. As you know we do a lot of contract/hospitality work and the carpet collections grew out of this enormous body of work we have.
MC: Mmmmm, hmmmm. Go on…
CS: When we, and I say we because Creative Matters is more than just me. It’s the entire crew of very talented ladies we have working together. When we are designing a collection we look for the emotion in the piece, not the obvious design. Balanced but not necessarily symmetrical, and no border as that is not the current fashion. A finished design has to be able to sit in a room.
MC: And the source of inspiration?
CS: Well you know that already as you’re coming to one.
MC: Yes, this is true, but in the interest of telling a story, indulge me. And yes I am very much looking forward to spending an ‘Art Day’ with you. But please, do tell.
CS: I started by drawing designs by hand and when we started designing solely on a computer we found the work was too stiff. Art Days are days when then entire office gets together to make something artistic with our hands. We’ve blown glass, we’ve done screenprinting, painting, pretty much anything can be an option. The material we create during these Art Days is all very freeform and organic and forms the basis for a new collection. Even if it is just one small element of one piece we make during that day. The concept adds the je ne sais quoi of the tactile physical world.
MC: And what are we doing for the Art Day I’m attending?
CS: You’ll have to wait to find out.
MC: Gah! You’re killing me here. I’m just like a cat and curiosity will likely kill me. By the way… Can you believe all the cats in this city? <I laugh.> Like the one the first night when we were out to dinner with Erbil. That cat kept coming to the table!! [I am referring to Erbil Tezcan of Wool and Silk. Erbil was another presenter, along with Carol, during the Istanbul International Carpet Conference, 6 October 2016. His presentation focused on his role as interpreter as apposed to designer. He graciously entertained Carol and I at what he considers the best fish restaurant in all of Istanbul.]
CS: I think that was because I kept feeding it fish.
MC: True enough!
CS: You know, now that I’ve been thinking a bit on this… You don’t mind do you?
MC: No, not at all. Continue.
CS: I think all of us can be luminaries in our own way. I was thinking about the youngsters who participated in the Turkish Carpet Design awards. I hope we are able to bring perspectives to them as they are starting careers in rugs, or design.
MC: Wasn’t that awards ceremony incredible? I mean, with all due respect to DOMOTEX and the Carpet Design Awards, the people at IHIB can really put on a party. It’s smart of them to include the awards at their annual gala. And the designs from those students? I found them quite remarkable considering they are ‘just students’. Hmm. Saying ‘just students’ sounds derogatory, which it’s not. Overall the work was outstanding. What was your favourite?
CS: I really enjoyed that woven blue piece, with the irregular ends and loose weaving. I found it the most artistically interesting of the group. The winner of course was a great design as well, but I think it won because it is very reflective of the style of the times and is very sellable.
MC: Not that there is anything wrong with that.
CS: Of course not. We are all trying to sell things. But when we are attempting to reward creative new work..
MC: Sometimes we have to overlook what we already know works?
CS: Those are your words.
MC: I know. It’s become my lot in life to say the things people are thinking, if that is what you are indeed thinking. I’m not saying you are. But you are right, that blue piece, ‘Cycle’ I think it is called. It is stunning but not quite yet ready for production and use. All of those relatively loose yarns. I think the piece just needs further refinement. Perhaps needlefelting the entire thing like Liora Manné does.
<Carol sips coffee while listening to me ramble on about Ms. Manné.>
CS: Many of the carpets at the awards were not yet ready for production and were more like maquettes, still possessing strong artistic, artisanal elements. They had a lot of soul because these were, for the most part, labour intensive one of a kind pieces. It was wonderful to see the contrast between those and the more commercially viable offerings we normally see.
MC: So you like the element of the hand? Would you allow more of that in your own work? For instance – as was the case the antique carpets we saw – would you allow individual weavers their own interpretation of the design while they are weaving?
CS: Interpretation? No. We cannot have that. You know we are in a commercially driven market and in the end, the client has certain expectations and requirements we’ve promised to meet. On the other hand minor flaws, unintentional variations left to chance, of course we allow such things, this is the nature of handmade. We design it and the client expects it to look a certain way, but in the end we all just have to allow the making – with its inherent characteristics – to happen.
Back in October I had the pleasure of joining luminaries from the world of rugs as we gathered in Istanbul for the inaugural Istanbul Carpet Week presented by the Turkish Carpet Exporters Association known by their Turkish acronym: IHIB. One of the many highlight of the trip was a tour of the ‘Carpet Museum’ located between the Topkapi Palace and the Hagia Sophia. Amidst this unbelievable architecture and invaluable collection of rare carpets and carpet fragments, was this token of modernity. Without further description, I invite you to discover it as we all did. Enjoy! #rugs #carpets #istanbul #istanbulcarpetweek #colour #color #interiors #interiordesign #dancing #culture
MC: So it’s a collaborative effort?
CS: It is. Bringing everything together to create a beautiful carpet however is really bloody hard. You wait until you get to Nepal, you’ll be amazed how any of this business of carpet making actually gets done.
MC: I cannot wait to get there. It’s been an aspiration for far too long.
CS: Why are you going again?
MC: Mostly because as ‘The Ruggist’ it seems that I should be speaking with more authority, and to do that, one must see these things first hand. That and I was invited by some colleagues at Galaincha so, as they say, the stars just aligned. But I get to see you and your staff on the way. Thanks for agreeing to host me for my day long layover and for arranging an Art Day.
<MC looks at iPhone to check the time.>
MC: Well, I think if we are going to stop for more Turkish Delight, or other sugar and butter filled treats, we should think about wrapping this up.
CS: Oh yes. Shall we get the bill?
MC: Indeed. But I’m paying as previously discussed. One final thought/question for you though. Sum up Creative Matters for me; the elevator speech version.
CS: We’re a Canadian brand of rug and carpet designers. We work in any construction suited to the specifications and requirements of our customers. We’re currently all women, but we’ve had men as well. People view this as ‘exotic’ whereas we view this as just working well for us. We conduct our business with integrity, politeness, kindness, honesty, and care. We’re committed to fair trade and equitable treatment of workers which is strengthened by our partnership with LabelSTEP, and our clients appreciate the ethical work we provide. It’s about sharing the success, and I think this is a great Canadian mindset we can share with the world.
MC: Wow! Did you practice that?
CS: No, but you’ll write it up and polish it.
MC: Indeed I will. Let me get the bill and we’ll be on our way. I’ll buy you another drink as we wait for our flights at the airport.