How a family antique hunt in her home city of Istanbul inspired Begüm Kiroglu to launch her oriental influenced cufflink brand, Begüm Khan.
RICHARD: You come from a family of art collectors. Did you not fancy following that same path?
BEGUM: In a way I am following the same path by designing beautiful cufflinks that will be antiques and collectibles in the future. My childhood was enveloped in art and beautiful objects; I embraced the creative influences that surrounded me from the very start. I was always very inspired by heritage style, which is firmly rooted in family antique hunts in the hidden nooks of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and old neighborhoods around the world, as well as my studies and expertise in Chinese ancient culture. I did a lot of research into how to craft jewellery like they do in the old town of Istanbul. Bringing this back sustains the heritage but I also give it a contemporary twist – the old world and modern day meet in my work.
I’ve always loved the style of elegant and distinguished men, but each time I looked at the way such men were dressed, I always noticed that they were missing a refined pair of cufflinks. I believe all stylish gentlemen deserve something better to complete their almost-perfect looks. This inspired me to come up with sophisticated and funky cufflinks, which will be the “objet du désir” of the modern dandies. The right accessory can make an outfit. Two little cufflinks can change the whole look of a man with a small touch. This unique and iconic accessory deserved more attention and care.
Tell us more about your fascination with the Orient.
I’ve always had an interest, but that was piqued when I studied for my Masters in Chinese Culture at Fudan University in Shanghai. Firstly, I was able to travel extensively in Asia, and I also had the chance to be inspired by looking first hand at Chinese culture, history, art and the way of living. Inspiration came from everywhere and anywhere; a geometric pattern on an antique Chinese panel; a foo lion shape from antique Chinese jewellery; the colour combinations on the walls of the Forbidden City; a bird shape on a Bleu Blanc or a tiger face on a Tibetan carpet. Shanghai and China remain my home and constant inspiration, where I explore, collect and design.
How did you finance it?
Personal investment. I had many offers of investment in the first two years, but I knew the company would grow and be successful, so I didn’t want to give a share when the value of the company was small. I had so many buyers and journalists who believed in the brand from the beginning, so that helped me to grow sales and expand the brand around the world. At the end of the second year, we broke even. We’re now in the second half of year three; we’re in profit and I’ve got my original investment back.
How tough was it initially?
It’s never easy to build from scratch, but one should have an optimistic and idealistic view that you can make anything happen. There are no rules and you should listen to your own instincts when creating a brand or designing. What people find most absurd today may become the success of tomorrow. It was tough and not easy, but it was the most wonderful and rewarding journey I’ve had.
What would you say to a man who always goes for the easy button/buttonhole option?
A neatly-dressed, stylish gentleman should wear cufflinks any time of the day from a morning business meeting to a party at night. It’s not just for elegance, but also for a touch of fun. They just add colour and funkiness to your day. Cufflinks are the main accessory for a gentleman, along with his watch or wallet. They are a small accessory and one can afford to make a statement with them.
Do you wear them?
I am obsessed with cufflinks and wear them all the time. I love androgynous cufflinks – that mix of masculine and feminine looks. It’s very powerful, playful and iconic.
What’s next for your company?
Since the beginning, my dream was to make the designs and collections that I believe to be right, without worrying about the market. The brand is already sold in 10 countries, at 18 sales points. We are currently exhibiting at the Pitti Uomo trade show in Florence, and we’re aiming for even bigger recognition from there.