Style Abroad | Our Top Destination This Year
A stylish watch is like a plant – it deserves to be outside, under the light cycle that first defined its movement. Sure it’s a practical accessory, but that doesn’t mean function has to completely override fashion. No one wants to wear something ugly, after all. Instead it seems preferable to find a piece that evokes a careful maker moved by good taste and fine feeling. If this wasn’t the case we’d surely all be walking around with oversized clocks dangling from gold chains around our necks, like the evidently strong-necked rapper Flavor Flav, or we’d just be whipping out pocket watches with Roman numerals, like an entire population of fusty Victorian gentlemen. Fortunately, though, times change and so do watches.
Let’s say, for the sake of brevity, that you’ve just bought a sophisticated new watch that you want to show off. Where could you travel to that exudes class and hums with a happy surge of like-minded and stylish individuals? Where on earth will your timepiece be awarded the attention it deserves?
Well, this year our favourite centre for style and luxury is Istanbul. From our experience it’s a free-flowing cosmopolitan city spirited by the relaxed warmth of its diverse communities – a cultural confluence of East and West, Europe and Asia, huddled on the Bosphorus strait, which splits the land between the inland Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. It’s also one of the world’s most populous cities. It was once the imperial capital for the Romans and Byzantines and still holds the old soul of both the Latin and Ottoman empires. The prosperity that has seen Istanbul flourish is a direct consequence of its position on the historic Silk Road that links Asia and Europe. According to historical accounts the travelling merchants enjoyed Istanbul so much that they decided to stay, endowing the city with a multicultural centre.
Today the city bustles with white-washed riverside yalis, luxurious chalet mansions, dusty gecekondulars and sprawling botanical gardens. The views, especially from the top of the medieval Galata Tower, benefit from low-lying skylines shaped by the rule that nothing can be built higher than the mosques, like the imperial Haga Sophia, with its tall minarets rising over the city. When faced with such a spectacle one is also met by the echo of the wailing muezzins, backed by chatter from the quaint bars and tea gardens. Interestingly the city is scarred and decorated with manifold traces of conquering armies, namely the Byzantines, who erected colourful churches, palaces, mosaics and frescoes, and their successors, the Ottomans, responsible for a number of local business dynasties. That’s not to mention the world-class galleries, museums and festivals. Overall the whole city just exudes a feeling of something truly good, in this case the city itself, being well-used and appreciated. The verdant, centred district called Taksim Square is encircled by rooftop bars and busy open cafes. The Galata Bridge, which at night glows with a coloured array of fluorescent lights, is, by day, lined with fishermen, wrapped-in the aromas of their catches, while folk dine in the restaurants below and sit in the cool shade of the banner-covered arches. It’s here that the city’s cuisine comes into play, with dishes as curiously diverse as its heritage, mixing edgy fusions, with aromatic Asian and Italian classics. Also, expect street sellers to draw you in with delicious kebabs and pastries, as well as fresh seafood that could compete with anywhere else in the world (the lemon-drizzled mussel snack is especially delicious). Match this with the kick of the national grape spirit, raki, or, if you’re inclined to enjoy a longer night, a glass of wine. Then you’re sure to find yourself and your expanded waistband sliding into the relaxed habits perpetuated by the locals. It’s that infectious contentment and generosity that creates such a cool atmosphere of melded tradition and modernity, ease and comfort, including everything from the old locals drinking coffee and smoking over a game of backgammon to the stray cats that lounge on the street.
Fashion in Istanbul is enlivened by a vibrant Romani community and a diverse range of vintage styles and tastes. The watch industry has its own pitfalls, though, with sinuous bazaars and countless ‘genuine/fake’ watches therein, however a number of established retailers also offer leading brands and high-end timepieces. Ulysse Nardin has four main collections: Functional, Marine, Exceptional and Classico. For over 170 years they’ve been making marine and pocket chronometers, leading at the forefront of innovation. Swiss watchmaker IWC are leading purveyors of luxury watches, founded in 1868, specialising in precision engineering and innovative designs for watch aficionados. For example, check out IWC’s elegant Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar Digital. There are also Rolex and Omega (James Bond’s favourite) boutiques in Istinye Park shopping centre and the rich Nisantasi neighbourhood. At the same time there are other stylish Turkish watches that are much more affordable. In fact we happened upon a variety of cheap options that still have timeless charm and appeal, like this Istanbul Old Vintage Pattern Design.