A Taste Of Turkey: NY-Based Stylist LA Consing Lopez Discovers The Beauty Of Turkey
“I love traveling,” LA Consing Lopez says.
Consing Lopez is a New York-based fashion stylist and creative consultant who works with multiple brands for branding, marketing, and creative strategy. He’s worked with brands such as couture designer Donald Deal, handbag line V Concept, shoe designer Ivy Kirzhner, Rafe New York, and L’Oreal Paris.
His love for travel began when he joined his first CISV (Children’s International Summer Villages) International summer camp, at the age of 11. “11 is the perfect age to start traveling because you are old enough to absorb everything, but you haven’t really developed any prejudices or any expectations, so everything is just so fresh and new. I remember landing in Scandinavia and it was the middle of summer and it was nine o’clock in the evening, the sun was still out, I thought to myself, ‘This is amazing.’”
“Just seeing all sorts of different people, different architecture, and just the idea that you are able to be from one completely different climate and place and just transfer to this whole new other world. That’s why I love traveling. And since then, it’s always been something that I’m very passionate about and I love doing, and every year, I try to see a new country, if possible.”
A Roman ancient boulevard in the province of Anatolia
One of his most recent trips was a tour of Turkey with his family. "My family loves history. We watch the History Channel, National Geographic, we like to read up on epic battles. What’s amazing about Turkey is that it is one of the richest countries in terms of culture and history. The way that Turkey was cut up—I think it was after World War I—was in such a way that it actually encompasses all the historical sights. So by sheer luck, Troy is in Turkey. It’s just amazing how all of that happened, and the fact that Turkey was the capital for three empires: Greco-Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires. It’s such a melting pot," he says. "So my family was thinking, where can we go? We wanted to go somewhere different, but somewhere that was cold as well. Turkey was a perfect choice because we wanted to explore these archeological sights, but at the same time also have a major capital city that we wanted to explore as well, so it wasn’t all one or the other."
The trip started in Istanbul, moving on to Troy. "It was amazing because you’ve seen the movie Troy, and it was filmed there in Turkey, and it’s just an important site, historically. Even though you know that it’s not accurate, Homer’s depiction of Troy, you can see that it existed," he says
"Next on the list was Ephesus, which Consing Lopez counts as one of his favorite stops. "You always hear Letters to the Ephesians from the Bible. What was Ephesus? It was the fourth largest city of the Greco-Roman empire. And it’s complete—maybe half of it is almost intact.
"They were able to follow it in such a way that they knew where (everything) was--they put up a library and there’s a public bathroom. The whorehouse is still there, and there’s a footprint of a woman and it says, 'follow me.'
"They had amphitheaters and a marble highway. They were so advanced (but) over time, people just abandoned the city. For me, it was like seeing the History Channel come to life. I was blown away every single time."
The tour included Hierapolis, an ancient city that was also a hot spring destination for the Romans, and Cappadocia, known for its natural volcanic formations, which Consing Lopez describes as "just like little mushrooms all over the place."
The area was filled with cave holes that used to house whole communities. "When the Christians were hiding from the Muslims, they carved cities and churches into the caves," he says. "Imagine Fraggle Rock come to life. I went there, I went underground, I said, ‘Oh my God, this is Fraggle Rock.’ You go in and there were boulders and they would push the boulders that covered (the entrance) and up to 3,000 Christians would hide there for months. They could cook, they had vents for fresh air, they had water, they made wine, and the underground city goes all the way down. It’s amazing."
There was an option to take a trip on a hot air balloon over Cappadocia, but the family had to pass on that because of certain constraints.
The decorated frescoes and walls of the Hagia Sophia
Istanbul, Turkey's capital, is known for its historical sites and its cosmopolitan vibe. "Istanbul is so alive because it’s both old and new, like a Paris of the Middle East. It has a really interesting mix because everyone is so different; it’s so diverse. And the city is just so romantic. You have the mosques—just being there gives you a better understanding of Islam, especially today when Islam is getting such a bad rep and no one understands what modern Islam is about," Consing Lopez says.
In Istanbul, there are really two things to do; one is to visit all the heritage sites. "You have the Blue Mosque, you have the Hagia Sophia, you have the underground cistern that the Romans did, which is amazing because you see everything that was once Roman, was renovated, became Christian, was renovated and became Muslim."
The latter was particularly affecting. "The Underground Cistern is amazing because it really just is a cistern where the Byzantines kept their water. What is amazing is that you can see how through the past, because every current culture destroys the past culture. So when they built the cistern, instead of using regular material, they just tore down buildings. So when you go inside, this pillar was from this temple they tore down the building and built a cistern," he says. "And when the Ottoman Empire came, they used that for parties. They had orgies and crazy drug parties there. They filled it with water and filled it with candles and they were floating around and they were all on these little gondolas just having parties and getting drunk on gondolas. It’s funny to see how these (circumstances) transcended time."
He adds, "I think what defines Turkey is that it’s a city of layers. Whether it’s religious layers, cultural layers, historical layers."
Second is to revel in modern Turkey. "They’re just getting into the mall culture, but their malls are amazing," he says. "There's one called Zorlu Center—pretty much like a Greenbelt or Rockwell, but the reason why it’s interesting is because it’s always nice to see how another culture incorporates that."
Folks can also visit Istanbul Modern, the city's museum of modern art. "I tell myself, after seeing all these heritage sites, I want to see what modern Turkey is like, and the art is amazing. A lot of the art has a lot to do with where they are in the world, because they’re not quite Asian, they’re not quite European, they’re not quite Middle Eastern, they’re in the middle. A lot of their art addresses that, which I love. They have great restaurants. There’s this area called Nisantasi, which is their version of SoHo in New York, full of little cafes and shops and restaurants. I love that."
The food, of course, is part of Turkey's allure. "The food in Turkey is about a lot of grain, a lot of wheat—we ate a lot of what the locals would eat, so we had a lot of wheat soup, and then you have meat, whether it’s kebab or meatballs with spices, rice, and salad and fruit. It’s actually a very balanced meal. Actually, when I was eating, I was like, ‘This is very Pinoy.’ Food is great, Turkish coffee is amazing, even though after a while, you’re going to crave your Americano," he says.
Shopping for the old and new
Istanbul's shopping culture likewise covers the traditional and the modern. "They have a local department store which is kind of like their Rustan’s, their Sak’s 5th Avenue, called Beymen. It's a high-end department store and they sell everything European, everything local, but doing a really great job."
He adds, "Shopping-wise, Turkey is very impressive because they have a very strong and robust textile industry, so everything from making the raw materials to manufacturing the clothes. Zara manufactures there. Topshop manufactures there. There are families that have been there for so long so they said, ‘You know what? Let’s make our own brand.’ One of the coats I bought there was from a brand called Damat, which means 'groom' in English. It was one of the families that have been in the textile industries for so long they said, you know what? Why not just make our own brand? Another one is called Sarar, which is one of the biggest menswear brands. Another one is called Tween. The names aren’t the best but the fashion is great.
"There’s a street called Istiklal, which basically starts at Taksim Square, which is the main area, it’s like their Union Square, and it goes all the way down. It’s full of shops. What’s amazing is that it has a combination of--(a) Baklava (shop)--and then there’s a Shake Shack. And then you have a huge Zara store and then you have like a Damat or a Mavi Jeans store. For people who go around all the time and who are sick of seeing the same franchises over and over again, it’s nice to see places where you have local fashion, so you can see something different. That’s what I love about Turkey. So that’s the cosmopolitan side."
Of course, no trip to Istanbul is complete without a visit to the centuries-old Grand Bazaar. "I try to find craftsmen who make it themselves," Consing Lopez says. "I bought a pair of leather slippers that were made there, they’re hand made, or you can find jewelry that’s handmade, you can find something that’s not only authentic but also artisanal."
He particularly loves the antiques section. "The antiques there are amazing because it’s like a museum, but you can actually buy the stuff that have been collected over the three empires—things from the Ottoman Empire, Byzantine relics," he says. "I always try to find jewelry when I’m there. There was one thing that I found that was really amazing. It’s this crucifix that you wear, but it’s like a little box, that you can unscrew--kind of like Cruel Intentions. When I saw that, I thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s a cross that opens up. What do you put in there?’ It’s a 150-year-old yellow and white gold crucifix. What the past owners have done is they put their wishes or their will in it and no one opens it until they’re dead, because that’s the only time you can open it. It’s shopping, but it’s shopping for things that you can cherish, so I try to always go to the antiques section of the Grand Bazaar.'
He also recommends the Spice Market, which he says is "phenomenal." "You can buy caviar there. You can buy all the spices, all the teas. It’s also a learning experience, like finding out that saffron is even more expensive than gold per gram. It’s amazing just to hear that."
Even the Turkish government knows how fun it is to shop in Turkey. They even have laws that make it easy to buy Turkish goods. The government is so good about exporting that if you buy a carpet in Turkey, they ship it for free and there’s no tax. And there’s tax back in Turkey," Consing Lopez says. "It’s super fun."
Traveling to Turkey
Consing Lopez has a few tips for Turkey first-timers. "Don’t be turned off by the idea of joining a tour or getting a tour guide because otherwise, you miss out on so much. Tourism is such a big part of the Turkish economy that there are so many to choose from and they are just so professional about it," he says. "I would recommend exploring the local shops and brands, just because you actually get a feel of how people who really live there, what their day-to-day life is like."
He also encourages people to explore the width and depth of the cuisines available. "Don’t feel pressured just to eat Turkish food when you’re there. Because in the same way, if you come to the Philippines and you only eat Filipino food, (others will) be like, ‘But you’re missing so much.’ They have good European food. They have good Asian food, too. Don’t feel like you have to eat only Turkish food when you’re there."
A wide assortment of pastries reflect the country’s love of sweets, deserts, and delicacies
Consing Lopez likes to balance the past and the present in his travels. Given his work, shopping, of course, is a must. "I try to go to a place where there’s a little bit of shopping. I’m in fashion so I kind of want to go to a place where I can get a better idea of what their fashion is through shopping. Also, I can kind of go for history. So you have history and a little bit of the fashion stuff. I’m very passionate about both."
He believes that while travel is fun, it can also be eye-opening. "It really does broaden your horizon and open your eyes to a whole new world. The thing is, you can only understand what people are thinking or how they live if you’re there. I like seeing what the locals are doing and where they like to shop. What’s their background, what’s their history, what’s their current situation? It gives you a better understanding of geopolitics," he says. "For example, why is Turkey in the middle? Why are they not part of the EU? You understand when you get the local sentiment. So it’s education based on the people you meet and the places you see."
This article was first published in Metro Society Magazine May 2015