Oh so Zeki !
The flamboyant Turkish cultural icon and pop star Zeki Müren was also a talented textile designer whose name has become synonymous with a colourful group of mid-century rugs. In COVER 53 Malika Browne discusses Müren’s work with Istanbul-based carpet dealer and fellow Zeki fan Hüseyin Kaplan. The following is an abridged extract from the article:
The flamboyant Turkish singer Zeki Müren is a national treasure in Turkey; he was its Liberace and Elton John rolled into one, and his funeral in 1996 was attended by ninety thousand fans. The mere mention of his name in Turkey even today can cause eyes to well up with nostalgia and most Turks have a favourite Zeki song or memory. Although Müren was best known for his music, his outlandish costumes and feminine make-up made him a cultural icon, yet very few people realise that he was also talented textile designer, and that carpets made of his designs in the 1960s and 1970s have come to be known in the trade as Zeki Müren carpets.
I first came across his carpets at an exhibition of Zeki Müren stage costumes and memorabilia in Istanbul in 2014. Alongside framed paintings of designs from his student days were three striking modern rugs, with the simple explanation that they had been designed by him. Further research uncovered frustratingly little information—even his house museum in Bodrum displays his costumes and some framed textile designs but none of these rugs—until I eventually met Hüseyin Kaplan, an Istanbul-based carpet dealer from Konya whose collection of Zeki Mürens numbers over five hundred.
Kaplan’s private passion for these carpets is infectious as he unrolls ever bolder, brighter rugs in his showroom in Sultanahmet, Istanbul’s Old City. Some have jewel-like geometric patterns inspired by traditional medallion carpets, others feature bold abstract shapes in Seventies colours and many have a prominent mid-century vibe. Psychedelic starfish patterns vie with cosmic fantasies that look like stylish screen savers, and the colours such as apple green, mustard yellow and fuchsia are wondrous. A large design of kaleidoscopic colourful shapes looks as though it was inspired by Turkish modernist painter Fahrelnissa Zeid’s work of 1954 called Abstract Parrot.
One pattern that occurs frequently is widely assumed to be a Zeki Müren design even though Kaplan has never seen one with Müren’s signature on it. Known in the trade as ‘havuclu’ or ‘carrot-like’, it features oblong shapes in two rows and comes in green, red or yellow. Other designs also come in different colour backgrounds; these rugs were household items produced for mass consumption.
Müren was known for his extravagant stage costumes, some of which were so heavy with sequins that he had to perform encores in a dressing gown. He affectionately gave his costumes names such as ‘Mountain Flower’, ‘Moon Prince’ or ‘The Lover of Dr Zhivago’. A handful of Zeki Müren rugs also feature a name knotted into a corner, such as Leopar (Leopard), or Aşk şarabi (Love Wine) and these are the carpets we know were definitely designed by him. However, by far the most collectible and valuable are the pieces that bear Müren’s signature in knots. One carpet even has his signature incorporated several times into the central design.