Don’t be fooled by the pint-sized stature of Turkish-born but Cape Town-based creative Yelda Bayraktar. As the founder of Couth – an exciting new lifestyle brand inspired by contemporary Africa – she packs a powerful punch. In the decade or so that Yelda has lived in Cape Town, she has carved a niche for herself as an interior designer, design consultant and curator.
There’s a duality to being a foreigner in Africa that most would find hard to navigate. And yet Yelda has put it to good use. ‘I’ve lived here for 13 years and for more than a decade I’ve been married to a South African, and yet culturally I’m still very much an outsider,’ explains Yelda. ‘In Europe however, I’m seen as an insider and so I’ve come to see it as a niche that works for me creatively.’
Her collaborations to date have drawn on this duality with Yelda responsible for the interiors and design buying for the much feted Alara Concept Store in Nigeria, designed by David Adjaye. She also helped curate the Vitra Design Museum’s Making Africa Exhibition that is travelling until 2018, and has recently contributed to Gestalten’s Africa Rising publication. Another constant collaborator is her husband, designer and creative, Porky Hefer. Known for his oversized, three-dimensional hanging nest seats made from wicker and leather, Porky pushes the boundaries of art and design in much the same way that Yelda constantly seeks new angles in authentic products. ‘We have a shared path in that we’re both very curious, but he’s a doer and a designer and I’m a critic and a curator,’ says Yelda. ‘And so together we support and engage each other constantly.’
But what truly defines Couth, the unique lifestyle range that Yelda launched earlier this year, is a compelling global view of Africa as seen through her eyes. Her collaboration with more than 120 artists, artisans, craftspeople and designers has spawned a small but eloquent range that merges art, design and photography across everything from homeware to clothing and accessories.
Confident, classic and devoid of the usual clichés, you may find a giraffe motif on a super-soft mohair jersey but it’s a naïve rendering, that when placed cleverly off-centre is thoroughly contemporary. Similarly Collage Shirt 1, in a crisp poplin cotton is devoid of all detail save for a pocket adorned with an African mask print that feels edgy and fresh. ‘My intention was very much to break through the curio chic perceptions that still exist around African design,’ says Yelda. ‘I wanted to emphasise the quality of the mohair, and the incredible carving, basketry and weaving skills that exists here but in a refined contemporary way not usually associated with Africa.’
This attention to detail extended to the name for the range too. And so, when Porky came up with a list of words that had neither negative nor positive connotations, Yelda instantly warmed to the word couth. ‘When it dawned on me that the word is an entirely new expression, much like the brand itself, I was sold,’ she laughs. So are we – from the Etosha Kaftan in the softest leather to the terracotta dishware collection in a range of colours, to the Lamu culottes in a linen/cotton mix that are standard fare for any safari goer. Couth will be in well-curated shops and stores in Europe and the USA later this year, but for now you can shop online at www.couth.co