West to east: the resurgence of Istanbul

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The city of Istanbul (not Constantinople) has been a gateway between east and west for millennia.

Lying strategically at the confluence of the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, and the Golden Horn, and a key stopping point on the route between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, the city has historically been an intercontinental centre of trade, defence, diplomacy, and tourism.

Now, a city that has seen galleys, xebecs, dromons, and galleons dock at its wharves is catapulting into the 21st Century and is once again drawing notice as an international centre for business and pleasure, recent troubles there notwithstanding.

Without getting into too much history, Istanbul has been the capital of four empires, has been sacked, has been besieged on numerous occasions, and has belonged to a number of civilizations, all of which have recognized its military and trade importance. Currently, the city belongs to the Republic of Turkey, and that nation is actively engaging in maintaining Istanbul as the virtual bridge between Europe and Asia that it always has been: the country is well under way to becoming an active member of the European Union, it has placed a bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games, and is a proud member of such organizations as the Council of Europe, NATO, OECD, OSCE and the G-20 major economies.

It’s no wonder, then, that Istanbul today is a vibrant, energetic, and dynamic city, steeped in tradition, but nonetheless moving full steam ahead. The bustling metropolis is now filled with shops, businesses and residences, side by side with historical landmarks. The Grand Bazaar, in operation since the 15th Century, today competes with numerous shopping malls and districts, including Akmerkez, Istanbul Cevahir, Kanyon, and Abdi İpekçi Street, where modern consumers shop for the same brands as their counterparts in New York, Paris, or Tokyo.

Cosmetics are all the rage in Istanbul these days, and high street shops are frequented in droves by women of all ages. Though Turkey’s populace is over 90% Muslim, its proximity to Western Europe and the fact that many of its citizens are fiercely proud of the nation’s secular constitution mean it’s not uncommon to find girls wearing jeans and t-shirts shopping alongside older women clad in chadors. Both ends of the spectrum, as well as everyone in between, agree that looking good is always a plus.

This fairly recent, regional boom in the cosmetic sector is also spreading east, where luxury cosmetics and cosmeceuticals are in vogue. Istanbul is the perfect meeting point for brand representatives and purchasers to chat, no matter where they’re from, as the city is perfectly located in between established and emerging markets, making it easy to access. Thanks to this, Istanbul offers a number of conference centres and exhibition halls that host numerous expos and shows geared toward the cosmetic and personal care spaces.

One of the biggest shows in recent years is the up and coming Beauty Eurasia, which launched in 2005 with the sole purpose of uniting professionals working in the beauty sector, including those focused on cosmetics, fragrances, personal care items, spa and wellness products, and hair care.

According to show organizers, the choice of setting up shop in Istanbul and promoting business between Europe and the Middle East was unquestionable:

Turkey has an essentially young population of about 70 million and a dynamic economy, the world’s sixteenth largest, with a significant domestic market. The country is excellently positioned as a natural production and marketing base in the region, due to its proximity to numerous other countries. It is easy to transport goods there and from there abroad via numerous means, presenting further competitive flexibility. Turkey does not require visas for citizens of most countries, and a visa is easily issued for many others at points of entry as a minor formality. Thus, it is very convenient for short business trips, such as attending our show. Each year, millions visit the country for business and pleasure alike.

Now in its ninth year, Beauty Eurasia has been instrumental in getting western brands into the hands of eastern consumers, and for offering large, international brands a place to showcase their latest items.

Istanbul, then, is not what it used to be. At one point relegated to being an anachronistic curiosity for tourists, the city is quickly emerging as a place to do contemporary business of all types. It remains to be seen just how far the city will go to hold on to its new position of privilege, but from all accounts, its latest bid to become one of the world’s key places to bridge gaps between west and east is unstoppable.