A friend of mine recently pitched the Traffic Test to me. Put simply, time spent with certain people is so high-quality, interesting and fun, that if you were to find yourself driving home together after hanging out, you’d pray for heavy traffic to extend the shelf-life of your conversation.
Ilkin Kurt—with her insatiably curious mind and encyclopaedic knowledge of art, fashion, music and politics—passes our Traffic Test with aplomb. The fashion consultant/stylist has an infectious zest for life and bucketloads of wisdom, evidenced by that time we spoke with her about everything from the fundamental importance of being proud of who you are, to the correlation between sexual satisfaction, love and heightened creativity. Peep into her brilliant brain below.
Hello! Can we get the Ilkin Kurt elevator pitch?
The other night a dear friend introduced me to his friends like this: “This is Ilkin, the faculty of fine arts, fashion and music.” He was obviously exaggerating/joking, but I guess it is kind of who I am—a curious person who has a lot of interests. I’m currently working as a fashion and brand consultant, as well as styling and drawing naked ladies.
You recently created a series dedicated to Hamam and Harem Nights—for anyone who might not know about harem, can you explain a bit about these spaces and their cultural significance? What drew you to this project?
It has been on my mind for a long time, but I didn’t have much time to focus on the project until a few months ago. My grandmother used to take me to Turkish bath (Hamam) almost every week. I guess seeing beautiful women of every age in their natural form must have stayed with me till this day. I named the seriesConstantinople, Turkish Hamam/Harem Nights.
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Constantinople, Turkish Harem Bath. Started to draw new series dedicated to #hamam and #haremnights 🧞♀️ The nights that you go to bath only wearing your jewellery, rubbing the most beautiful oils and entertaining yourself. In many periods of Islamic history, women in the harem exercised various degrees of political power. The term “harem” brings to mind an image of a room full of beautiful women whose sole purpose in life was to please their captor sexually. However, the harem were more than just sexual playthings for the Sultan. Some had a hand in governing the powerful Ottoman empire🧖🏻♀️
In many periods of Islamic history, women in the Harem exercised various degrees of political power. While we think of the Harem as a place where the Sultan kept an ever-growing stable of women to satisfy his baser urges, the truth is much more complex. The Harem of Sultan served a variety of functions and the women who lived there often ended up wielding significant power in their own right. But, it would be a mistake to imagine the Harem as a source of female empowerment, just as it would be a mistake to imagine it as the personal brothel of the Sultan.
The girls were given daily lessons in everything from dancing to basic math. In fact, the education provided to the girls in the harem was much better than what most women in the Ottoman Empire received. Some even had a hand in governing the powerful Ottoman Empire. I find Geisha culture and Harem have a lot in common. Both terms ‘Harem’ and ‘Geisha' or 'Geigi’ conjure up an image of a beautiful woman or group of women whose sole purpose in life is to please their captor sexually, but it is actually way more than that.
I recently read Naomi Wolf’s Vagina, A New Biographyand in it she draws a strong correlation between sexual satisfaction and heightened creativity. Does this ring true for you?
When a woman is supported by herself, by her culture and by a real lover, she can experience creative liberation through her sexuality. It mostly depends on the partner, though. I don’t have a direct brain-vagina connection. Mine is a trio: brain-heart-vagina. If everything is on the same line, then yes, heightened creativity after orgasm is a real thing. Most of the time after good sex, I find myself drawing or sketching.
What gets you in the mood to create?
The weather and waking up on the right side of the bed.
What does sensuality mean to you?
Experiences involving all five senses, or enjoyment derived from the senses. Also; a good meal or good sex.
When do you feel most alive?
Dancing. Eating good food with good company. And, weirdly, Déjà vu’s.
As a society, we talk a lot about self-love and self-care, but self-respect is often overlooked. What does self-respect look like to you, and why do you think it's important?
Self-respect encompasses a multitude of ideals, but I think it is about having a sense of honour and dignity about yourself, your choices, and your life. Simply, if you are confident in yourself and proud of who you are, then you are respecting yourself by being the person you wish to show the world. It is important because it is about treating yourself and others well and knowing that by doing so, others will treat you well in return.
Are you an early bird or a night owl? Why?
An early bird. I am more productive.
Last book you read that altered your worldview?
Ai Wei Wei Speaks by Hans Ulrich Obrist. It is a repetitive book, but a fascinating insight into Chinese art culture and/or lack of it in the last 20 to 30 years.
Top three songs on rotation for you at the moment?
‘Verde’ — Cassius
‘Motion’ — Boy Harsher
‘Keep Looking’ — Sade
You have such a beautiful eye for, and a seemingly encyclopaedic knowledge of, art and fashion. Has this always been the way? What’s on your mood board at the moment?
My brain has a very weird storing and flushing mechanism. I have an Eidetic memory like the guy in Borges's short storyFunes the Memorious, which centres on a man who remembers everything. I’m that man when it comes to art, music, fashion, and I guess also politics. I remember anything that I’m interested in. If I’m not interested, or don’t like a memory or an event, my brain deletes the story/information itself and I will never, ever remember it. So, yes it has always been the way.
I’m working on a few different projects these days, and thus my mood board is all over the place. I have many images from different concepts… like Mireille Darc in suits, some Calder, Ruth Asawa and Jean-Michel Frank for all sorts of inspiration, an image of a painting by Albert Braitou-Sala called ‘The Portrait of Elena Olmazu’, a scene from Wong-kar Wai’s filmIn the Mood for Love,Miuccia Prada fitting Carla Bruni in her studio in 1994, Yellow Magic Orchestra in grey suits with red scarves… The list goes on. But, the one image I do keep going back to is one of Esther Canadas in a white silk suit and shirt combo from the S/S 1999 YSL Haute Couture show.
What’s a piece of advice about relationships/sex that you wish you knew when you were young?
I find that the more affectionate couples are, both sexually and otherwise, the higher their sexual satisfaction tends to be. I wish I was more affectionate when I was younger. I guess I got it wrong with the whole ‘keep it cool’ approach.
What qualities are you drawn to in another person?
Sense of humour, confidence without cockiness, and a selfless mindset.
Your work takes you to a lot of beautiful places around the world. What do you love most about travelling?
Unknowingness of meeting new people, exploring small hidden places, eating and taking pictures. I just bought an amazing 1978 Nikon FE. Very excited about it.
The world can feel overwhelming and uncertain at times. What do you do to stay sane?
The most basic but super effective thing for me is taking a walk, it always helps. There are also times when I go back to the HeadSpace app. His voice is quite calming.
Which females inspire you most?
Multitaskers! I really admire Kate and Laura Mulleavy (designer sister duo of RODARTE) as they managed to write and direct a film as well as designing amazing collections for their brand. Conceptual artist Jenny Holzer and Las Brujas, a feminist Latina skate crew from Bronx, who are great creators of creatively dynamic political movements. I appreciate mostly filmmakers, artists, musicians or writers.
What are you most excited for in 2019?
Plastic bag bans!