Inspired by the incredible adornment of African cultures, Verda Alaton of Istanbul based design brand Tohum, creates uniquely bespoke jewelry that has become an Istanbul It Girl favorite. Establishing the newest way to wear layered bracelets and bangles, each TOHUM piece is completely made by hand of natural stones and materials. We recently spoke with Verda about how travels fuels her creative process.
Describe your brand.
TOHUM is a contemporary design brand inspired by the simplest forms of beauty, dedicated to creating entirely personal pieces. The origins of TOHUM come from the Middle East. A simple yet powerful word, TOHUM symbolizes the idea of a seed ready to flourish.
How did you start Tohum?
The TOHUM concept was born out of my love of far away lands and primitive cultures. I have been a devoted traveler for 20 years. I?ve discovered the pure beauty of ethnic arts, particularly native adornment that combines natural materials with powerful expression. 15 years ago, a turning point happened for me when I worked in a tribal art gallery in New York. I learned a great deal from African art experts and started collecting tribal artifacts. During this time, I started working on my first design ideas and in 2008 I launched my own brand, TOHUM.
What are some of your endless inspirations?
I am fascinated by purity of expression in all of its forms. A lot of my inspiration through an understanding of how cultures around the world express themselves in original ways. For example, in Africa, anything from nature can be worn. Adornment is very pure and expressive. The materials in all types of African art come directly from nature and their treatment of form is striking. I love the idea of making the simplest things from nature wearable and creating a bold and beautiful expression out of them.
Art and architecture also inspire me as well as industrial and furniture design because of their strength and simplicity. I am attracted to things that have a sense of form and geometry. I grew up in an artistic family and I have been surrounded by an appreciation for timeless aesthetics. My uncle Kalef Alaton was a pioneering interior designer whose sense of deep culture and pure elegance combined with unexpected bravery had a great influence on me.
There are many artists who inspire me. I love the work of Brancusi, Richard Serra and Ross Lovegrove among many others. I am drawn to highly conceptual creativity with a focus on pure form, idea and emotion.
How does travel inspire your collection?
Travel for me is a way of opening out and going deep. When I travel, all my senses are inspired so something powerful happens on a visceral level. I get the overall feeling from a culture and I interpret this emotionally in my work. I learn about their traditions, rituals and symbols. Sometimes this inspiration leads me to an idea for a collection, other times I translate what I see into a new aesthetic for my designs. But more than anything, every place I travel to gives me a new appreciation, love and respect for the culture and I want to reflect this in my work.
Speak about the process of working with artisans.
I've collaborated with experienced craftspeople over the years, but I?ve created my core work with one master craftsman whom I?ve known for years and I trust deeply. We met in the Old Bazaar in Istanbul and from the first moment we had a connection, which lasts to this day. We work very closely together - I conceptualize and he crafts -and what is most important is that we have the same passion and perspective for our work. We understand each other implicitly and over the years we've created a great balance which means that we both complement and learn from each other.
Your collection continues to grow, what creative endeavors are on the horizon?
In my design work, my aim is to always stay fresh and continue to create one-of-a-kind pieces that are original and personal. I am doing more and more bespoke pieces, especially unique objects that are made to order for a special person or occasion, with a lot of thought and meaning behind them.
I am also starting to think about new projects inspired by my travels. Recently, we?ve opened an exhibition in Istanbul called Terra Unica - a special collection of earthy symbolism - and as part of this we are also exhibiting my photographs from Ethiopia, which have a very important connection to the work. So, the place and the designs become really one and I would love people to experience this in its totality.
Souk or Department Store?
DIY or Concierge Service?
Buy Everything or Buy Nothing?
Camping or 5-Star Hotel?
Depends on the geography, so possibly camping
Drive or be Driven?
Room service or Street Food?
Lots of Luggage or Carry-on Bag?