Anyone in Cologne looking for stores off the beaten path is sure to make a find in the Belgian Quarter. Away from the popular clothing, jewelry and décor stores are Demet Taha’s linguerie boutiques. We visited her in one of her shops, which she also uses as her atelier. Surrounded by lace and silk, we spoke about dreams, the love of lingerie and life as a diverse buffet.
Dear Ms. Taha, how did you begin working as a lingerie seamstress?
I am a trained men’s tailor, and worked as one for many years, however my passion has always been women’s underwear. Cutting lingerie is the highest class of tailoring. Clothing gives the wearer the opportunity to conceal imperfections with fabric and is more forgiving. But a bra sewn just slightly too large is immediately recognisable. Precision, therefore, is the top priority. It is an enormous challenge and is what makes it exciting for me. Aside from that, I love women. They bring so much life to life with all their affectations, charm, idiosyncrasies and diversity. That never fails to excite me. I live and work according to the motto: It’s nice being a woman!” It was always my biggest dream to work independently in this field.
How did you achieve that dream?
In the beginning, I worked from home. My flat was also my atelier. Back then, I already had a small family, so it was very important to me to start my work on a sound fundament. I built my customer base up from home. My first customers liked the ambience in our flat: an old building, high ceilings, rooms filled with light. We would speak for hours about fashion and drink tea. Two years later, I had so many customers that my family barely had any room left in the flat. Aside from that, I had been yearning to get back outside for a while. Fashion comes with a wish for recognition. I create a work of art out of fabric and expect applause, just like an artist who parades his work on a stage. The reactions come close to my fantasy. Working at home means one is very restrained, and over time, I missed the contact with people.
You seem to have decided to open a shop with an atelier. How did you end up in this atelier on Moltkestrasse?
Coincidence have always played a large role in my life. It was also a coincidence that I opened my shop with an atelier in the Belgian Quarter ten years ago. During those times, I had been living in the district. When the storefront across from my flat became available, I grasped the opportunity and rented it immediately. With that step, I had achieved a dream of mine: my own atelier!
Back then, about ten years ago, that is, I was one of the first in the district. My atelier was a bit off the beaten path and further away from the centre of the Belgian Quarter. For this reason, those surrounding me viewed my decision a bit sceptically, but I wasn’t to be deterred and wanted to implement my project.
How would you describe your relationship with your customers?
There are two categories of goods: needs and luxuries. My products fall into the second category. Put another way, it is the difference between a bakery and a patisserie. I am the patisserie. In our boutiques more than just the selling of underwear takes place. Behind each piece lies hidden a life philosophy. We celebrate a way of life. On the one hand, it has to do with a piece of clothing, but it also has to do with the feeling it gives the woman. People nowadays are very stressed. When I get the feeling that a customer is exhausted and under pressure when she enters the shop, I first give her some time to calm down and relax. In the end, she’s come to indulge herself. I show her that I am there solely for her and we have all the time in the world. Welcoming the customer and making sure that she feels comfortable in my boutique is part of my job.
So the actual sales discussion first begins when the atmosphere is right?
Exactly! Buying underwear is something very intimate. It is my job to recognise my customer’s wishes and longings. The same clothing isn’t a match for every woman; every woman is unique. Being able to recognise this and understand my customers is the basis of my work. In order to achieve that, I first have to win her trust. God blessed me with a talent for sewing. I was able to realise this and am forever grateful. I can sew well and this is a gift for others, not for me – I want to share it. I worked very hard in order to achieve my dream. When I was learning, I often went to bed with bloody fingers. But I never lost my will or ambition. Now I do my job with the blood in my heart, not in my fingers. I am a seamstress with all my heart and soul!
Your parents are originally from Turkey. Does your background play a role in your daily life?
I was born in Germany, but I grew up in Turkey. I was a so-called “suitcase child.” My parents worked in Germany and I grew up with relatives in Antalya. I enjoy speaking about my Turkish roots, but only very few think I am Turkish. It never ceases to amaze me how extravagant people’s fantasies are. I am often mistaken for being French. When I say I have Turkish roots, there’s a “Oh!,” and then nothing else. I can tell what the person is thinking just by looking at their face. Often they then say, “So you’re from Istanbul then?” As if Istanbul is a guarantee of modernity in Turkey. It amuses me every single time. I always have to chuckle. When you don’t fit into a stereotype, confusion follows.
How much has your cultural background influenced you?
The story of migration has many layers. We started our lives under other circumstances than those who were born here. One is like a tree without roots. Our roots lie in a country that is also foreign. It is a strange condition. I truly believe that feelings such as fears and longings are passed on from generation to generation. Each one of us carries the story of our ancestors within us. The wish to live up to my parent’s expectations provided me with the impetus to want to achieve more.
Do you think that you were able to do so?
I had more opportunities than my parents, and today am proud to be able to say that I took advantage of them. I have been successful in my work, and above all, am happy. I enjoy passing my experiences onto young people. Aside from that, I feel very much at home in Germany. Of course, once in a while the Turk in my shows herself. I dream in German but count in Turkish. I am a typical Turkish mother with everything that comes with that. When I am exhausted, I make silly grammatical mistakes. In some situations, I just give up completely and say it in Turkish (laughs). I view our, and by that I mean that of us migrants, situation very positively. Life is like a buffet full of completely different specialties. When I’ve got a craving for German food, I have some. When I’d like something Turkish, I grab some. Or perhaps Italian? The choice is ours. That is really something wonderful!