Gulnur Fadhil had a dream so different than the dreams of all her relatives and friends, and yearned for something different from the traditional Turkish lifestyle she had come to know. She dreamed of the same life of her late French mother Françoise, a free spirited painter who told her many beautiful stories about Paris before she passed away when Gulnur was 10 years old. She always felt she had two identities and never felt fully Turkish nor fully French.
Gulnur loved her father Kazim who was born into an elite family in the Ottoman Empire. He met her mother while visiting Paris on a work mission and fell in love with her but the promise of a high-level ministerial job called him back to Istanbul. When Françoise became pregnant with Gulnur, she had no choice but to sacrifice everything and leave with Kazim to Istanbul.
After his wife’s passing, Kazim drowned his sorrows in his work and succeeded to become the minister of Finance for the sultan. He gave Gulnur an international education but expected her to marry well and follow the example of most Turkish hanims (aristocratic ladies). He never imagined that the day would come when Gulnur would decide to leave him and travel to Paris.
Gulnur wanted to be a fashion designer, she loved drawing pretty gowns and enjoyed playing with fabrics and colours. She had an avant-garde vision and a desire to change the way women dressed. It was clear to her that Paris was the only place she could achieve those dreams.
Kazim refused Gulnur’s request to travel to Paris, threatening to disown her if she left Istanbul. Feeling trapped in a life she hasn’t chosen, Gulnur sent a letter to her uncle Charles, her mother’s brother, asking him for help. They’d never met, but knew from her mother that she would always be welcomed by Charles. A few months later, Gulnur received a ticket for the Orient Express leaving Istanbul for Paris in one week’s time.
She tried to say goodbye to her father but he refused to see her. She was broken-hearted to leave this way, but was compelled to take her voyage to the city of light.
In Paris, Uncle Charles welcomed her into his family and took her under his wing. He was a gentle, generous and free spirited man like her mother. Gulnur was enamoured by his stories of Françoise and the painted portraits he’d kept of her. Together, they frequented all her favourite places.
Charles enrolled Gulnur in the famous tailoring school Guerre-Lavigne were she began her first steps towards achieving her dreams in the world of fashion design.
Her creations were a a fusion of middle eastern inspiration and western flare. She even found the courage to start her own label, “Gulnur’s Paris” and was interviewed by several fashion publications.
After many years in Paris, her father finally forgave Gulnur and wrote her letters telling her that he was proud of her achievements.
In a photoshoot on Rue de la Paix, the photographer asked Gulnur why she chose to wear a Turkish veil in this shoot, she smiled and said “this is part of my heritage”.
At this moment, Gulnur felt at peace and the turmoil inside her subsided. She no longer had to chose between her two identities, they never were two, she was lucky to be born into two beautiful cultures that can live as one and enrich each other. She is Turkish, she is French, she is a woman of the world.