Picture the quintessential Parisian apartment. Charming with its herringbone parquet floors and high ceilings, its elongated windows invite an uncommon afternoon light to stream through the space. An ornate fireplace anchors a corner, polishing off this Parisian idyll. On closer inspection, the fireplace is made entirely out of plexiglass. Before it lies an animal rug. The image works, even if the fireplace does not. Decadence and a blurred line of reality remastered by its maker, accessories and jewelry designer Yaz Bukey, great-granddaughter of Prince Amr-Ibrahim and great-niece of Princess Fawzia, sister of His Majesty King Farouk I of Egypt.
“It’s trompe l’oeil!” she explains cheerfully, referring to the artistic term made popular by Surrealists for optical illusions. “This is at the heart of what my work is about, playing, and subverting reality. It may seem fake, but at the end of the day, you create your own version of reality, which is as real as any,” she explains. Welcome to “YazBukey Land,” where things are not always what they seem. Launched in 2000 with her sister Emel Kurhan, Yazbukey is a quirky, Crayola-colored universe of fantastical, witty trompe l’oeil accessories that elevate outfits from the ordinary. Based in Paris, the designer, coined the “Plexiglass Princess” for her inventive use of the material, recoils at the word accessories to describe her unconventional designs. “I don’t like the term,” she states. “It makes them seem second-class to clothes. I view them more as statement pieces that give a coded message to their wearer, without them having to speak.” The Legs choker made from five 1950s show-girl style gams in high heels tells a story of its own alluding to a quick escape. “Each time I go to a place I don’t want to be at, I wear that necklace,” she quips. “You can take it at face value, but the message means so much more.” An inside joke for the initiated. That coded dialogue of using external elements to portray a different version of oneself, stems from a gilded childhood bouncing around myriad locations including Istanbul – Bukey’s hometown – Algeria, and Saudi Arabia to name a few.
The daughter of the former ambassador for Turkey, Bukey and her sister spent their formative years in Jeddah circa the 1980s. “Growing up in Saudi, at the time, there wasn’t much for young girls to do, other than suntanning and mall trips to Printemps,” she says laughing. Her parents, both cultural aficionados and cinephiles, exposed their daughters to a plethora of worldly cinema and music from an early age. Old Hollywood classics, French nouvelle vague, a diverse, erratic slew of artists and musicians frequenting the family abode were the impetus for wild imagination and creativity. “We created a world within a world,” recounts Bukey. Afternoons spent role-playing and reenacting musical scenes from old classics, inventing scenography and choreography routines were the initial forays into formulating a uniquely rich internal universe. “We were living in a void of reality, crafting our own version of it instead. It was an escape from the ‘golden cage’ that we inhabited and the foundation, which informed my Surrealistic side.”
Today, living in her adoptive city of Paris, she has another take on how to live and work differently, preferring to inhabit little spaces – “pied-à-terre” in multiple cities that have meaning for her. “Covid and the restrictions it imposed really changed things for me,” she says. “As an artist, your atelier needs to inspire and feel like home…but that home can be in different places for varied periods of time.” A base in Paris, an apartment in Istanbul and soon, a new pad in Lisbon. “Every city has its own vibe, by spending quality time in it, you understand it better, are able to appreciate it more…Lisbon is like a microcosmos of Istanbul and Paris rolled up together that feels very relatable.” It’s this idea of a micro-community, surrounded by close friends and like-minded individuals to grow, evolve, and create that holds an intrinsic appeal for Bukey. “What makes a home is what and who you surround yourself with. I’ve designed accessories for the ‘self’ and now would like to move into accessories for the home, to elevate my surroundings.”
Judging by her repertoire so far, clients will be in for a ride as Bukey continues her journey, partnering with the fine French tableware brand Faïencerie de Gien on a high-concept Art de la table collection; an ongoing collaboration with Christian Louboutin featuring a fanciful shoe capsule that has Bukey’s tongue-in-cheek aesthetic front and center – think cornice-shaped heels, backgammon motif platforms and popart hybrid prints. Statement, to say the least. “I don’t want to be stuck in one discipline, I want to be open to explore new opportunities, new challenges,” she concludes. To relax and enjoy the ride. Remembering things are not always what they seem, no matter how close one looks.
Originally published in the February 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia