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The tuxedo maker of Atatürk

HDN | 10/28/2009 12:00:00 AM | Vercihan Ziflioğlu

Levon Kordonciyan is the great-grandchild of Atatürk's tuxedo maker. The Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review found him on the 86th anniversary of the establishment of the Turkish Republic to share his family's tale

The ancestors of Levon Kordonciyan migrated to Istanbul from Rize at the beginning of the 1900s. The family settled in the neighborhood of Samatya, which was called “The Paris of Istanbul” in those years due to its modern look and lifestyle.

Kordonciyan was born in 1907, according to Ottoman records, and the Republic was founded in his early youth, turning a new page for Turkey and for Kordonciyan as well.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, prepared a special law to send talented youths to foreign countries for training and education in various subjects, benefitting hundreds of young people. Kordonciyan was among the first group that went abroad, traveling to Paris, the heart of fashion, to receive training to become a tailor.

Though the family profession was jewel crafting – their name derived from the golden cordons they had been making for generations – being a tailor was the young Kordonciyan’s dream and he managed to make it a reality. After studying in Paris for five years, he returned to Istanbul and opened a tailor shop in Sultanhamam, the city’s fashion center in those days. The day he nailed his signboard to the door, a very special customer with his own designs visited Kordonciyan. It was Atatürk.

Young Kordonciyan made history as the person to make Atatürk’s first tuxedo with tails. All of Atatürk’s tuxedos, especially those with tails, had the signature of Kordonciyan until the Turkish leader’s death in 1938. According to the tailor’s great-grandson, one of the Kordonciyan-brand tuxedos Atatürk wore is on display at the Atatürk Museum in Thessaloniki.

[HH] Giant scissors made of train tracks

The Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review found the grandson of Levon Kordonciyan, who shares his name, on the 86th anniversary of establishment of the Turkish Republic. The younger Kordonciyan, a tailor like his great-grandfather, shared the story of his family with Daily News readers.

Like his predecessor, Kordonciyan makes tuxedos with tails, still using the patterns, scissors and rulers he inherited. According to Kordonciyan, Atatürk’s bowties and shirts were made by Greek tailors, while his hats were made by their Jewish colleagues. One of those hats is still in his studio. During the interview, Kordonciyan pointed to a giant pair of one-meter long scissors and said: “My grandfather made these scissors out of train tracks. They were crafting their own equipment in those years.”

[HH] Historical drawings lost in fire

Atatürk’s drawings and his cloth patterns were burned to ashes along with many other historical objects and documents during the events of Sept. 6 to 7, 1955. “According to what I heard from my family, our house was set on fire during the actions by the demonstrators. The historical documents inside were burned to ashes at that time,” said Kordonciyan. “It is so sad that my grandfather’s gold-foiled diploma from Paris was burned in the fire too.”

The events of that Sept. 6 and 7, a black mark in the history of Turkey, were caused by the tension arising from the Cyprus issue between Turkey and Greece, developments that made the public very tense. When daily Istanbul Express published the news that the house where Atatürk was born in Thessaloniki had been bombed, violent mobs hit the streets. The Greek, Armenian and Jewish populations and their belongings became a target for the mob. Schools, churches, synagogues, hospitals, houses and stores were set on fire. It was later understood that the whole thing was a set up, but the damage was already done.

[HH] A gift to the White House

The Kordonciyan family was lucky; even though their house was burnt down, they survived. Moreover, some of the things inherited from the elder Kordonciyan remained intact after the attacks, which hit their studio too. “The reason I do my work in the best sense today is the patterns I inherited from my grandfather. I still work with his scissors and patterns,” said the younger Kordonciyan, adding that his grandfather died in 1953.

“I saw myself working together with my grandfather in my dreams; we create models together. You see, design is in my life 24 hours a day,” said Kordonciyan, who makes tuxedos with and without tails for high-level bureaucrats, just as his grandfather did. The tuxedos of Turgut Özal, the eighth president of Turkey, carried his signature.

Kordonciyan said he had prepared a special box and sent it to the White House for U.S. President Barack Obama’s inauguration. The box contained a tuxedo Kordonciyan made, cuff links, silk socks, a belt and a bow tie. Kordonciyan also made tuxedos for Hollywood actor Bruce Willis and the James Bond movie “Casino Royale.”

[HH] Tuxedo made in one day, without taking measurements

Kordonciyan said he does not need to take measurements to make a tuxedo for someone; a look is enough for him. “I need one day only to make a whole tuxedo flawlessly,” he said, noting that he is very precise, from the cloth of the tuxedo to the shirt to wear with it.

“The collars of a good tuxedo with tails should be satin,” he said. “The bowtie and belt should be of the same satin and the buttons of the shirt should never be visible. The socks have to be silk.”

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