Clad in the simple sandals of their childhood, Minima owner and lifelong friend fulfill a dream

Eugenie Perret (left) and Defne Veral with sandals and beach wraps imported for their AKIS line of home and fashion accessories by Turkish artisans. APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer
Eugenie Perret (left) and Defne Veral with sandals and beach wraps imported for their AKIS line of home and fashion accessories by Turkish artisans. APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer
Posted: May 19, 2012

By Caroline Tiger FOR THE INQUIRER

When Eugenie Perret met Defne Veral in a small coastal town on the Aegean Sea, the two were 10 years old. The Istanbul natives continued their friendship in the United States when they moved here for college and stayed to pursue careers in design. Now Perret, who co-owns the Old City furniture gallery Minima, and Veral, who owns an interior design firm in Connecticut, are partners in AKIS (pronounced ah-KEES) — a brand-new line of home and fashion accessories made by Turkish artisans.

The two return to the Aegean coast nearly every summer and bring back local wares. “Everyone always wants to know where we get it,” says Perret. Friends for nearly 40 years, the two dreamed of starting a business that would act as a conduit for these exquisitely made sandals, textiles, olive oil soap, metalwork, and more. With grown kids and years of experience behind them, they decided this was the year. “We said, ‘We’re not 20 anymore and we’re not going to do it when we’re 60,’’ says Veral. “‘If we don’t do it now, when are we going to do it?’”

CONSUMED WITH: The simple leather sandals made by a local leather artisan. “His father made the sandals we wore when we were in our early teens,” says Perret. “Over time they take on your foot’s imprint. They get softer with wear and eventually they feel like a slipper.”

THE APPEAL: As kids, Perret and Veral clambered in their sandals over the ruins of a medieval castle. “It was a very simple way of life,” says Veral. “We could do whatever we wanted. There were no worries about safety.”

AKIS is still in the chrysalis stage — price points are being worked out, and the printed tags only just arrived for the line that for now is sold only by appointment at their Northern Liberties showroom (Contact info.akisdesign@gmail.com). But the co-owners already know the beach defines their brand. “There’s always a beach and it is always hot somewhere in the world,” says Veral. “This reminds us of our good life at the beach, of our carefree days.”

THE DESIGN: For AKIS, Perret and Veral jazzed up the sandal-maker’s traditional styles. In one, a piece of gold leather wraps around the narrow thong. Straps scale the ankle on two other models — Artemisia 1 and Artemisia 2 — named for the world’s first recorded female admirals whose heroic deeds changed the course of this region.

THE PROVENANCE: Perret and Veral watched a lot of towns along the coast go bankrupt when China’s manufacturing exploded in the mid-‘80s. “It got really bad in the late ‘90s,” says Perret. “It’s become difficult for artisans and craftspeople to survive, and we feel responsible for keeping the traditions going.”

In Turkey, small towns are known for very specific skills, and the number of artisans is waning. In one town there’s only one person left who hand-blows glass beads. “They’re in little pockets and you have to go find them,” says Veral. The friends had been doing this on their own time — and now for AKIS — for 15 years. “To actually sit down and talk to the people is wonderful,” says Perret. “They have so much pride in it.”

THE NAME: Perret and Veral wanted to pick something that would represent their goal and that would work in both countries. “We asked ourselves, ‘What are we doing?’” says Veral. “We’re acting as a mirror for the traditions.” “Akis” means reflection in Turkish.

Caroline Tiger is a design writer in Philadelphia. Visit her blog at design-phan.com.

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