Seven years ago, when Vitali Hakko dies, Skylife – Turkish Airlines inflight magazine published his lifetime story… There are some interesting parts from this text.
It was 1913 and the world was on the brink of a great war when a boy was born in a wooden mansion in seven-hilled Istanbul’s Yedikule district along the shores of the Marmara Sea. His father worked for the railroad, his mother was a housewife preoccupied with her children. The Hakko family named their latest addition ‘Vitali’, or ‘life’. Little Vitali got his basic education at a school run by an order of French Freres in the nearby Istanbul district of Kumkapı.
But he was only able to attend for six years when his father lost his job. When his father took up carpentry, little Vitali became his apprentice. He also managed to squeeze another experience into his boyhood years when, at age seven, he converted the cavernous, dark space where children played at Yedikule into a cinema – his only capital a tiny projector and the speech his big sister gave at the opening. As he was struggling to get the projector going after she finished speaking, the kerosene lamp slipped from his hand in his excitement and the film went up in flames. That’s how Hakko learned to take risks in business. But this incident, which he remembered as a failure, embarrassed him terribly and he didn’t go out of the house for a week. Blowing a trivial incident out of proportion instantaneously taught him the concepts of honor, character, confidence, intelligence, honesty, success and failure. By Jewish tradition, boys become ‘men’ at age thirteen, an occasion celebrated in a ceremony known as a ‘bar mitzvah’. Realizing he was a ‘man’ now, after the ceremony Vitali decided he would feel guilty if he didn’t start working and contributing to the family budget. Following his forays into carpentry and the cinema, he bid a firm farewell to childhood and started to work in Mahmutpaşa, Istanbul’s traditional garment district. Although his job was to stand in front of a shop and say, “Please come in”, this young man, whose commercial sense would prove ingenious in years to come, never looked down on it for a minute.
Forward-looking and industrious, Vitali learned all the tricks of the trade from the Mahmutpaşa merchants, all the while witnessing with growing enthusiasm the phases of reform through which the new Turkish Republic, young like himself, was passing. Swept along by the dress and headgear reform, in 1934 he opened a tiny shop called ‘Şen Şapka’ (Happy Hat) in Sultanhamam near Mahmutpaşa. “If it hadn’t been for the dress and hat reform,” he would say all his life, “there could have been no Happy Hat and no Vakko.”
“Many businessmen of my generation claim to have started from zero. I didn’t start even from zero. My starting place was a point way below zero. Nonetheless, we trained ourselves at a time when our only capital was our good will, our hope, our native skills and our confidence in ourselves and in the future. We were the first generation of the young Republic and it was Ataturk’s reforms that spurred us on.”
The Vakko brand name, which combines the first initials of Vitali and his brother Albert’s names with the last three letters of their surname, would be synonymous with fashion in Turkey for years to come. The slogan, ‘Fashion Is Vakko’, used in their advertising campaigns for years confirmed this.
Back in the days when raw silk was still sent to France to be printed, Vitali Hakko created scarves that could be considered works of art using Anatolian cottons and Bursa silks. He also turned the designs of prominent artists such as painter and poet Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu into scarves. In 1948 he set up Turkey’s first factory for printing cloth in the district of Kurtuluş in Istanbul’s European sector, where scarves bearing the Vakko label are still produced today. By the fifties, Hakko realized that he was not going to be able satisfy his love of fashion simply with scarves.
With his quick mind and his perception of fashion as an integral whole, he decided to introduce ready-to-wear in Turkey. His chief competitors were the numerous neighborhood tailors and dressmakers that made clothes to order. Coming out ahead in the competition, he organized the first style show in the history of fashion in Turkey. It was 1955, Ottoman motifs entered his life around the same time when he began to incorporate into his fabrics motifs from the traditional Ottoman arts of calligraphy, illumination and paper marbling that impressed him at the Topkapı Palace.
In 1962, when no lady would be caught dead without a hat and no gentleman without a ‘cravatte’ in Beyoğlu, Hakko opened his first big store here. Later he would bring his great love for this district, his ‘prolonged love affair’ as he put it, to the Society for the Beautification of Beyoğlu, of which he was one of the founders. In this store, whose sign read ‘Vakko’, shoppers would also encounter for the first time concepts such as ‘no bargaining’, ‘regular discounts’, and ‘no returns or exchanges’.
In 1969 he would take Vakko, which he had nurtured with his own hands, to an innovative factory in Merter, an outlying industrial area on the road to the airport. Fashion and art went hand in hand here at the factory, which was filled with paintings and sculptures by prominent Turkish artists.
Hakko’s love of art was unquenchable and found further expression in the art galleries he opened at his stores. Further expanding Vakko in the seventies, Vitali Hakko also took the store to Ankara and Izmir, and in 1982 created a new brand together with his son Cem. Called Vakkorama, this chic new youth trademark was a dynamic entity that combined style, fashion, art, music and sports.
I can’t paint,” he would say, “but I can spot a scarf or necktie whose pattern or color I believe will make people happy. I can win them over with kind words and make them happy.”
Indeed, Vitali Hakko devoted the 94 years of his life to creating such ‘brief yet happy moments’. “At a time when Ataturk was carrying out his dress reform,” says this idealistic man, “my sole purpose was one day to found Turkey’s most fashionable store. I have no idea how many such people there were in Turkey, but I was one of them.” When he passed away, not only was he the founder of Turkey’s most fashionable store, he was the undisputed ‘dean’ of Turkish fashion. He died in 2007. Vitali Hakko was survived by his wife Ketty Hakko, his son Cem Hakko, his daughter Sima Lodrick, and his grandchildren Pia, Katia and Vitali Cem.
After finishing elementary school, Vitali’s son, Cem Hakko (born in 1955) continued his studies at College du Leman and graduated from high school in Strasbourg. Hakko studied at Ecole Des Hautes Etudes Internationales in Paris and the Faculté de Sciences Economiques in Fribourg. He wrote the book “The Fashion Concept” as his thesis at the University of Fribourg. In the book, Hakko junior analyzed the emergence of fashion, its development phases and the social and economic factors which have created fashion from a scientific point of view. The book treats the psycho-social aspects of the fashion concept.
Under the leadership of Hakko, all Vakko employees relocated to the Vakko Fashion Center which was built in Istanbul in 2010 by the famous architect Joshua Prince Ramus. The Vakko Fashion Center which has an area of 12 500 square meters, was awarded “The Best Work Area” by Wallpaper magazine in 2011, and was also awarded the “Arch Daily; The Building of the Year” with the votes of 30,000 architects.
The “Vitali Hakko Creative Industries Library” which was established by Hakko at Vakko Fashion Center has been serving artists, scholars, students and all art lovers with its 12.000 books in areas such as fashion, architecture, photography, painting etc.
Vitali Hakko started an art collection in the 1960s and founded Turkey’s first corporate art gallery in Ankara in 1978. Now, Cem Hakko is expanding this art collection and is preparing an exhibition which will consist of 900 works of more than forty artists and will be held at the exhibition hall to be opened at the Vakko Fashion Center.
Cem Hakko lives in Istanbul and has three children: Katia, Pia and Can. Katia Hakko studied at Parsons School of Design, Pia Hakko studied graphic design at Central St. Martins. Cem Hakko who has ongoing responsibilities as Chairman of Vakko and Power Holding, continues his efforts to prepare both the 3rd generation of the Hakko family and the Vakko Group for the future.