Senem Gençoğlu had just graduated from a prestigious art school when she found herself working in a Turkish woodshop covered in sweat, her hair and clothing filled with wood shavings, commiserating about the projects to come with her all-male coworkers.
For Gençoğlu, it was the best internship she could imagine. Despite the never-ending dust, that woodworking experience instilled in her a reverence for joinery and Japanese and Scandinavian design, two passions that inform her work now as a jewelry designer for her brand, Kloto.
“It was so much fun,” Gençoğlu says, laughing as she looks back on the contradiction—here she was, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, born of a long-standing Turkish jewelry family, and she had fallen in love with furniture.
“It was in this sketchy neighborhood in Turkey, but everyone got along so well. They treated me like one of them—one of the guys,” Gençoğlu says. “One of the design features [she wanted to master] was joinery. I loved making those. It was learning how connection works, how a mechanism works. That’s where my interest was and still is.”
Gençoğlu was born and raised in Istanbul, where her father, uncle, and brother still work in the family jewelry business. Their specialty is handmade chains, Gençoğlu says, and she recalls a childhood filled with days spent at the Grand Bazaar, studying art, and working summers at ateliers as she gained her own skills within the jewelry industry.
“My dad and uncle started with a tiny shop in the Grand Bazaar, which is a hub for tourists and shopping in Istanbul. It’s like this chaotic little maze,” Gençoğlu says. “From there, they moved to a larger atelier and started exporting their chains. It grew throughout the years, and I’d go to work with my dad, and I’d watch all of the chains being made. It was an amazing experience for me.”
Yet when it came time for her to further her studies, Gençoğlu chose to go abroad to the United States when she was accepted to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). RISD had the best industrial design program, and Gençoğlu wanted to learn how to design on a larger scale.
“I thought it would give me more options,” Gençoğlu says. “It was a fascinating experience. I love RISD’s approach.… My first classes were in things like wood [and] metal. You learn how to make things like a caveman would. You cut and carve, but it’s all done by hand. Wood class was one of my favorites, and I fell in love with making furniture.”
Her woodworking internship back home led to roles at other interior and design firms such as Lee Broom, Marcel Wanders, and Sevan Biçakçi, working in London, New York, Amsterdam, and Istanbul. But her youthful connection to her family and the family business came back to call during her visits home.
“When I’d visit, I’d go into every department, learning how to solder, cast, polish, what tools did what,” Gençoğlu says. “I began designing on the side, creating what I wanted and working for the family business during my personal time.
“It taught me that I actually wanted to create my own designs and do it a little bit my own way but also carrying on the family traditions.”
Gençoğlu wore a few of her pieces, and friends started buying them from her. That trend grew and grew until Gençoğlu admits she had to give in. Now, she’s developed Kloto as her own brand, focusing on more fluidity within her designs while also bringing in the technical aspect of her industrial design background.
Kloto will exhibit at Couture for the first time in 2023, and Gençoğlu says she’s excited to be in the heart of the industry.
As a jewelry designer, she also specializes in chains, but she looks at them as modular parts connecting together. She makes all of her own chains for her collections Duo and Flo, a challenge Gençoğlu says she loves. Her fine jewelry seeks to be both heirlooms and yet defy expectations, a duality she herself understands.
You want to honor the past but stand on your own.
“It’s a full-circle moment,” Gençoğlu says. “My uncle’s still here, my cousin’s over there, my brother is across from me.… I could have designed furniture, but I wanted to do this. I love spending time with my family, and we’re all under one roof.”
Top: Kloto founder Senem Gençoğlu studied industrial design at a prestigious U.S. art school, but when she visited her home in Turkey, the call of her family’s jewelry business was too strong to resist (photos courtesy of Kloto).@jckmagazine
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