Istanbul Insider: Textile Designer Madeline Weinrib Reveals Her Top Spots

Textile designer and former painter Madeline Weinrib has always embraced authenticity, in her own aesthetic and in her approach to color, pattern, scale and techniques that “favor hand over machine and tradition to automation.” These choices are reflected in her iconic rugs and textiles and in her collaborations with designers like Manolo Blahnik and such institutions as the Cooper Hewitt Museum, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), Neue Galerie, among others. Weinrib, an avid traveler and Indagare member, has worked with weavers, rug makers and artisans everywhere from Istanbul and Uzbekistan to Morocco, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt and Lebanon in the hopes of creating a joint language through design. Istanbul and its rich Ottoman history have long inspired her work, and the many connections she’s made over the years have kept her returning.

Here, she talks about what not to miss in Istanbul and Marrakech (especially now that she is a co-owner of El Fenn); her Heirloom Project with the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and more.

Plus, experience Istanbul's many hidden gems on Indagare's luxury small-group trip guided by interior designer and world traveler Serena Crawford (October 15 - 20, 2023). Click here to learn more and sign up, or email us at

Q&A with Madeline Weinrib: Renowned Textile Designer & Co-Owner of El Fenn, Marrakech

Madeline and Gunes Mutlu (Creative Director of Mehry Mu) at the Grand Bazaar. Photo courtesy Madeline Weinrib

Madeline and Gunes Mutlu at the Grand Bazaar. Photo courtesy Madeline Weinrib

What has drawn you back to Istanbul through the years?

“Istanbul is an extraordinary mixture of cultures between the East and West. I love it for its beauty, food, the rich Ottoman history and, above all, the wonderful people. I have many close relationships in Istanbul that I have developed over the years. And of course, what keeps me going back to Istanbul is my great love for the Grand Bazaar.”

With 61 covered streets and over 4,000 shops, Istanbul's Grand Bazaar is one of the largest covered markets in the world. What is on your shopping list when you visit the Grand Bazaar? Do you have any favorite shops?

“One of my favorite shops is Sivaslı İstanbul Yazmacısı, where you can find an array of new and vintage textiles. They have a wonderful selection of traditional fabrics and I have bought some very special pieces there. I also love to visit the antiques section of the Bazaar. One of my favorite jewelers, Mavi Kose, has a beautiful stall there. It’s a very tiny space and I rather think of it as a jewel box; you can find all kinds of antique pieces—beautiful amber beads and jewels from the Ottoman days. Every single one is a treasure. I’ve got to admit, I also adore all the kitschy local souvenir shops that you see when you first enter the Bazaar. I always find something to buy to bring back as souvenirs and gifts for friends. Take your pick and don’t forget to negotiate.”

What are your go-to spots in the city?

“Visit the stand-alone shop of legendary jeweler Sevan Bıçakçı. You’ll find that it’s filled with his magnificent jewels. The exotic Spice Bazaar (just a short walk from the Grand Bazaar) is always inspiring to visit, plus it houses one of my favorite lunch spots. Its upstairs restaurant, Pandeli, has lived there for more than a century. The original owner worked as a porter around the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar before he opened it. I love to have lunch there when I am in Istanbul. The menu consists of delicious traditional cuisine—and being surrounded by the exquisite turquoise tiles makes you feel like you are part of history.

In the evening, my husband and I have a favorite restaurant we go to called Balıkçı Sabahattin. It’s a charming, old-fashioned fish restaurant that is well-known and often frequented by local rug dealers. It’s a pleasant walk away from the Four Seasons Istanbul Sultanahmet, where we've stayed for years. The neighborhood  is rich in history and has long been our favorite area in the city. There, you will also find the Topkapi Palace and other wonderful museums.”

What does your perfect day in Istanbul look like?

“When traveling, my perfect day always includes a visit to an artist or designer studio. On my last trip to Istanbul, I had the pleasure of visiting Fy-shan Glass Studio, which has ready-to-make pieces as well as bespoke. I saw a gorgeous custom glass bar (in the pictures above) that Fy-shan made for a customer. I myself would like to customize a chandelier—now that’s my idea of a perfect souvenir.

I feel very lucky to be in Istanbul during the Biennial, which is a contemporary art exhibition that the city has held since 1997. It is a terrific event that takes place all over town. I was in town for the first Biennial, and it is wonderful to visit the contemporary art installations in historical buildings—a beautiful interaction of the centuries.

I recently spent the day with the very stylish local Gunes Mutlu, Creative Director of Mehry Mu, which makes artisanal handbags. We met for lunch with some of Gunes’s friends at a fabulous restaurant across the way, called Karakoy Lokantas, a very chic place filled with locals and delicious food. Be sure to order the meze! Did I mention that Turkish food is a favorite of mine?

Gunes then took me to this wonderful shopping area across from the restaurant, called Postanesi Galataport İstanbul, where they have lots of up-and-coming Turkish brands—many of whom I did not know before. I found a jeweler, Avedis Kendir, who has a beautiful shop. Absolutely every piece caught my eye. I recommend a visit to all jewelry lovers!”

You helmed the Heirloom Project at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which celebrates the museum's reimagined Islamic wing. How did this support artisans around the world? Do you have plans to grow the Heirloom Project?

“The Heirloom Project began during Covid when we were all shut down and many artisans were out of work. I was completely thrilled and honored when I was invited to be the Creative Director for this program. It was wonderful to reach out to artisans and designers in the Islamic world to share in this wonderful collaboration, which celebrated the Islamic wing's 10th anniversary. We were able to represent craftspeople from Morocco, Tangier, India and Jordan, who create various pieces of work—anything from handwoven and embroidered scarves to purses made with traditional wood marquetry and inlay techniques. Participating in this project brought a lot of joy and pride to most of the people.

I am very excited that the Met Heirloom Project will have a pop-up store at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas this spring. There will be the products that are part of the Met’s Heirloom Project, as well as many more new and exciting collaborations. There is a special collection I made in collaboration with Mehry Mu handbags, which Gunes Mutlu and I worked on together when I was in Istanbul.”

As the co-owner of El Fenn, you spend a lot of time in the Marrakech. What are some of your hidden gems in the city?

“There are many hidden gems in Marrakech that are very close to El Fenn in the Medina. I love being in the Medina and all its mystery, and supporting some of the local rug shops that have survived there for several generations. Moroccan rugs are so popular now, and widely imitated, but nobody makes them better than the weavers of Morocco. They are all unique and special, like works of art. Two local rug dealer families are Soufiane Zarib and Bazar du Sud.

A lovely five-minute walk from the hotel is the women’s co-op Alnour, which is one of my favorite shops in the Medina (or in Marrakech, or anywhere). Alnour provides work and support for special needs women who are trained to work in traditional embroidery. Their work is exquisite, and I have now worked with them on many projects including the Heirloom Project for the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Les Jardins is nearby, for lunch in the Medina. Inside the restaurant, there is a stairway leading to Norya Ayron, a boutique with wonderful caftans. But just in case you can’t get there, we also sell them in the El Fenn boutique.

Can you tell us about El Fenn’s recent hotel extension?

“An exciting part of the new extension is a charming new café, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It has a fabulous bar and an installation by Hassan Hajjaj. He is one of my favorite Moroccan artists. We have also added 10 beautiful new rooms. They are a work in progress, like all the interiors of El Fenn, which are always evolving and layered with art, textiles and design. Did I mention we have a beautiful new pool on the roof? We have also expanded our shop and have lots of new things in store, including a collaboration with the now-local fashion designer Romeo Gigli.”

Lightning Round

What’s always in your carry on?

I always carry my I Pezzi Dipinti shawl, which is beautifully made. It rolls up into a tiny ball so I can keep it in my bag, and it is warm as toast. Lately, I travel with Ursa Major face wipes, which I have discovered keeps me feeling fresh. I really need this during those long flights.

Travel uniform? My mother would be horrified because I was raised to dress for travel. Now when I travel, I’m really dressed for bed. Sweatpants, sneakers, no makeup—and I hope I don’t bump into anyone I know!

Travel hack? This might sound old-fashioned, but I just can’t imagine traveling without a pad and pencil in my bag.

Favorite souvenir? My entire home is filled with souvenirs I’ve brought back from travels. My husband’s travels as well! Our home is layered with our own stories.

How has travel impacted your life? I have had a traveling bug all my life, and it is so exciting that the world is so open and travel has become so available. Being able to travel and explore other cultures opens our ability to see, smell, hear and taste things that we normally take for granted, until we visit a faraway place. Travel makes you feel very alive in the most profound way.

What destination are you visiting next? Mexico City! I am excited because the city has become a great destination for both art and design. I just love the food there. I really cannot wait to go.

Plus, experience Istanbul's many hidden gems on Indagare's luxury small-group trip guided by interior designer and world traveler Serena Crawford (October 15 - 20, 2023). Click here to learn more and sign up, or email us at

Contact Indagare or your Indagare Trip Designer to plan your next visit to Istanbul.

Published onApril 26, 2023

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