Gen by Figen Ozdenak is changing the way women shop, one silky charmeuse dress at a time. This little gem of a store in downtown Excelsior was opened in November 2013 by husband-and-wife team Tuncay and Rachel Ozdenak. Tuncay’s sister, Figen (pronounced Fee-gen) Ozdenak is a famous Turkish designer who’s been itching to break into the American fashion world.
These elegant, classically designed pieces can only be found at the Water Street boutique, formerly home to Omorphia.; the next closest shop to find these fashionable options requires a trip to Europe.
“I wanted to open a restaurant but my sister told me a retail business would be easier,” Tuncay says, laughing. “I think she was right.”
Figen, a single mother, launched into the Turkish fashion industry in a rags-to-riches tale. She began her ascent with partners, but it wasn’t long before she broke away and began her own brand.
Tuncay explains that his last name is well-known in Turkey, as his four brothers played professional soccer there in the 1970s and 1980s. Being an Ozdenak helped Figen begin her business, but she did the grunt work, “making a name for herself right away,” Tuncay says. “Soon, she was dressing Tansu Ciller, the first and only woman prime minister in Turkey.”
Offering clothing in sizes 2 to 16, Figen travels to France, Italy and India in search of fabrics. Then she and her small team design and sew all the pieces in her Istanbul studio.
“Typically there is a very limited production with each piece,” Tuncay explains. “Only a few pieces are created. So you really will be the only person wearing that dress.”
Gen’s retail space, right next to Jake O’Connor’s, has already captured the hearts of many customers, including one who travels almost 100 miles to shop here.
“One of our first customers was a farmer from Willmar who wanted quality pieces that would last for years,” Tuncay says. “She bought a couple things and has been our most-repeated customer. She said she finally found a place to shop that’s closer than Chicago!”
Another customer, Natalie Hagemo, blogger and radio personality on My Talk 107.1, was walking her dog in Excelsior when she was drawn to the new shop.
“The quality is amazing. It’s so soft and so comfortable,” Hagemo says. “It really puts Excelsior on the map for fashion and retail boutiques.”
Fabulous Turkish designs aren’t the only tradition the husband-and-wife-duo brought to town: They also serve Turkish tea and coffee in the shop.
“In Turkey, every town has a bunch of tea and coffee cafes that just cater to the retail businesses, so those stores can offer it to their customers,” Rachel Ozdenak says. “People are so generous and hospitable. We wanted to extend the same generosity to our customers here.”
Though the Ozdenaks are new in town (they moved to Minnesota, Rachel’s home state, from Los Angeles), there’s one familiar face in the store: Cynthia Rae Magnuson, owner of the former Excelsior boutique, who offers fashion expertise.
“People don’t realize how forgiving and beautiful these pieces are,” Magnuson says. “They’re transformational. Really, they’re stunning.”
“Every person who tries on a dress, buys it,” Tuncay adds.
The Ozdenaks hope to expand their store into areas like the North Loop or 50th and France—and maybe even to Chicago and New York.
With new shipments coming in every month or so, Gen by Figen caters to the people and style of Minnesota—because whether we’re bundled up in blizzards or out at the lake, we’re a classy bunch. //
Gen by Figen Ozdenak
206 Water St., Excelsior