In 1992, the city of Miami gained notoriety as a revolution of young people descended from around the world on South Beach to make it a coveted destination. At the time, a 27-year-old Turkish-German named Gonca Gul donned a pair of roller skates and passed out fliers with invites for parties on the beach.
Today Gonca has ditched the skates, but thanks to those early days she has gained a career as a successful stylist for prominent models like Heidi Klum and for music videos with artists such as Gloria Estefan, Celine Dion, Jennifer López and NSYNC.
You won’t hear her bragging much about these celebrities though, because Gonca would rather be recognized for her work and not the fame of those she’s helped look glamorous.
In Nosara, her dreamland, she is her own brand. About nine years ago, she started her own clothing line called Gonca Style. The designs are her own, produced by artisans in Bali. Each piece is handmade, and the fabrics are dyed chemical-free with minerals.
She sells her work at Bazzar in front of Hotel Harmony in Guiones, and she also has a Turkish restaurant, La Casa, on the same beach.
Those who know her say her essence permeates Guiones. A piece from her collection is easy to spot. “There’s something about it,” say those who wear her clothing. That something, says Gonca, is “my signature, my concept.”
Gonca has critics, particularly those who complain about the high prices – dresses range from $150 to more than $300 – but that doesn’t bother her, nor does it distract her from her dreams.
“Good work is expensive,” she says.
From the Ghetto to the American Dream
Gonca has wide eyes and a powerful gaze that she knows is intimidating. Her voice is soft and low, and conversation comes easily – in English, that is; she’s still a bit awkward with Spanish.
Her life wasn’t easy. She grew up in a Turkish ghetto in Germany, as she describes it. As a girl, she longed to become a mother. But by 27, her marriage had failed so she decided to set out in search of some fresh air.
She moved to Miami with her two young daughters, Dilara and Melise, now 26 and 28. There she began working as a promoter by passing out fliers, a job that earned her $10 an hour. While she worked, Johnny Dread, a well-known reggae singer who shared an apartment, watched over her daughters.
Doors began opening. Without thinking twice, she applied for a job as a model booker and began scheduling photo shoots with models and seeking out new clients.
“I knew everyone in the world. I went there and said, ‘I can do this job.’ They told me I had no experience, to which I responded, ‘I’m a quick learner.’ I had an interview with the owner of the agency who was impressed and gave me the job.”
Gonca says she has always welcomed change. After nine months at the agency, she grew restless with the office environment and began working as a production assistant. After a few months of photo shoots, she realized one important job was selecting clothing for shoots and making sure it looked good. When she found out that being a stylist paid $500 a day, she said, “I want to do that.”
Although she had no portfolio, she did have an agenda full of contacts. So she called the editor of Marie Claire magazine and landed an unpaid job for six months to build her portfolio. Once she had that, she set out to find a job.
“I’m very, very good at learning new things and understanding exactly what people want,” she says proudly.
Next she worked in the music video market where she not only met celebrities, but also the “love of her life,” husband Gunther Intelmann, or “Gunni,” as she has called him for the past 17 years.
To reach Gonca’s home in Culiacán de Ostional, visitors must battle one of those typical Guanacaste roads accessible only with four-wheel drive.
She loves driving up and down that road in her cream-colored Toyota Land Cruiser, but she also likes it because of the privacy for her home, a 50-hectare ranch she calls “Dreamland,” where no one else is around except her husband and friends who come to visit.
The home, which has few walls, is inspired by the architecture of the Greek Islands, she says. It has Moroccan arches and is decorated with a combination of relics and contemporary elements. The ocean breeze and the sounds of the jungle form the space’s soundtrack.
The view from her patio is one of the best in all of Ostional. Sitting here, she remembers visiting Nosara for the first time in 2000 while on vacation, when she immediately realized this is the place where she had always dreamed of living.
“We spent several years dreaming about this place. That’s why we call it ‘Dreamland,’” she says.
Gonca also has a few fears – losing her health, failing to launch a new line in her collection, losing her happiness alongside Guni – but in this place of promised dreams, those fears seem far, far away.
From her favorite terrace, the woman with a profound gaze and constant goals already has fulfilled many of her dreams. But she’s itching to start her next project just as much as she was back then, as a 27-year-old on roller skates.