Uncovering Italy’s Superlatives in people, places and things

Nina’s world

Introducing Nina Yashar

Gallerist and design expert Nina Yashar has been championing new designers and a brand new world of interiors ever since founding the influential Nilufar Gallery in 1979.  Unusual antiques, mid-century masters, cutting-edge contemporary pieces, Nina has broken the ceiling as a design pioneer. Legendary Nilufar Gallery on Via della Spiga is considered one of the most influential and prestigious collectible design galleries for design, while the massive Nilufar Depot is a exhibition space, warehouse and art scene where she shares her own collection of vintage and contemporary pieces.  Yashar showcases historic greats alongside  rising stars, and then invites you into the conversation. We sat down with Milan’s Queen of Design to learn more.

Nilufar Gallery exhibition at Milan Design Week

Tell us how you came to start a design gallery in Milan.

NY: It wasn’t really a personal choice at the beginning, I spent my childhood in Iran and moved to Milano when I was 6. My father thought that Italy could be a good place for the family and the Mediterranean culture of warmth and hospitality. And after all I went to school here and one thing led to another… To be honest with you I love Milano, the energy that you breathe here, the fact that people come from all over the world for design, fashion, food – I love that energy. It just feels that things happen here, don’t get me wrong: I like travelling and participating in international fairs all over the world but I found my home and dimension here.

You started in the family business (carpets) and evolved to modern/contemporary design, can you tell us more?

NY: Yes, to be precise I started working for my father – first six months of my career. Then I felt like I had to do something on my own and I knew that the easy thing that he could approve was that I started my own activity with carpets, so I got a small gallery in via Bigli and I picked from his selection of pieces only the carpets that I thought were different and had something to tell. I had to compete with the big and established dealers so I knew from the beginning that I had to differentiate myself. And then one day, I don’t remember the year precisely but I was in the 80s, I was in NYC with my agent, scouting for carpets and I saw some amazing ones, designs that I had never seen before, I was told they were Scandinavian, I bought them all and decided I had to go there in person and see for myself. So I did, after a few months I was in Stockholm and had bought so many carpets already on the first day so I thought: now what? I loved the lines, the materials, the shapes of everything they did, they took me to a warehouse the day after and I ended up buying many furniture pieces from Alvar Aalto to Arne Jacobsen, and I didn’t even know. So you could say that it happened by chance, like many things in life.

How would you describe Nilufar Gallery?

NY: It’s a part of me, it reflects my personality and taste but it’s also a place where I want people to feel welcomed and at ease. But I also look for a sort of balance and harmony between the pieces, I love to have mid-century and contemporary in dialogue.

Nilufar Depot

Nilufar Depot is both showroom and exhibition space that you’ve said a place to “create cross temporal conversation”…

NY: Maybe this relates to the answer above, I wanted a space where things could happen let’s say. Meetings with people, gatherings, exhibitions, performances, fashion shows… I wanted to make things happen in a place filled with design history and also the future of design. I like to be surrounded by interesting people, creatives of all sorts, designers, artists and I wanted a place where if I ever had an idea I could make it happen. I’m well known for being stubborn and eclectic so I wanted a space that could fit with my personality and choices. As far as the cross temporal I guess that it’s important to have custody of the design history but it’s also important that we don’t treat them as in a museum, I want them to be used and to be seen in scenes where they acquire value if set with completely different pieces.

What is the one design piece you can never give up?

*Just take a look at Picked by Nina on Nilufar gallery*

You are known for launching to the world new and upcoming designers. Who are some we should be looking out for?

NY: Flavie Audi – Audi’s practice finds its point of departure within the manipulation of glass. Glass plays a crucial part, for the artist, in contemplating a speculative utopian future world where humans create cosmic fragments and new types of landscape formations.

Nilufar Depot

How do you view the relationship between craft and design? art and design? Are there boundaries?

NY: This is an interesting topic to discuss, it might be hard to get a satisfactory answer in just a few lines but I will try. Craft and design, well I don’t think that there could be design without crafts, it all started from there so I guess it’s a mandatory relationship. Of course industrial design has made gigantic steps forward but let’s not forget how it all started, there’s no future without the past this is certain. And in regards to art and design, you are talking with someone that deals a lot with collectible design so in some of the pieces I sell there’s a big mix of crafts (production techniques), design and art all in dialogue. I guess what really makes a difference it’s functionality: a sculpture pleases the eye but doesn’t serve you as a surface for dining for example. But I like to push these boundaries,  it really excites me.

How has Milan changed in the past four decades?

NY: Milano changed for sure, like all big cities and I think it did for the better. It grew consistently in the real estate sector, in the university and education sector and also for culture, and services that relate to health. I see so much growth and I don’t think it will stop, also and within bars, restaurants and free time spaces.

Interview by Erica Firpo.

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