On a mission to banish boredom from interiors, design provocateur and gallerist Nina Yashar revels in all things peculiar and out-of-the-box.
Anyone who tries to put the look and lifestyle of Nina Yashar into a neat container will discover there is none. The term “dealer” doesn’t come close to describing her Milan-based business of selling and showing at the risky end of beautiful objects, ones not yet blipping on collectors’ radars. And her style is too clever a collage of esteemed but odd elements to be considered “eclectic” – a genre homogenized into stereotype.
No, a whole new taxonomy is needed for the Madonna of Milan design; one that nails her auteur ability to order pieces with an impressive provenance into suggestive settings, and her want to wear clothing that is so counter to prevailing trend it creates one.
In the speciﬁc matter of her dress – typically pitting femininity against feminism and futurism against historicism in a froth of beads, fur, tulle, turban, precious gem, platform shoe and pajamas set – Yashar mirrors the liberal intellectualism of her fashion bestie, Miuccia Prada. Both women trade on high cerebral values, radical variations from the norm, and Via della Spiga – Milan’s golden fashion thoroughfare, where for more than a decade Yashar has held court at Nilufar.
Named after the Farsi word for lotus, a symbol of her birthplace Iran, this three-level gallery (for want of more protean label) ratiﬁes Newton’s third law of opposites attracting across rooms implied by the space of precious rugs (the sole focus of both her father’s trade and her former business life).
Where the Nilufar gallery is her theatre of design, Nilufar Depot, in Milan’s industrial Derganino district, is Yashar’s rock arena. Launching in 2015, and enlarging the gallerist’s exhibition space by 1 500 sqm, it is the younger sibling that switches Nilufar’s signature scenographies up to full cinemascope. Here the masters – Gio Ponti, Jean Prouvé, Charlotte Perriand, Lina Bo Bardi et al – and such aspirants as Martino Gamper, whose 100 Chairs made it to museum plinths courtesy of Yashar’s patronage – have room to express. Their pairings ﬂush out unmade connections and crank up the volume on the beauty of diversity, which leads to the question of whether Yashar needs to dampen the aesthetic noise at home.
She started her search for a home 32 ago on the outskirts of Milan’s artsy Brera district where, accompanied by her mother, Yashar ﬁnancially committed to the ﬁrst place inspected. “I said to my mother, I do not want to see any more homes,” she says with a laugh. “She was shocked. I fell in love with the outdoor spaces; this home has four terraces.” While the pursuit of uncommon reward incurs high risk, Yashar believes that the most unbearable outcome is banality. “What could I do to make this house unusual,” she rhetorically asks of her real estate gamble. “That is the goal of my life, my obsession to always try to do something unique.”
Her search for singularity negated the use of Milan’s “named architects” – too busy turning the best Milan homes into damask-dressed mini hotels, she chides – and led to a meeting with Giancarlo Montebello, the haute jeweler famed for collaborating with the art-world likes of Lucio Fontana in the 1960s. She had spotted his work in a client’s home and insisted on knowing its maker. “Who did this incredible thing?” questions Yashar as she describes a precious orb-containing ring around a marble column. “It was something without reference, something so special. I started a conversation with Montebello; I said I would really love him to do an intervention in my home.”
Known for committing to those who push process to the edge of material possibility, Yashar dismissed the issue of Montebello’s sole experience on the micro scale and issued him the commission. “He proposed the most ancient technique in the world, the fresco,” she says of the pigment-on-wet-plaster process that necessitated the ruin of her pristine walls. “During the years they would change color. It means that it is something alive, always working, so we fell in love with this project.”
Not long into Montebello’s nine-month residency, which briefed for the ceilings as sky, Yashar woke to ﬁnd her living rooms plunged into midnight. They would ultimately layer with white to invoke the celestial sphere but her apprehension had to be voiced to Montebello: “I said ‘What are you doing to my home? I could never live with this kind of ceiling, so dark.’ But he was in a creative hold, so I couldn’t interfere. Inside of myself I was sure that the result would be right.”
Some three decades later, the rightness still proves and improves with an emotive potency across rooms optically inflated by a firmament glinting with traceries of Persian symbolism. It is the heaven to Yashar’s earth-bound idealization of a Moroccan palace – chalky pink walls, partial ribbed vaults, and archways amplifying the illusion. Montebello’s extraordinary evocation of atmospheres made a lifetime friend and fan of Yashar, who summarily grounded his meta spaces with a richness of rugs and pieces too personal to place on her gallery floor. She worked her ethos of design provocations in the dining room, mismatching the Swedish sobriety of a table by Bruno Mathsson and the Italian sensuality of Carlo Mollino’s rare 1950s Lutrario armchairs. These sexy seats whisper sweet nothings to the wall-hung layers of scarlet-marbled plastic by contemporary German artist Kerstin Brätsch.
The agreements and antagonisms drift into an adjacent sitting room, where Italian artist Grazia Toderi’s aerial photo of London at night – riffing on the firmament-reflecting city of Andria in Italo Calvino’s opus Invisiible Cities – speaks knowingly to Montebello’s sky and the field-of-green rug by Danish weaver Vibeke Klint.
The conversations continue over two levels, leaving no doubt as to whether Yashar needs aesthetic silence and the surety of “known” names at home. “No, no, you see I like a little bit of jumping,” she says of a lifetime spent vaulting into the void. “I am reckless, I take big, big risks.” But what is life without the leap? “It is boredom,” she intones, and bare white walls.
Originally published in the February 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia and on Vogue.com.au