Maryam Nassir Zadeh is a pioneer. Cultivating a new sensibility, and empowering women in a new way, she has become somewhat of a figurehead of New York’s downtown creative scene. Her online retail experience, showroom and clothing line are a staple reference point and a must-have purchase of every hyphenate “creative type” in the city. Anti “big brand”, and the agenda that often comes alongside that trope, Maryam’s unique approach to retail has been a breath of fresh air to a saturated, commercial industry; offering a rawness and realness with the authentic, modern woman at the forefront.
This week’s film is an amalgamation of Maryam Nassir Zadeh’s brand ethos. Directed by Zoë Le Ber, an active member of both Semaine and Maryam’s intertwining networks (and whose name you’ll recognise from past Semaine productions such as ‘The Emperor’ and ‘Galatea’). It celebrates a mother-daughter relationship and the euphoria of finding freedom within yourself when making certain decisions.
Founding the brand in 2008, straight from her studies of textiles at Rhode Island School of Design, Maryam is now known globally for her contradictory, impactful yet simple designs, “the MNZ woman is an individual who is strong and creative, who has a sensitivity for beauty and design” she tells us. “She has pride in her life, she's pushing to express herself and wants to add to the beauty of the world.” Not hedonistic in their emphasis on the individual at the heart of the brand, but emphasising a consciousness of the clothing and the consequent lifestyle that some women really want.
Maryam’s signature aesthetic is hugely coveted; to be included in her shopping curation and selected as a concession on her well-known site - where she showcases numerous like-minded brands alongside her own - is a benchmark moment for both old and new brands alike. Her roster of designers includes Jacquemus, Sophie Buhai and Eckhaus Latta - many up and coming trailblazers who Maryam formed a relationship with when they were at their grassroots and all with distinctly abstract yet familiar aesthetics akin to that of Maryam Nassir Zadeh.
A quick browse on the site or a quick jaunt into the showroom and you’ll find a unique discourse of vintage references with current shapes and fabrics, a fusion of classic and clean combined with unexpected colour, shape or texture to “make for something personal” as Maryam describes. And it is from a personal place, though, that her love for good design comes. “My grandmother is my biggest life inspiration, in July she turns 90.”
In the 70’s Maryam’s grandmother opened her own boutique in Iran called ‘Mimi’, it was revolutionary for its time. She designed hats and would sell them alongside imported items from her visits to artisans in Italy and France and, in a similar way to how Maryam innovates her displays now, she found ingenious ways to show every item. With Maryam’s grandfather, who was the military attaché of Iran in London, “they would often go to parties to visit the queen and in Iran, she would design clothes for Queen Farah of Iran.“
It is, therefore, no coincidence that when Maryam went to stay with her grandparents, when she was in high school, the magic of her grandmother rubbed off - this was when Maryam first learned to sew and they created a whole collection together over the course of one summer break “she taught me patience and process and how possible it is to make something out of nothing. All these lessons have informed my own lifestyle and process.”
Seeing the world through Maryam’s eyes is a charming pleasure where beauty is seen and emphasised in the ordinary. Through her lens, basic pieces become luxury items as she iterates the familiar into something new and shows it in a new way.
Though she is a frequent traveller, Maryam’s creative base is in New York City. “What I love about NYC most is that everything is at your fingertips, all the best people are so near… there is such a strong community of like-minded people who have common interests and vision for lifestyle.” Her main inspirations are the things she is yet to learn and the different quirks in culture and people that make us all different - all qualities that are rooted in Maryam’s own identity which is perhaps why she is so keen to build others up through the shopping platform that she has built, alongside her own brand.
Pursuing authenticity, Maryam collaborates with people that inspire her on an aesthetic and - more importantly - on an intellectual and emotive level; like the designer and past tastemaker Ana Kras, who frequently walks in her New York fashion week shows, or the lead in this week’s film, designer and model Camilla Deterre or artist Susan Ciancolo who we also meet in this week’s film. “What I see in them is their uniqueness, authenticity, their beauty and talent, and I see something that I want to celebrate, highlight and appreciate”. Maryam strives for representation of all types of women; of every ethnicity and age bracket. She chooses individuals that offer creativity in different aspects of culture - not because of their social media pull.
Although Instagram is obsessed with Maryam, Maryam isn’t overly concerned by the platform, even as a tool to discover new brands. “When I discover something I love I either cross paths with it or they approach me in an organic way… For me, social media is more about sharing my story and actually connecting with friends, and less about being commercial.”
Maryam is present, and she presents the world in her own way that just so happens to be exactly what we want to follow and invest in. But negotiating the desires of a consumer and forming trends doesn’t come without trials and tribulations - to that, however, Maryam has some advice for you…advice that she actually offers to herself if she knew what she knows now when starting the company.
“Go slow, stay focused and don't assume. Business needs attention and support, everything is alive and constantly changing, so with that change we need to be aware and present so we can shift with the changes. Business is like a baby, it needs constant love and dialogue.”
Stay ahead with Maryam, and see the world through her informed eyes, only on Semaine this week.
By Kezia Navey for Semaine.
Photography Sally Griffiths & Gillian Garcia