Maryam Nassirzadeh’s eponymous boutique on Manhattan’s Lower East Side has been a mecca for fashion’s creative-intellectual class since 2008. And while the lo-fi-style set still converges on Maryam Nassir Zadeh at 123 Norfolk for her impeccably curated selection of avant-garde luxury and new designer discoveries, the hottest item in stock isn’t J.W.Anderson or Jacquemus; it’s her own brand. “I feel like I am rethinking everything now,” she admits. “I always knew I had to start again.”
After graduating with a degree in textiles from RISD, Nassirzadeh built her own line of collaged and embroidered one-off t-shirts based in Los Angeles from 2002 to 2005, selling to influential retailers like Barneys New York, ikram in Chicago, and Liberty in London. After realizing she needed more technical design skills to further expand a brand, she moved to New York to study at Parsons in 2006. But even after graduation, it still took time to build the confidence to start designing. “For two years I was behind a sewing machine and sketching, but right after I started the store, I didn’t touch anything. Not even a ruler. I was loving buying and styling, but I felt guilty for not designing. There was fear, because I felt intimidated and pressured, in a way. But I think when something is really close to you, you just know in your gut what you want to do and how you want to do it.”
So she did it. No rules. No pressure. No fashion calendar. Simply making a few pieces for herself to wear and to sell in the store. Her designs did so well she brought them to her showroom, which represents indie hits like Martiniano shoes and Lauren Manoogian ready-to-wear, for a sales and PR push. Having launched her brand in 2013, Nassirzadeh’s current biggest sellers are her shoes, which have become 60–70 percent of her store’s business. They can be found at NastyGal as well as on the feet of Vogue fashion editors. “I feel really proud that the shoes are commercial,” says Nassirzadeh, who produces her footwear in Turkey and her clothing in New York. “It makes me feel like a smart business woman. With my clothes I’m really controlled and seeking that fine, luxurious sensibility, but with my shoes I am not so attached. I can learn to accept it as something I believe in, and it doesn’t have to be perfect.”
And yet, to any stylish woman with a lifestyle on the go, the beautifully simple, 1960s-inspired footwear with low, square heels is perfect. They have it all: versatility and elegance, comfort and charm, simplicity and sophistication. “I was attracted to this shape and felt like it needed to be out there,” she says. “It was about creating my dream shoe vibe.”
Retro modernism is the essence of Nassirzadeh’s aesthetic, but exquisite taste defines it. She cites queens of forever style like Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy and Lee Radziwill as muses along with a close-knit crew of female confidants, including her mother, who grew up and lived in London during the 1960s. “She was fond of clean, almost geeky style with beautifully tailored, high-waisted skirts, printed button-ups, gold jewelry, and big sunglasses or a denim bikini with huge bell-bottoms and a thin belt,” Nassirzadeh says. “She almost looked like a nerd, but now, it feels so strong.”
Other sources of inspiration include Daphne Javitch, a creative consultant and founder of TEN Undies. “Her sense of lifestyle inspires me,” she explains. “It’s so open and transparent and down to earth, and her style is impeccable and really her own. It’s timeless and chic, but then she gets into playful things.” There’s also Ana Kras, a Serbian artist, who Nassirzadeh says “has this old world thing, she almost looks like a movie actress from the 1960s. She is very sophisticated.”
Nassirzadeh says the women she designs and buys for have an understated mentality. “I feel like the intelligent woman is about simplicity, and I think they get that I am not trying too hard to design. Hopefully it’s more about the vision, the world, and the mood around the clothes. Clothing isn’t just something that is beautiful and attractive; it’s really a lot about the story and how everything works together. It is a personal message for me. How everyone else approaches it is personal to them.”
Nassirzadeh’s world—which she documents regularly for her 40,000-plus followers on Instagram—revolves around her husband, who co-owns the store, their two daughters, a crew of inspiring female friends, and plenty of international travel. Not one for runway shows, Nassirzadeh traveled to Cuba to shoot a fashion film to promote her Fall 2015 collection. Set to a stark, soft piano melody, Kras and Andrea Takuri—another of Nassirzadeh’s friend-muses—move, walk and dance around Havana’s vibrant, time-warped streets. “We went to Cuba not knowing where we would shoot, who and how we would shoot,” she says. “It all became a big adventure and everything came together, which was a big concept for this collection: the process of taking a risk and being spontaneous as your most natural self. From the girls dancing and moving to my husband filming all in the moment, it felt very much a celebration of how people express themselves.”
The collection itself features the off-kilter classicism and eye-catching, muted coloring Nassirzadeh does so well. Her feeling for naturalism and spontaneity come through in soft, transparent materials and easy shapes that welcome personal movement like circle skirts, rounded pockets and shoulders, bell sleeves and wide-leg cropped trousers.
“When you dress yourself it tells a story of your attitude and your spirit. It’s a part of you, and I think it’s beautiful how people do things in different ways.”
— MARYAM NASSIRZADEH
Even without knowing Nassirzadeh’s personal appreciation for smart, cool and intelligent women, it’s easy to see that her clothes are made to celebrate the women wearing them. “When you dress yourself, it tells a story of your attitude and your spirit,” Nassirzadeh says. “It’s a part of you, and I think it’s beautiful how people do things in different ways. It’s so nice when you can connect with someone’s way of doing things. Then you can kind of trust and follow them because you relate to them. I love the idea of ‘go-tos,’ something that gives you pleasure or someone to connect to, someone where you’re just like, ‘I get this.’” Maryam, we so get it.