Nina Yashar is the founder of Nilufar Gallery and Nilufar Depot, the Milan-based exhibition spaces that today are points of reference for design enthusiast from all over the world. On the occasion of Milano Design Week 2023, the Depot displayed a site-specific installation realised with Jali, the latest Mutina brick designed by Patricia Urquiola.
During our encounter, Yashar told us about the collaboration with the company, as well as retracing her career in design and explaining her creative vision. Furthermore, she revealed the names of some of the most interesting emerging designers.
Would you tell us about your career in design? How did this passion begun and develop?
It happened in an absolutely spontaneous way: during a trip in New York, I was struck by a Scandinavian carpet and I immediately decided to go to Sweden. There, I discovered the contemporary Nordic design and it was love at first sight. I was impressed by a style that I had never seen before, which was, in some way, questioning what I knew in terms of form and function. That’s when I realised that design is an art which unmistakably combines functionality and aesthetic, and I decided to dedicate myself to this subject ever since.
Is there someone that you consider a mentor?
I can’t choose only one person as my mentor. Of course I owe a lot to my dad and my family, especially for giving me the cultural and enterpreneurial foundations that allowed me to grow both as a person and professionally. During my career, I had the incredible luck to meet several people who inspired and guided me. I’ve learnt a lot from the designers and artists I had the pleasure to work with. I think it’s important to stay open to other people’s influences and perspectives, especially in the art field.
How much do you feel influenced by you Iranian origins in terms of creative vision? How to they intertwine with the stimuli and culture you have experienced in Italy?
My creative vision has surely been influenced by my origins. Iranian culture is rich in artistic and craft traditions, handed down from one generation to another. These aspects intertwined with the stimuli I experienced in Italy, creating a unique blend that influenced all my creative impulses. The combination of different cultural perspectives contributed in shaping my approach to design: a mix of tradition, avant-garde and innovation.
How would you describe your personal approach?
It focuses on attention to details, on the research of unique creations and balance between functionality and beauty. I am always searching for objects with a story to tell, able to evoke emotions. I like to curate every aspect, from the selection of the pieces to the presentation of the places where they are displayed. I try to create a space where art and design can dialogue and inspire people.
Would you tell us the history of Nilufar? When did you open the first space and how has it grew throughout the years?
Nilufar Gallery was born in 1979, when I open the first space in via Bigli, in Milan. Originally, it was focused on ancient carpets selected by the family business. Since the beginning, I started suggesting unusual exhibitions for that period, such as “La rosa nel tappeto”, a study on rose as an iconography in the carpets of my collection. At the end of the nineties, the gallery moved to via della Spiga, and the collection noticeably diversified after my journey in Sweden, at the discovery of Scandinavian carpets. In 1998, with the groundbreaking exhibition titled “Tappeti svedesi e mobili scandinavi”, I’ve introduced the juxtaposition – which is now recurrent – between furniture and carpets. Lastly, in 2015 I opened Nilufar Depot: once a silverware, now a point of reference among design enthusiasts all over the world, that provides an eclectic selection of unique pieces as well as a vast programme of cultural activities, ranging from exhibitions to private events. Still, the most intense period of the year is the Milano Design Week, it’s hectic and especially lively for both the gallery and the city.
How do the historic design icons and the most contemporary pieces dialogue within the gallery?
I always look for harmony between the different eras. Design has a history and a continuity that must be respected and celebrated. The icons are fundamental points of reference that contributed to shape the present, influencing the following generations. Their presence within the space represents a connection with the past, offering a historical perspective that nurture the experience of the gallery. At the same time, the modern design adds a new dimension, showing the evolution and the reinvention of the present.
Nilufar Depot, where we had the pleasure of exhibiting Jali by Patricia Urquiola during the last Milano Design Week, gathers both established names and young designers. In your opinion, what are the most interesting emerging talents at the moment? Why?
It’s been a pleasure to welcome this beautiful project. I think Patricia is really an amazing designer, I am always impressed by the way she can combine traditional and craft elements with contemporary techniques and materials. The Jali installation has been placed within Nilufar Depot, along with designers that have been especially selected on the occasion of Milano Design Week 2023.
I am always excited to discover new talents. At the moment, those who strike me for their originality are Maximilian Marchesani, Niccolò Spirito, Christian Pellizzari – who will realise a new project for Nilufar at Nomad Capri 2023 – and Audrey Large. Marchesani and Spirito fascinate me with their luminous creations, between nature and artifice, while Pellizzari and Large work between art and design, playing with materials such as glass and plastic, shaping unusual forms.
Do you remember the first time you get into contact with Mutina? What impressed you the most about our company?
Of course, I was fascinated by the craftsmanship of the products and the innovative approach. I’ve always been amazed by Mutina’s ability to combine tradition and technology, creating real modular works of art with the potential to expand into infinity.
What’s your favourite Mutina collection? Why?
Undoubtedly, it’s Déchirer by Patricia Urquiola. I am attracted by its bold aesthetic, inspired by the effect of torn old billboards on the walls of the city. The combination between colours and irregular textures create a dynamic visual effect. As well as Jali, which has also been created by Patricia for Mutina, this year at Nilufar Depot with the site-specific installation.
If you could work with any designer, from the present or the past, who would it be? What kind of project would you develop?
I’m sure I would have loved working with Gio Ponti, one of the most influential figures of Italian design in the twentieth century. He left an immeasurable heritage and I am fascinated by his eclectic and innovative vision. It would be great to develop a project by mixing his modernist and functionalist approach with contemporary elements.
This is why I like to work with designer and friend Martino Gamper, who tends to follow this experimental approach. In 2007, we developed “Gio Ponti translated by Martino Gamper" starting from pieces created by Gio Ponti for the Hotel Parco dei Principi in Sorrento in 1960, with the aim to renovate and give them a new life.
“The combination of different cultural perspectives contributed in shaping my approach to design: a mix of tradition, avant-garde and innovation.”