On a recent afternoon, Maryam Nassir Zadeh slipped onto the roof of her miraculous all-white NoHo loft to talk on the phone about fashion and love. “In the past, I always had this tribe of female muses—all those girls who were my friends,” she said, referring to a coterie of women who percolate between the worlds of art, fashion, design, and media, like actress Hailey Benton Gates, designer Ana Kraš, and artist Maia Ruth Lee. “Of course they’re still important to me, but around March of 2018, it started to be the men who really inspired me.” Those men included her father; the stylist and photographer Thistle Brown; her ex-husband, Uday Kak; and “boyfriends, crushes, whatever,” she said. “They became the muses.”
Nassir Zadeh represents a hypnotic vision of downtown New York femininity—her crafty but refined shoes and handbags, along with her strangely sexy dresses and separates, have made her the influencer’s influencer. You can see her imprint all over womenswear brands that exist mostly on Instagram, but where those clothes feel manufactured, Nassir Zadeh’s feel anything but—they are imbued with emotion, an openness to the world, and a sensual creativity. Her materials and silhouettes suggest a mode of perennial relaxation, where sensitivity, romance, and a certain kind of spirituality merge. That, along with the spare store she opened in 2008 on the Lower East Side, have made Maryam Nassir Zadeh, like Rachel Comey and Phoebe Philo’s Céline, a womenswear brand that fashion-forward men tend to pay attention to.
Now they have more reason to do so: Nassir Zadeh is launching menswear, folding it into her spring 2021 women’s collection. She had always wanted to do menswear, she said: “Have you ever had this in life, where there’s a list of goals and dreams and things you want to do, and some of them totally drop off and you’re just like, What was I thinking? And then some of them you’re like, I still want to do that; it is so crazy that years have gone by and I’m still not doing that?” she mused. Menswear was on that list. (For the record: so is a store in LA, a store in Paris, a line of bed and bath linens, and a studio space where she can work with clothes in a more sculptural way—but all in due time.)
So even though, over the past few months, the pandemic forced Nassir Zadeh to scale back on both staff and physical space, “In my mind, and in my heart, it was more like, I have to do this, just because the world is changing so much that if I don’t commit to doing something that has been important to me, time will just keep slipping away.” Committed to producing less, she says the garments are intended to be unisex, a capsule within womenswear—and more in tune with how she’s dressing now, anyway. “Oversized things are so comfortable these days,” she said.
While Nassir Zadeh has a cerebral sensibility, she has a merchandiser’s pragmatism. She has a special knack for creating the boot or dress that a sophisticated woman wants, but is loathe to turn to a big fashion house for. That talent is on display in her menswear’s button-ups, gently sculptural, almost jewelry-like belts, and the perfect pair of baggy pleat-front trousers. “It’s a building block of basics, but a really refined building block—the right shape combined with the right fabric and color palette,” she said. “It’s definitely not going to be a trendy avant-garde thing, ever.” She’ll remake most of these pieces each season in different fabrics and colors, much as she does with her successful womenswear offerings.
Asked whether she felt it was a strange moment to put out something new, she said, “It’s such a weird time right now in retail. It’s hard to get noticed when there’s so much going on in the world; it feels hard to do something that feels more about yourself, you know what I mean? The world can’t stop, and we still have to have what makes us feel like we’re on a path, even though our paths are still changing.”
After all, it is biography that determines the shape of her output as much, if not more, than her market savvy. Her collections can be read as memoir as much as fabric. Work, she said, “doesn’t define me. It never has. My work is just a part of how I live life, you know what I mean? It’s not the most important thing at all. But for me, clothing is very personal. That’s why I feel there’s meaning in doing it, because I know that connection I feel with garments gives me a lot of joy and peace.” She relaxes by trying on clothes, she said. “It’s just like a meditation in a way—even though I also separately meditate.”
Significant in the collection’s manifestation was her relationship with Brown, her “very dear old friend and collaborator,” whose own wardrobe and sensibility Nassir Zadeh much admires. “It was such a fusion between Thistle and I,” Nassir Zadeh said. “I really see myself in him, and I feel he really sees himself in me.” She said they often find themselves packing the same clothes when traveling together. “It’s really beautiful when you find that, ‘cause I think it’s rare.” The two traveled to Turkey over the summer and shot the clothes on skateboarders she found through Instagram, with Brown working as stylist for the lookbook.
In the collection, she said, are also memories: of a skateboarder she was recently seeing; of her father’s “clean and classic” preppy look; and of her relationship with her ex-husband, whom she said “has a really unique sense of style,” and whose discarded clothes, “really rich in memory for me,” she has kept. Nassir Zadeh again reunited with Kak this past summer, describing the relationship as “an adventure,” saying that, “our story is an ever-evolving situation, because I feel we’re such soulmates, and we have such a history with each other and the kids. We’ve known each other for 15 years and we’ve been together for ten. As soon as we got divorced, literally two months later, we got back together. I can’t define us. It’s that sort of a thing where, when people are close, they’re sort of always going to be close, and as soon as you define it, it goes in the other direction.” She’s enjoying being divorced, she said. To “have the chance to be independent and have lovers or boyfriends or even just [to] be alone and be single, is the most inspiring thing ever. To feel there’s more loves to come.”
Clearly, such evolutions in her relationships shape the collections, as well. “I hope it’s well received,” she bubbled. “But I also don’t really care. You know what I mean?”
Originally Appeared on GQ