Nina Yashar has frequently been called Milan’s most glorious design goddess, and the exaltation is word perfect. Her gallery Nilufar in the city’s sparkling Via della Spiga brims with the sort of mid-century furniture gems from Gio Ponti, Ettore Sotsass and Carlo Molino for which you’d gladly forfeit your existing home’s entire contents, plus a selection of newly minted product from hot, young designers she has discovered, such as Bethan Laura Wood, Martino Gamper and Massimiliano Locatelli.
Yashar is on top of the global design pyramid, but there’s much more to this formidable woman than her impeccable eye and nose for talent. Tehranese by birth, Milanese by breeding, she is a rare style authoritarian: an exotic creature who commands Milan’s uneven cobblestones from the five-inch lift of Louis Vuitton platform sandals, her wild curly hair tamed by a colorful turban.
Wearing one of her signature two-piece skirt sets custom-made for her by her faithful tailor, she’ll boldly throw on a Vietnamese apron, perhaps a crystal-crusted Prada duster coat or a pastel-striped Miu Miu ski jacket—the kind that looks like it was designed for a 10 year old on Mammoth Mountain in 1978.
Yashar’s cacophony of color, sparkle, and fashion pizazz is just as brash as any runway and ignites the conservative, grey streets of Milan. In fact, La Nina deftly straddles the bourgeois world of ultra-conservative Milanese social salons (those run by her clients and good friends like Miuccia Prada, for example) and the avant-garde world of racy nightclubs, youthful street style and risqué contemporary art.
“I hate old people,” she declares in her typically frank fashion. “I love being around what’s new.” Usually what’s new is hanging from her earlobes and impressively oversized. La Nina epitomizes good taste, yet flirts seductively with the boundaries of “bad taste,” dipping frequently into the countercultural and the slightly naughty.
At her home, a five-minute drive from the city center, her rousing tornado of formal and informal, high-end and low-end, comes to life in a two-floor attic apartment with lovely surrounding terraces.
Though her dining room boasts 12 perfect-condition 1950s Carlo Mollino red leather chairs, Yashar prefers to take her meals with her husband in the cozy den on 1950s banquet couches covered in emerald cotton velvet while watching martial arts movies. “It reminds me of Nepentha in the 1970s!” she exclaims, referring to one of Milan’s hottest historic discos.
Climbing up a hidden staircase tucked discreetly behind the den’s fireplace are—count this— two fully furnished dressing rooms, one of which is wrapped door to door, floor to ceiling, in silk “Antiche Rovine” fabric from Prada’s 2004 collection. Yashar coaxed her dear friend Miuccia to hand it over for a design exhibit she organized in Paris in 2013 and then re-purposed the fabric back home. “She went crazy when she saw it,” La Nina says of La Signora’s reaction. “She loved it!” With a fringed lamp by Hans Agne Jakobsson, a contemporary Iranian carpet underfoot and a Paolo Buffa red velvet armchair, Yashar’s first closet beckons you to remove your shoes and pick up a novel for a leisurely afternoon. The other dressing area is just as civilized. With glass-fronted closet cases forming a border around a marble-top Biedermeier table, an Ico Parisi chair, a Gio Ponti chair and a round antique Chinese carpet, you could easily be convinced to sit down for breakfast.
Both closets are packed with print, color, piles of Vietnamese aprons, and ornate Prada silk duchesse coats that look like well-trimmed birthday cakes. But the shapes are simple—long straight skirts, pajama-style shirts, boxy jackets, cocoon-y coats—and recurrent, thanks to Yashar’s tailor. “I used to wear a lot of Saint Laurent in the 1980s, but my dream now is to wear only uniforms,” she declares. She picks up many of her fabrics while on travels in Thailand or Vietnam.
Though the content is high-caliber, and the merchandise undoubtedly precious, the feeling around La Nina and her treasures is deeply relaxed. Her enormous collection of shoes (mostly platforms) is tossed casually in a closet in the back of her bathroom. Her dressing and night tables are crowded with bottles, books, jewels and memorabilia, all meant to be touched, stroked and spontaneously twisted into whatever whim the Mistress of the home fancies.
“I never plan, I never take time, I just put on whatever I feel like and go out the door,” she says, while donning a satin and crystal-crusted pink and burgundy Miu Miu coat printed with a flaming-wheeled Hot Rod, over an apron and two-piece pink and peach skirt suit. “Ciao ragazzi, I’m off to the Galleria!”
– J.J. Martin