Nilufar’s Nina Yashar: A new language of design within the realm of art

January 18th, 2023
Written by:
Nikolai Kotlarczyk

Nina Yashar, founder of Nilufar. Portrait by Mattia Iotti. Photo courtesy of Nilufar.

Bringing Milanese style to the world and global design to Milan, Nina Yashar has been at the helm of Nilufar Gallery since its inception in 1979. From their origins as a specialist in Oriental and European rugs in the 70’s and 80’s, through to its transformation into one of the design world’s leading proponents of collectible contemporary and historical furniture, lighting and objects, Yashar’s insatiable appetite for discovering practitioners of unique craft has led to a cult-like status for Nilufar.

Since 2015 Nilufar has been spread over two Milanese locations – Nilufar Gallery in the heart of Milan and Nilufar Depot on the outskirts of the city. Enjoying her role as design scout, Yashar is constantly on the move between gallery locations, global design fairs and visiting her collaborators across Europe. It is this freedom that allows Yashar to constantly evolve the gallery – soaking up new experiences and cultures, evident within the rich multi-layered output of the gallery. She is not afraid to collaborate with established design stars or newly graduated up-starts. The constant – as Yashar elaborates on, is working with designers that offer a clear and original reflection of the present.

“Lately, I’ve been more and more interested in those who are able to speak a new language of design that breaches within the realm of art. Those that are looking for alternative production methods, the development of new materials. All the contemporary designers we collaborate with speak at the same time of the present and the future of design.”

Nilufar Depot. Photo courtesy of Nilufar.
Nilufar Gallery. Photo by Mattia Iotti. Courtesy of Nilufar.

Nilufar’s recent presentation at Design Miami highlighted this focus, with the work of two young designers taking centre stage; Audrey Large and Khaled El Mays. Presented side by side, the pairs individual work speaks of Yashar’s ability to meld inspirations and time periods, whilst staying utterly contemporary. El Mays Lotus series took inspiration from traditional marble carving techniques, re-contextualising them in a way that was grounded in the present rather than an act of nostalgia. Contrastingly to El-Mays’ use of a centuries old material in marble, the work of Large focuses on digital image manipulation and 3D printing to present a collection that could only be produced in our current time. This shifting of materiality, time periods and influences is something explored even further within her gallery spaces as Nilufar constantly mixes classical design pieces with contemporary.

“For me, it is important to value the past in order to understand the present: everything is always a result of a specific context… it is incredibly interesting from an aesthetic viewpoint: sometimes it is hard to recognise what is older and what is newer, and playing with that confusion enriches our understanding.”

Nilufar Depot. Photo courtesy of Nilufar.
Nilufar Depot. Photo courtesy of Nilufar.
PIERO lamp by Vibeke Fonnesberg Schmidt. Photo courtesy of Nilufar.

This position also speaks of Yashar and Nilufar’s relationship with Danish and Scandinavian design throughout the decades – from Finn Juhl, Hans Wegner and Poul Kjærholm to contemporary Danish designer-maker Vibeke Fonnesberg Schmidt. A long-time collaborator of Yashar’s, the lighting designs of Fonnesberg Schmidt combine influences and time-periods through layered constellations in custom toned plexiglass. While touching on the expression of Italian design and the shapes and forms of 60’s counterculture, the geometric sensibilities of Fonnesberg Schmidt’s creations hark-back to her Danish roots and education – this effortless mixing of design epochs mirroring the eclectic vision of Nilufar that has fostered and grown their collaboration.

“I have so much admiration and respect for Danish design; each design movement had and has its own reason to be, but Danish design has created a whole style, new understanding and role of the practice that is totally unique, a genre in itself. Contemporary designers such as Vibeke [Fonnesberg Schmidt] are able to perpetuate and shift this genre to the present, whilst remaining true to its tradition.”

IVI Table Light by Vibeke Fonnesberg Schmidt. Photo courtesy of Nilufar.

While this re-imagining and re-contextualisation is central to the work of her collaborators, Yashar applies this to how she runs Nilufar – constantly evolving the galleries output and vision since its inception back in the late 70’s. The next addition adds to this legacy of evolution with the development of the Nilufar Collection in 2023. Alongside one-off and limited works, this new collection will allow Yashar’s unique mix of designers, mediums and inspirations to become available to more design-lovers into the future, and continue her commitment to inspire and translate functionality as an art form of its own.