Yara Flinn does not follow trends. As a young American fashion designer, almost every aspect of the way in which Flinn runs her womenswear label Nomia, is surprisingly alternative to the majority. Take for example her brand’s headquarters. Rather than flocking to Manhattan’s fashion district like her colleagues, Flinn set up camp in New York’s epicenter of cool, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Once inside the ground level design studio, you will again notice distinctions in the way in which Flinn works. On my own invitation, I was on a straightaway mission to find her source of inspiration. As I was trying to do so, Flinn assured me that there was no mood board to be found and furthermore, that there never will be.
She told me she does not draw inspiration from people, places or objects, but instead it’s the colors, textures, and utility what push her to create. Under her work desk, where you would expect to find a pair of heels stored for professional happenings, you are more likely to come across sports paraphernalia. That day, I found a basketball. Remarking on the environment she chooses to produce her work in, it’s easy to see why her garments end up looking so incredibly cool. And to my pleasure, like her brand, Yara Flinn herself is exceptionally cool. It was a grey and muggy day when I met up with Flinn at her design studio. Upon our first introduction, she immovably confessed she had forgotten all about our meeting. In her nonchalant and effortlessly chic style only few can master, I could barely tell. A tall, thin and tanned, Flinn gorgeously appeared in a tailored navy blue dress that featured an interesting embroidered snake across the chest. She paired the look with Adidas slip on sandals. An uncommon match, Flinn easily made the outfit work. Her casually chic aesthetic is one that all of us put a lot of effort into emulating, for her it’s nothing. Luckily, the clothing collections she creates for Nomia allow all women to put little effort into looking that chic. On a warm day she sat and chatted with me about all those things surrounding Yara Flinn: Nomia, fashion and art, sport, and rap.
So how long have you had Nomia for?
Six years. Yeah, it’s been a while, but I kind of tend to say that it’s only been really a fuller collection since 2009. In that case, it would be four years of full collections.
How did you get it started?
I got it started kind of by accident…in the sense that I didn’t really know what to do. I was working at Prada’s Art Foundation and I kind of had a feeling that I wanted to try something different. So, I made a couple of pieces. I actually had no formal design training. My background is in art. I made a few dresses. One of them my friend Pam Love wore to a meeting with some Barney’s buyers and they asked her about it and she told them about my collection, which didn’t even really exist yet. So in a way it felt like it was fate pushing me, because I’m not a very risky person. So, I guess having that little push helped me a lot.
Apparently, you’ve done some great work. Can you tell me what Nomia is? What does it mean?
It’s a nymph. It’s the name of a nymph in Greek mythology.
Are you Greek?
I am not. I am half Brazilian and half American, but my name Yara is actually the name of a mermaid in Brazilian Indian Myth and I felt like it’s kind of appropriate to be this alluring yet powerful female symbol so it made sense to me.
So when you’re producing clothes for Nomia, what inspires your designs?
I’m inspired by many different things. I’m inspired by sports a lot, as well as by art and music. Personally, what’s really interesting to me is to explore. As a designer I like to explore the tension between masculinity and femininity- that space where it’s tomboyish but still alluring, feminine, and definitely very modern. That’s definitely what I strive for.
So then who is the woman you design for?
I think women who gravitate towards arts and towards themselves; they probably work in a creative field such as design or in a gallery, things like that. Honestly though, I’ve found a very varied audience. I just think that people who are attracted to newer designers tend to be experimental by nature so that’s who I generally design for.
Do you still do anything in the art industry?
No, I don’t. Not really. This takes up all of my time! But, I do like to collaborate. I collaborated with an artist, Nate Loman, on some jackets and this dress actually (points to the dress she’s wearing) and doing videos and stuff like that. I like working with other people. This is creative for sure, but that’s another aspect I really enjoy.
Of course! So if you didn’t end up falling into this what would you be doing?
I don’t think I fell into this by mistake, I just think it was like someone pushing you a little bit more than you’d want to push yourself, but if I weren’t doing this? I mean honestly, in reality I have no idea. In fantasy, I’d be a rapper. That’s literally what I would do. Not if I were me, but if I could do anything in the world I would love to be a rapper. I think that would be the coolest!
Do you listen to a lot of hip-hop music?
Yeah, a lot! Haha.
Who are your favorites?
I really like Cam’Ron and I really like Pusha T. I love Pusha T. I like people who have a very unique style. I think it is something that reflects in the way I design… I don’t like trends and I don’t like pop culture, so I tend not to listen too much to very popular rap or very popular music. I prefer individuality and people who follow their own instinct. That’s what’s interesting to me and that’s what I try to do with Nomia, have a style that’s uniquely Nomia’s. Obviously, you can’t ignore trends totally, but I definitely don’t put a focus on it.
So then who are your favorite fashion designers?
Helmut Lang is definitely my favorite fashion designer. I also really like Phoebe Philo and Raf Simons. Raf Simons is a huge idol for me. They all have a very unique and recognizable style, but it’s not like over the top. It’s just their own and I think that’s really cool because it outlasts time. If I look back at a Helmut Lang collection from 1998, the clothes are still cool today. There might be a few details that identify as 90’s but other than that it’s not tied to a specific time and place.
Yeah, their pieces are classic. So, have you been following what Raf Simons has been doing for Dior? What do you think of it?
I have. I think it’s beautiful. I personally like his namesake men’s collection better or I find it more interesting, I just think it is just more his style. I think of what he did for Jil Sander and what he did for Dior, they’re amazing and he’s carried his style through and kind of been able to merge it with something that already existed. I don’t think he could be doing what he’s doing for Dior if he hadn’t been designing at Jil Sander previously. I believe he would have never have been able to go from Raf Simons menswear to Dior. It was a step up. First he did only men’s. Then he did women’s, but it was androgynous and now he’s doing a completely hyper feminine line. It’s still super modern, super cool, chic and everything.
Would you ever go into menswear with Nomia?
I would love too. It’s really hard to say that I design androgynous things. Obviously, the basketball shorts and some of the other styles can be worn by men, but I feel like there’s too much stigma attached for a guy to buy women’s clothing where there’s not as much for women to buy men’s clothing, but I would love to make something that both genders are totally attracted too. I personally think men’s’ clothing is more my style. I like making dresses, but I’m mostly into making sportier more street wear influenced clothing and using high end fabrics in a different way.
What are you currently working on?
I have just presented my Spring 2014 collection. At first, there wasn’t too much happening, which is kind of a little bit stressful but that’s how I work. Once it starts happening it kind of all comes together. I actually really like designing spring because I like spring and I like doing lighter pieces so it’s always super fun and exciting for me. The collection was touch of sports, a touch of street but artistic and minimal at the same time.
I like that you love both sports and art. They’re so different from each other.
Yeah, totally. I think that’s what makes a person interesting and when that translates into inspiration for a line that makes it unique. I don’t think I can make the most beautiful couture dress, that’s not where my strengths are. My strengths are in merging many different influences you would think would not work together and finding the way to make them make sense. I literally watch every sport. I don’t know why, but I’m addicted. I think my Dad made me watch sports as a child and it just carried through. There’s something about the entertainment of it, there’s something about the bravado of it, there’s something about athletes! They are kind of like what we all want to be. I find them more appealing than actors or models. For me, there is style in sports- basketball and football especially- and I just find it really cool!
So, tell us about your latest Spring collection.
I just don’t do something like you know “this season was inspired by Brigitte Bardot in la Riviera during the Summer!” I just don’t work that way. It’s kind of like the evolution of the same mentality that keeps going and evolving in its own way. I would never want to make a collection where you could point out the pieces in it and go “That reminds me of the sixties!”, however boring it is for reporters, I feel sorry but I don’t have that kind of inspiration. For me, it’s more about colors and textures than a specific person. It’s a mood, kind of a cooler color palette. It’s technical, maybe a little bit military, but that’s probably the closest I would ever get to an inspiration quote. It’s easy to write those one-liners, but that really simplifies the whole collection. It makes the viewer and the customer see it in a particular way when they would have probably approached it in a completely different way. I prefer leaving it open for interpretation.
It sounds like you work like an artist.
I guess so. I am so happy when I see a stylist or a person down the street who bought something at a sample sale wear, a piece that I made, and they wear it completely in their own way. It inspires me because I discover new ways of combining and pairing things I would have never thought of otherwise. I wouldn’t like to remove the freshness it evokes by giving a specific meaning to the clothes. I just don’t really think that way either. My source of inspiration is something I might be able to talk about after having finished the collection, but there isn’t a clear idea that becomes my starting point.
Are you doing all of this design work yourself?
It’s just me. I do all the designing myself. I have an assistant who sometimes helps me, she’s really cool, but basically the design is all on me. I even make most of the patterns. After I decided I wanted to take this more seriously I took pattern- cutting classes at FIT. I’m not really into sketching; I am more into the actual pattern-making and the draping process. Having to communicate to a pattern maker what I wanted to achieve with my sketch just seemed too complicated, so I thought I would just do it myself. I’ve been doing it for six years so I’ve been getting better and better at it.