New Wave. Maryam Nassir Zadeh SS23

Jean-Luc Godard, the most iconoclastic of New Wave filmmakers, has sadly passed away today. He invented a resolutely modern, intensely free vision of film-making. Godard’s storylines mixed up time and space, changing the idea of a fixed narrative. He filled cinema with poetry and philosophy. Also, his sense of visual aesthetic, from “Breathless” to “Pierrot Le Fou“, has left an ever-lasting legacy. If there is one designer who conveys that Nouvelle Vague style with ease, even subconciously, it’s the New York-based Maryam Nassir Zadeh. Whenever I see her collections, I have an impression of watching a pack of contemporary New Wave women (and men) materialize IRL.

Zadeh began her show notes with the word “waves”, and she was thinking not only about the azure waters lapping on Mediterranean shores (the designer spent part of the summer on the idyllic Greek island Hydra) but also of time. In 2013 Zadeh first dipped her toe into design with accessories and then moved into clothing – and MNZ quickly created a niche in the downtown scene. “What I’m known for is making timeless, elevated basics,” she said after her spring show, which veered from that formula this season. It was a full-circle moment: Zadeh came back to the Sara D. Roosevelt handball court where she had shown before, located just across the street from her studio; the cast and audience were full of friends. The lineup was infused with the freedom of summer dressing—or undressing—the instinctual improvisation of wearing a towel as a sarong, say. Modesty is not a consideration in the MNZ universe, which is body positive and empowering, and that is an extension of how Zadeh lives her life. On vacation, she said, “I was dressing in ways that were like half naked, half covered.” But that’s only part of the story: “I feel like there’s a fusion of the domestic element of my life [as a working mother], but then there’s sort of a tension between that and being free.” The idea of domesticity came through in a literal way; the designer worked with interior textiles like tablecloths and bath towels. Similarly, the idea of finding “space in between” was evident in such garments as half skirts. How these will translate on a rack would be a question, save for the fact that they might not ever land there. Zadeh explained that many of the materials she used have been in her personal collection for decades. Not wanting to cut them up, she worked around them, allowing the textiles to guide the patterns and some no-sew pieces in ways that she feels will lead her in exciting new directions. Thus her reworkings represented a dialogue with fabric and the sum of her past experiences and relationships. It was the lightest pieces that best captured the ephemerality of memory and emphasized the space that exists between the body and the cloth. A polka-dot dress, for example, was the color of sky in the early morning; a yellow woven men’s shirt was tethered by knit cuffs and collars. Layering heavier materials over lighter ones was another way to emphasize the delicacy of the fabrics. Garters and bras added a whiff of the boudoir to the proceedings. A jersey dress with a beautifully shaped scoop neck in front and back was paired with a bra, which by now has fully come out from under. The idea of apron skirts and tying things on is one that is surfacing in many collections. In some ways this harks back to classical precedents and manipulation of material rather than construction. “I wanted to be natural,” Zadeh said, and there’s nothing more so than the human form, which was the designer’s focus this season. What she calls her reworks are works in progress – as is life.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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