Hi Nina! Tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you got into design.
Hi, I am Nina and I am the designer of Family Affairs and Toujours Toi. I didn't plan to be a designer; I studied dance, literature and filmmaking in college and later went to acting school where I started making jewelry to make some money on the side. It grew into a business, which took over my acting aspirations and in 2008 I added Family Affairs apparel with my mum.
Where do you think your natural instinct for design came from?
Artistic expression through clothing was always a big part of growing up and my mum encouraged it. When I was around seven I had an "old-fashioned" phase where I only wore vintage (like a long white and brown-checkered skirt) and had my hair in braids. I was really into Amish clothing then! I also went through a big punk phase when I was around 14-years-old, which I think was the most influential to me. That's when I started to really get into mixing patterns, colors and cutting into sweaters, dying my hair, wearing a safety pin in my ear... it was really creative and fun. I went to the flea market every Saturday with my best friend and bought interesting prints and textures—that was part of my fashion education.
You are based in New York and Kaya is based in Switzerland, so there must be a lot of traveling between the two of you! What do you love most about traveling, and how does it contribute to the brand and what you both create?
I will travel from NY to Switzerland but I always combine it with runway shows, a pop up shop or trade shows in Europe—I organize it in chunks. When I travel to India to source and print fabrics, I get into a time capsule due to the time difference and just being so far away, and I get to really focus which I love. It's important and refreshing to me to be taken out of my comfort zone and be surprised. It feeds me a certain intensity that I can use in my work. My mum and I tend to spend a lot of time on the train in Switzerland, specifically in the train restaurant, and we will discuss things there or I will do some drawings. It's a mobile office and part of our process.
You also have your jewelry line, Toujours Toi. Combining your jewelry designs and looks from Family Affairs, who would you ideally love to dress?
I design what I would like to wear and sometimes I design what I wanted to wear when I was a kid, like the unicorn earrings or the strawberry necklace. I design with my friends in mind. Seeing a girl on the street wearing a Toujours Toi or Family Affairs piece, or on one of the singers I listen to while designing, is always a trip. I would love to dress Grimes, AlunaGeorge or Ellen Page.
So you and your mom, Kaya, make up the brand Family Affairs. What is your favorite part about being able to work with a family member who also has so much experience? [Kaya has been designing since the age of 20, and at one point was even The Beatles in-house designer for their Apple shop in London!]
My favorite part is the straightforward honesty. We get to the point and don't usually take things personally. I will just say, "The length of that seam is horrid!" or my mum will say, "That looks like it's from the sale bin." We tend to exaggerate, obviously, just to get our point across. I am also really proud of what my mum can do. I admire her work and I am happy to carry that into the world. Family is really important to me and that is at the core of what I do.
On the Family Affairs website, each clothing item is listed with lyrics from a certain song. Along with music, where does inspiration for the brand come from?
With a tight seasonal schedule, I don't really have time to set aside solely for inspiration so my inspiration radar is always on. Things that inspire me get stored in my brain over a few months and weave together the mood and feeling of a new collection.
Music is always a huge part of it and so is contemporary art. I am also really into patterns on ceramics— they are never too designey. They are often weird and a bit off which inspires me. Or I will find an old washed-out kid's blanket with a planet print at a yard sale and that image will somehow stay with me. It's like casting a movie. Inspiration also comes from things I crave and moments that make me happy such as playing ping-pong in a backyard or being stung by mosquitoes while laughing. Sometimes I will see an old movie and the images will just stay with me for a while, be it Four Nights Of A Dreamer by Bresson or Big with Tom Hanks—both are part of my inspiration palette.
I also draw from inspiration drawers from any year that I lived. Sometimes I go back to the ‘90s and get inspired by what I was into then, such as pointy collared ‘70s shirts with insane prints, or I go back to my childhood and get inspired by my favorite kids books about a lonely cat. My grandma is also a big inspiration to me—her style is irreverent, sporty and colorful.
What are your favorite things to do when you're not designing clothing and jewelry?
I love going on late night bike rides when the streets are empty and I can ride hands free while listening to music. Super safe, I know. I like trying to plant and grow tomatoes... So far, no tomatoes, but a big plant! It's fun to see something grow. I love doing watercolor illustrations both commissioned and for fun. Talking about boys with my best friend is pretty great too. Also picnics at the beach, rearranging my apartment, arranging big bunches of flowers, browsing through yard sales or making chocolate mousse.
Finally, Family Affairs' collections remind me of the coolest girls from the ‘60s and ‘70s, and vintage style. What is the coolest vintage clothing item you've ever found?
Wow, thank you! That is an amazing compliment! There are so many vintage pieces I love; I make up stories for them too! A lot of vintage I buy is for the awkward print colors and interesting cuts. My dreamiest piece is a midnight blue silk velvet dress from the ‘40s that, so far, I have only been looking at lovingly and haven't yet worn. Pieces from the ‘30s and ‘40s attract me magically.