How I'm Making It: Designer Misha Nonoo

We chat with the 25-year-old designer Misha Nonoo about running her own business and how her multi-cultural upbringing inspires her designs.
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We chat with the 25-year-old designer Misha Nonoo about running her own business and how her multi-cultural upbringing inspires her designs.
Misha Nonoo in her showroom with her dog, Margaret Thatcher.

Misha Nonoo in her showroom with her dog, Margaret Thatcher.

Misha Nonoo's background can easily be described as multicultural: her first few years were spent in Bahrain before moving to London, and then a few years of studying in Paris before settling in New York. It's not hard to see the varying influences in her designs. Tailoring and fabrics often suggest Europe, while color palettes and prints can have Middle Eastern or South American influences. The signature throughout is a deep rooted love of elegance (she cites Grace Kelly as an ultimate icon). Her collections manage to take that elegant aesthetic and make it playful and modern, which is probably why she has fans in fashionable sophisticates like Pippa Middleton and Gwyneth Paltrow.

I chatted with the lovely Nonoo in her Soho showroom surrounded by racks of her Havana-inspired Spring '13 collection. Her loyal pup Margaret Thatcher received plenty of belly rubs as we discussed everything from Instagram (she prefers it over Twitter), her wedding last May (in Venice and 'very relaxed') and how a young designer like herself (she is 25!) builds a business from the ground up.

When did you know you wanted to be a designer? Misha Nonoo: I knew form a young age that I wanted to have my own fashion label. I always knew I wasn’t so verbally expressive, but expressed myself through how I dressed and now through how I dress other people.

How did you dress when you were young? Sort of the same aesthetic as now--very feminine, fitted and tailored. I was never a grungy girl. British Vogue used to do supplemental magazines with a round-up of all the trends. I grew up in the ‘90s and used to be obsessed with these trend supplements, like cowgirl chic or Russian princess. That always really drew me in. Because of the Internet trends have changed so much. They can be born and die in a matter of months. As a result, trends don’t really exist anymore. I think the past decade hasn’t had a prevailing look for that reason.

So how did you go about laying the groundwork for your business? I went to business school right away because I had a firm understanding of my aesthetic and what I wanted to achieve, but I didn’t know the nuts and bolts of running a business. I wanted to learn all the nitty-gritty. I feel fortunate that I have known from a young age, because it is hard if you don’t know. When I finished school I got an apprenticeship in New York working with a small label focusing on tailoring and pattern making. I had the business background but needed the practical information about design.

So when did you break out on your own and start your label, Nonoo? I decided I wanted to make women’s jackets and coats because I saw a gap in the market for high quality European fabrications at accessible price points. The accessibility was really important to me. I wanted girls like you and me to be able to buy it as a splurge, but knowing that it’s worth it because of the quality. It was called Nonoo Lyons. After a few seasons buyers wanted to see more than just jackets, so I knew I needed to expand.

How has it been received?

Looks from the Resort 2013 collection. (Photo: Style.com)

Looks from the Resort 2013 collection. (Photo: Style.com)

How has it been received? It has been amazing. We have great retailers like Shopbop, Bergdorfs and other small independent retailers.

What were some obstacles you faced in the early days? Really just building my team. As you grow, you really have to find people who you can rely on and who believe in what you’re doing. In the past twelve months we have grown so much, but I’ve tried to never get desperate to fill a position. It needs to be the right person, and when they come along you jump on them! Now we have 8 people.

Did you have industry connections over here? How did you get out there? No, not really. I just really put myself out there. Naivety and youth are the best and worst things! I didn't have rejection issues, because I hadn't had much of it yet. I was so enthusiastic and not yet jaded. I still get wildly excited about everything, like yesterday doing a shoot for Marie Claire. I am grateful for everything. I believe that only hard work gets you much more than connections. Hard work makes for a long career.

Do you have muses? I am inspired by this woman who is very confident and elegant, but she is ageless. It is hard for me to put a face on this woman. I love the Queen as much as a 20-year old girl on the street.

Who would you love to dress? I wish that Grace Kelly was still around—I’d love to dress her. She was so regal and elegant.

How does your elegant aesthetic play into your designs? It’s about being put together. I think you don’t want to care too much about how you look, because who has the time? That’s why I like to create pieces that are easy and comfortable silhouettes. The clothes never wear you. It’s all about the details, like a lace trim. I think it is nice to care about how you look.

How is your multicultural background an influence?

Spring 2013 (Photo: Style.com)

Spring 2013 (Photo: Style.com)

How is your multicultural background an influence? My mother is as English as you get and my father is of Iraqi decent. Your whole life is about the training of the eye. The more you see and are exposed to changes and cultivate a vision. I’m so grateful for my a-typical upbringing. The colors and smells in Bahrain are an anomaly back in Europe. I remember these women who wore the chicest outfits under their Burka, but nobody could see it. That is definitely a kind of elegance. At the end of the day, life is about being open. Style comes in so many shapes and packages.

Where do you see the brand going over the next few years? For me more than anything, it’s about global expansion and going into lifestyle. I would love to do accessories and homes. I am very inspired by interiors. One of my prints this season is inspired by faded wallpaper. I want to expand in a sustainable way too, so I can take it slow.

Which designers do you admire? Stella McCartney is formidable. I love that she has four children and a husband. She is passionate about so many things, and all her dedication to the environment. She is an incredible woman. In terms of designers, I love Pheobe Philo. She has a Midas touch. All those accessories at Celine just amazing! I only wear my own label though.

You are 25 and married and running your own company. Are you ever overwhelmed? My husband has his own company too, so we are both very entrepreneurial. I also have really supportive parents. But we all have a sense of humor, and whenever I get overwhelmed I am just grateful for everything I have. I have only the best things to be happy about, so who cares if I am exhausted and stressed? I enjoy everything and every blessing.