We all buy clothes, but no two people shop the same. It can be a social experience, and a deeply personal one; at times, it can be impulsive and entertaining, at others, purpose-driven, a chore. Where do you shop? When do you shop? How do you decide what you need, how much to spend and what's "you"? These are some of the questions we're putting to prominent figures in our column "How I Shop."
Like the rest of us, Nazanin Mandi hasn't been to a music festival in a while. But, in the new slasher-thriller movie "Dreamcatcher," her character Kya heads to Cataclysm, an underground one and instead of facing the usual concert-going horrors of, say, broke-down Porta Potties, she encounters something much worse.
"Being in a thriller was always on my bucket list," says Mandi, on a call. "Being in a thriller is not as scary as it seems. I was hoping to get really, really spooked. But you know, it's movie magic."
The Southern Californian began her multi-faceted career at the age of five as a singer and booked her first modeling five years later. At just 15, she competed in the early rounds of the first season of "American Idol" — before producers discovered that she was one year shy of the official entry age of 16 and kicked her out. (The driven teen made it into the top 35.) Mandi moved to Los Angeles at age 18 and pursued modeling, signing to Wilhelmina and booking jobs with Vogue, Allure and Complex, as well as brand campaigns. She also landed on-screen gigs, both on scripted shows like "That's So Raven" and "The Young and the Restless," as well as reality, on "The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency" and "Shahs of Sunset."
Along the way, Mandi faced mental health and body dysmorphia issues, which she speaks out about to help others going through the same experiences. (In 2019, she appeared on an episode of BET's "Body of Work" to discuss about overcoming addiction to diet pills.) Then, last year, she booked one of her most high-profile gigs: brand ambassador for Rihanna's Savage x Fenty.
Mandi first starred in the lingerie brand's spring campaign and then fused all her talents into a smoking-hot appearance in the Savage x Fenty Vol. 2 show, which streamed on Amazon Prime in October. Modeling an emerald green floral-embellished cage bra top and garter set, plus matching latex gloves and thigh-high tights (which apparently involved lots of baby powder to don), she danced alongside singer-songwriter hubby Miguel.
"It's a surreal experience, honestly. I never expected to book it. It wasn't even in a thought of mine. So that was shocking, in the best way possible," says Mandi. "I'm just so honored to walk into a show that's so inclusive and makes everybody feel like somebody. That feels good to my soul and it really was the cherry on top of working with Rihanna, my husband and her amazing team."
Mandi and Miguel also steamed up our quarantine Valentine's Day in the Savage x Fenty's most recent campaign. "It's a very seamless experience. They're very authentic to who they are and it shows in everything that they do," she continues. "You feel proud to work with them — and for them — and they just make everything so fun and sexy. You just feel really good about yourself when you work with them."
Mandi takes that sentiment into dressing for herself, too, including for music festivals, which we can finally think about attending again (minus any slasher elements from "Dreamcatcher," of course.) "When we go to Coachella, I go all out," she says. "One of my favorite festival looks: denim ass-less chaps. Yes. I cut a tank top super short and I had a bikini under it. It was great."
Below, Mandi takes us through who first sparked her interest in fashion, what her wardrobe staples are and how she's dressing at home during lockdown. Spoiler: She's comfy in sweats. "No, nope. Why am I gonna even try?"
"I've always just been naturally attracted to fashion. I remember being so young and '90 supermodels were the epitome of beauty and and fashion. I was just so infatuated with them and what they were wearing. I remember looking through the magazines and watching MTV's 'House of Style'; Cindy Crawford was a host. Since then, I was so infatuated with fashion.
"For me, it has always been a way to express myself in subtle ways. It depends on my mood. Whatever I feel like wearing, I just wear. My style is a mix of chic sensual edge. When I was doing music, it was a bit more edgy; then for acting, I try to keep things a bit more classic, which I feel is more authentically me and I prefer it.
"I love to wear very structured pieces — a suit is my go-to. Women look so sexy in a suit. I feel the sexiest in a suit. I love a classic dress. The little black dress is always a good go-to for me. I like to keep things very, very classic. But when I'm pushed, it needs to be something super, super amazing and memorable.
"One of my all-time favorite [red carpet looks] was last year's Vanity Fair Oscars party. I wore a Rick Owens dress. It was this purple metallic silver and I had wet hair. It was just such an overall vibe and I felt so confident in it. No, no, [Miguel and I didn't plan on coordinating]. My stylist Dani Michelle, she had a custom dress made for this event. It was all white — an incredible dress. I still have it and I'm gonna wear it. But the night before, she hit me and was like, 'You know, I have this idea, can you come to my studio? I just want you to try something on.' So I dropped down. I tried it on and she was like, 'How do you feel in this?' and I was like, 'This is the dress, like this is it.' So I actually was not gonna wear this and the night before, it just happened. We got it tailored and that was it.
"I'm trying to be honest. I hate trying on clothes. Going to stores and trying on clothes, it's like a chore for me. I hate it. So I'm a big online shopper. I have a problem. But that's where I do it — online: Forward by Elyse Walker, Net-a-Porter and Modesens; Ssense is a big one for me. Sometimes I can be an impulse shopper. It depends on my mood. Other times, I will put stuff in a cart and then I'm like, 'You know what? I'm going to wait 24 hours. I'm going to think it through.' And I'll most likely buy it. So, you know, that's how it goes.
"I just bought this Balenciaga snake print purse that I'm really obsessed with. I try to buy myself two good purses a year and just kind of leave it at that. This was one of them.
"For the upcoming season, I've noticed chunky gold jewelry is really in. I've always loved it, so I think I'll stock up on more chunky necklaces and earrings as well. I'm online and I'm always looking. I usually find really good pieces on like Net-a-Porter.
"But I'm sticking with my suits. I've just got a really good Helmut Lang pantsuit that I love. I love a good white T-shirt, a jean and a pump — those are staples for me. I'll stick with my staples and and change them up with a cute jacket or a trench coat.
"Shoes are big one for me, too. I keep and treasure a lot of my shoes. From the beginning, I've always taken care of my shoes. Every New Year's, I always wear a new pair of shoes. It's like a tradition for me. For this year, I bought a pair of YSL heels, but I didn't wear them — I was barefoot this New Year's.
"I'm not gonna lie, I've spent most of these months in sweats and athletic-wear. I love Cotton Citizen sweats. Their sweatsuits are so cute and so comfortable. The material's amazing. Then my athletic-wear, I'm a Nike girl, so Nike's my go-to with pretty much anything. Alo pants are so comfortable; another brand I really like, that's really comfortable, is Beyond Yoga.
"I do have a lot of gowns, like a lot. And I have this Mugler gown that I've never worn. I have just a lot of pieces that I didn't get an opportunity to wear during awards season. Hopefully things will start back up and I'll be able to wear them."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.