“I choose things based on intuition, on instinct,” Yashar said. “The pieces have to have originality, creativity, and functionality—that is fundamental. And they should be unique. What I offer my clients is a source through which to express their own individuality.”
Though Yashar was born in Tehran in the fifties, her father, Houchang, relocated the family to Milan in 1963, where he quickly became a leading merchant of oriental rugs. Yashar, the older of two daughters (she and her sister, Nilu, 50, both worked in the family trade), was schooled in the sometimes harsh reality of business by her father.
“When I was 21, he sent me on my own to Romania to buy up a stock of carpets in a factory in the middle of nowhere,” she told me. “I had to do hard bargaining with people who looked at me as if I were a Martian, and I had to bribe a hotel manager to find me a room.” She earned a degree in art history from the University of Venice at 24 and then, in 1979—backed for a year by her dubious but supportive father (“He always told me I had no commercial sense,” she said)—Yashar opened the first Nilufar, a rug shop, on Via Bigli, the stylish central-Milan street. “I used to walk around the city studying window displays thinking,
How can I make myself stand out?” she recalled. Steeped in the knowledge she had gained from her father of precious antique Persian rugs, she began to source and sell pieces from India and Asia, gradually adding certain French carpets never before seen in Italy. In 1989 she opened a second shop—the present seat of Nilufar—where, near the heart of the rapidly expanding high-fashion district, she began to express herself in earnest, throwing all her ingenuity into a series of groundbreaking shows. Earlier exhibitions such as “La Rosa nel Tappeto”—a study of the rose motif in carpets from various countries—had introduced the dramatic floral Turkish kilims to Milan buyers; now, in the new space, Yashar featured, variously, Iranian Gabbeh, Chinese, and Tibetan rugs.
Then, on a scouting trip to New York in the late nineties, Yashar spotted a rug in a store on 54th Street with a dramatic abstract pattern the like of which she had never seen before: “I said, ‘What is that?’ They told me it was Swedish, and I said, ‘I’m going to Sweden!’ ” A few weeks later she bought a collection of Märta Måås-Fjetterström rugs in Stockholm and accepted an invitation to view what was described to her as a huge warehouse full of strange-looking modern furniture. Yashar had no idea what she was seeing but bought several dozen pieces on instinct. “When I got everything back to Milan,” she said, “I was told that they were all classic masters from the fifties and sixties—Alvar Aalto, Hans Wegner...”