Yashar promptly organized the 1998 exhibition “Swedish Rugs and Scandinavian Furniture,” much to the mystification of some of her longtime clients. “People would come by the shop, look at the display, and ask: ‘Has this place changed owners?’” she said.
The show was a success, and Yashar began to pursue her new interest in early-modern and contemporary furniture by including an array of European and American designers. She expanded the gallery to three floors, had it renovated by a friend—the designer GianCarlo Montebello—and presented her first displays of the mixed genres for which she would become famous: furniture, rugs, and objects from France, Tibet, Scandinavia, and India. From then on, each show was a departure. Exhibitions featuring Charlotte Perriand, Jacques Adnet, and other French rationalists were followed by the work of industrial design superstar Roger Tallon, the silicone rugs of Gaetano Pesce, and the sculpted metal furniture of Paul Evans. “Nina was different from any other dealer,” Montebello said. “She has a great intuitive capacity to put very different styles together, and her work shows courage, an enormous independence and energy, and a great generosity.”
In 2005, Yashar was the first Italian dealer in her field to be invited to Art Basel Miami Beach. With her keen sense of the zeitgeist, she also began to feature Italian masters like Mollino, Gio Ponti, Ettore Sottsass, and Piero Fornasetti precisely when international collectors—along with designers like Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs, Stefano Gabbana, and Domenico Dolce—were starting to rediscover them.
Before then, such work “was practically given away by Italian dealers,” Yashar said. In 2005, a Mollino table was auctioned by Christie’s for $3.8 million—at the time, a record for 20th-century furniture. Throughout all of her impulsive changes over the years, Yashar has continued to attract ever growing numbers of illuminati. Miuccia Prada was one of her first clients, followed by Anna Zegna and other distinguished names to whom Yashar devotes enormous time and energy but whom she refuses to discuss. Yashar is as reluctant to gossip as she is open about her passion for beautiful things and her belief in hard work. “If anybody thinks I succeeded overnight, they are wrong,” she said. “I put together this business little by little, working like an ant, endlessly. But every so often, I would make these tremendous leaps of faith—turn everything upside down.”
Some of the most rewarding risks she’s taken have to do with sniffing out and promoting new talent. Her most spectacular discovery so far has been Gamper, the young woodworker from Merano who, in 2004, was still a student at London’s Royal College of Art when Yashar saw his tables and chairs. Three years later, after Gamper publicly dismembered a suite of Gio Ponti furniture before putting everything back together in his own inimitable fashion at Design Miami/Basel, he was a legend. The font of the idea was, of course, Yashar’s—she had found the furniture in a hotel in Sorrento. Gamper’s symbolic destruction of the old and its transformation into the new was, in effect, also the world premiere of Yashar’s iconoclastic manifesto. In 2011 Gamper won London’s prestigious PAD prize for his bold, geometric Off-Cut Table, and for the last five years he has produced work exclusively for Nilufar.