There was a custom-made Gamper bathroom mirror in the apartment of Yashar’s fashion-world friend—something Yashar pointed out with pride as she took me around the Parco Sempione penthouse. She was dressed head to toe in Prada (laughing, she called herself a “Prada victim”), and her attire perfectly complemented the decor: The spare, occasionally playful lines of the furniture were lent warmth and comfort by the subtle interplay of artfully faded colors and a certain indefinable logic in the juxtaposition of the pieces, which included a spectacular silver Paul Evans cabinet and a couch by Jean Prouvé. While the works varied wildly in age and provenance, when combined with brick, concrete, and wrought iron detailing, everything fit with the relaxed, early-modern mood. Adding to that was artwork such as Francesco Vezzoli’s painting of Anita Ekberg and Kathe Burkhart’s painting Up Your Ass, making the atmosphere simultaneously grand, offbeat, and elegant—an interior that is less a showplace than a private refuge. The owner, who worked on the decor in partnership with Yashar, who provided the pieces, said that he most loves the fact that it doesn’t look like a typical Milanese apartment, that it reflects his personality, and that it makes him happy.
In Yashar’s home—another rambling, airy Milanese penthouse, which she shares with her husband, Angelo, a consultant for Prada, and their daughter Lavinia, 20, a medical student—Carlo Mollino chairs and Victorian candlesticks mingle with anime-inspired paintings by young Italian artists in front of a glorious wall designed by Montebello and frescoed with gold-leaf representations of 16th-century Mogul Indian motifs. Yashar was showing me a different kind of project—one she launched when Lavinia was just 7—that has left its mark on the design world. Crossings, two extraordinary catalogs published in 1999 and 2000, brought together a panoply of design objects of distinct styles, to numinous effect: A Khorassan carpet from the fifties was paired with a contemporary vase by Pesce, and 19th-century Mongolian rugs were combined with a seventies ceiling lamp by Finnish designer Ilmari Tapiovaara. Published in editions limited to 3,000, the catalogs quickly became cult objects. Leafing through them, one is a step closer to understanding Yashar’s formative vision for Nilufar. “With Crossings, Nina saw affinities where no one else had seen them,” said Giò Marconi, a legendary Milan art dealer (and close friend of Yashar’s). “She brought a breath of air to the world of design.” Yashar looks at the Crossings series much as she does her ever mutable collections at Nilufar: as an attempt to create “a kind of alphabet for a new language,” as Yashar put it.
Like most people whose life and work make up a seamless whole—the happy ones, that is—Yashar finds a near religious satisfaction in what she does. “Doing this kind of work is like a spiritual exercise,” she said. “You are always reaching a new level of insight. Sometimes Miuccia and other friends and I will be just sitting around brainstorming, and the atmosphere is charged with energy, and I feel like I have contributed to it. Change—calling into question established truths and juxtaposing strange things that no one ever thought of putting together before—that is how I believe you get a really fresh view of life or of art; that’s how creativity is born.”