It was one hell of a year to make a vision board, much less one as ambitious as Saida Mouradova’s. But at the beginning of 2020, the Azerbaijan-born designer and founder of the cult brand Object & Dawn filled hers with an article about Paul Poiret, a photo of Reese Witherspoon wearing a green gown in a dark garden, and the the Mozambican-Mongolian model Serguelen Mariano. She tacked on images of other models, too—diverse in size and background—hoping stylists would pull her ornate mirrored harnesses, modular crowns, and tasseled garter belts for more inclusive photoshoots. “At some point, my vision board for this year was a glimpse into a fantasy,” Mouradova says. “But strangely enough, it has completely manifested itself.”
She also put Beyoncé on the board, hoping to bring the energy of a “beautiful universe” to her business, which suffered heavily once festivals and parties were canceled and boutiques shut their doors in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Then, on July 31st, Mouradova woke up to a barrage of texts and missed calls from friends and family members. Beyoncé, they told her, had worn her Rushi headpiece (named after Lui Rushi, a Chinese poet, painter, and courtesan from the Ming Dynasty period) in her Black Is King album-slash-film. The headpiece, made of stainless steel and dotted with cowrie shells, can be seen on the musician while she floats serenely in the water.
It wasn’t the first time stars had tapped her creations—Madonna wore a headpiece in her “Medellin” music video with Maluma, and Offset donned Object & Dawn for his debut solo album cover in 2019. But Beyoncé’s surprise appearance was the catalyst to create a banner year that, frankly, didn’t begin that way.
“It was an unlocking of this vacuum that we’ve been in during the lockdown,” Mouradova tells me. “It felt unsafe and uncertain for a long time to be an independent fashion brand, and I was unsure if any luxury fashion brand would be relevant in this new world.”
Then, in November, Jordyn Woods appeared in a full Object & Dawn set in the video for Megan Thee Stallion’s paeon to the female form, “Body.” And this past Friday, Gwen Stefani teased her upcoming single on Instagram, declaring “LET ME REINTRODUCE MYSELF,” wearing a slew of Object & Dawn items: the beaded Elohim harness, the Amaya garter belt with long, black tassels, and a matching necklace.
That Object & Dawn would be chosen by such a wide array of artists during moments of power reclamation reflects Mouradova’s own journey. She was born in the port city of Baku, Azerbaijan, on the Caspian Sea. It was still under communist Soviet Union control at that time, and her father made a living by helping international graduate students sell luxury goods they had smuggled into the country, including designer fashion.
As a result, her mother was in possession of some choice Pierre Cardin pieces, and Mouradova sported Wrangler jeans and Lacoste to school. Her home was a multicultural salon of international families from India, Morocco, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela. This reverence for mixing cultures play out in her pieces, which meld dozens of subtle cultural references into an entirely unique aesthetic. “I’m trying to recreate that fluidity that can respectfully exist between cultures,” she says.
At the age of 15 in 1992, Mouradova’s father hustled her and her Russian mother out of the country to protect them from the conflict roiling Baku. Mouradova spent a year and a half in a refugee camp in Sweden before learning Swedish and completing her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, and receiving admission to Parson’s Paris. She transferred to Parson’s in New York City a year later, and graduated with an award-winning thesis collection.
After working as a menswear designer for Banana Republic and Ralph Lauren, then co-founding a company that did wholesale distribution for luxury flash sale sites, she started to burn out. The idea for Object & Dawn came to her while on a three-month sabbatical in a Vietnamese fishing village. She was 40 years old.
When I ask her to describe her core clientele, the women who snap up every piece as it comes out, she says they’re mostly over 30. “She knows who she is and what she wants. She’s figured out her style,” Mouradova says. “She has an alternative lifestyle outside of work, or can afford to not care what people think about what she does after work,” she adds, making a sly reference to the clandestine hedonistic parties frequented by the creative elite of New York City and California and Paris.
What could possibly top her 2020? “I have Dita Von Teese on my vision board and that hasn’t happened yet,” she states. But for her next vision board, she plans to be a bit more practical. “I’m putting bags of money on my board next year. I’m like, sorry, universe. I forgot to ask about this one thing. I have sleep and rest on there, too.”