“It’s kind of viral. People go crazy about it. They try to sit here, and take a photo,” says the designer as we are, in fact, sat on the couch, showcased in its own booth in the middle of the event. “Because of the media, everyone is already familiar with this piece. It’s kind of a destination. I’m happy.”
Less than a minute later, supermodel Bella Hadid excitedly walks about. “Oh my God, it’s so amazing,” she says as she greets Nuriev and Tyler Billinger, the designer’s partner in Crosby Studios (the company Nuriev founded) and life.
Billinger snaps some photos of the model as she stretches out on the couch as I sit, out of frame, on the other side.
Hadid graciously says sorry for the interruption multiple times, but the apologies were by no means necessary. What other moment could perfectly exemplify the viral magnetism of the couch, Nuriev’s crossover appeal, and his increasing connection to the fashion world?
In case you missed the headlines, the transparent couch is stuffed in damaged or otherwise unsellable dead stock from Balenciaga under Demna Gvasalia. The vinyl, in case you're wondering, was up-cycled as well. “It’s one of those collaborations where the two parts work together, like actually work together,” says Nuriev.
The Russian-born designer did not count how many articles of clothing ended up within the piece, but says he spent the most time during its creation in precisely arranging the cast-offs. He’s known for deploying monochromatic schemes in his interior design work, and while that was not the case with the couch, his attention to the power of color is still on display. “It looks messy, but it’s not,” he says.
Taking mundane inspirations and reinterpreting them as high fashion has been an important (and oft-talked about) thread of Gvaslia’s work at Balenciaga, and Nuriev's couch echoes with a similar ethos.
“The interesting part is the shape of the sofa, because it’s one of those recliners that can be found from middle America to middle Russia,” he says. “It’s kind of like the shape is up-cycled, as well. We take the old shape and give it a new life.”
The point: if design is often referencing ideas from the past and making them new again, shouldn’t the materials used be recycled and reinvented as well? Pure originality is not an unlimited resource. Neither are materials.
Nuriev says he values sustainability in his commercial interior design work, too. “I love to be very thoughtful about what I’m doing, and I never use things if I don’t really have to use the thing.”
The same could be said of his overall aesthetic. His spaces, while not clinically stark, are generally clean and uncluttered. Color tends to be his one indulgence, with one or two carefully chosen statement hues being the focus. It’s a style that has translated particularly well when photographed for digital screens, and has lead to Nuriev often being cited as “Instagram’s favorite designer.” The Balenciaga sofa is not his first brush with online recognition. However, he says that being popular digitally was never, and is never, his intention.
“Honestly no, I never think about that specifically,” he says. “I really try to think about how people look at the piece and what they’re going to feel in the first 3 to 5 seconds. I’m trying to create a notion with the interiors that I’m doing, which is probably why people think that I am Instagram-able, but it wasn’t my original purpose.” (Though he does concede that social media is essential in promoting one's work.)
Never one to slow down, a few days after we talked, Nuriev would unveil his latest project on Instagram: an office meant to resemble a Soviet subway station. Watch these spaces.
Design Miami runs through December 8, 2019.