Things started hotting up for Naza Yuzefi when the Iranian designer’s leather harnesses and bra tops were shot by one of Yuzefi’s design heroes, Hedi Slimane; a real highlight of her career so far, and a testament to the stellar trajectory of her brand after only three seasonal collections.
It was a pre-Formichetti Mugler menswear show that inspired Yuzefi to make harnesses, the form she has perhaps become best known for. Yuzefi found the Mugler collection ’so perfect’ that she was compelled to sequester the style for women. Though the designer does not attempt to define seasonal inspirations, she seeks to emulate the accomplishment she most admires in other designers; that is, to have created an aesthetic that is so theirs, so personal and beautiful; an aesthetic that they ’don’t even have to change that much; they just keep working in the same way, building on [what they have achieved so far].’ Hedi Slimane, who ’completely changed menswear,’ Azzedine Alaïaand Ricardo Tisci embody this vision and path.
Many of the developments in Yuzefi’s career have appeared to come by happy accident, but certainly not by any sort of fluke. A great deal of hard work and ensuing success have created opportunities in unexpected places, for example, after only a few months designing and cutting for Qasimi womenswear, the house’s menswear designer left and Yuzefi quickly found herself installed as the head of that design team. Quite an achievement, and a position that Yuzefi excelled in, but ultimately a role that she had not aspired to and was not satisfied by. Leaving Qasimi, Yuzefi even considered quitting the industry altogether, a short lived disillusionment from the path she always knew she would follow.
With such a strong vision of the designer she wanted to become and more than enough drive to get there, it was perhaps inevitable that she would strike out alone and set up her own label. The three collections, however, belie Naza’s considerable industry experience; she was persuaded to launch the Yuzefi label after requests for custom-made editorial pieces and stage wear began to flood in alongside an increasing number of private requests to buy.
That said, Yuzefi was apparently unconcerned with selling her first collection, for Autumn Winter 2011, but was – for the first time – enjoying complete creative freedom, focusing on creating press. Pragmatically, she reasoned that there was no point trying to set up shop before anyone knew your name, so whilst some pieces were directly commissioned, all were designed with editorial in mind and were not what you might consider commercial. What surprised Yuzefi was that it was often the more avant garde pieces that people requested to buy, reasoning that ’I guess there’s a customer for anything!’
So, who are her customers and who does she design for? Apologising for giving an ’annoying’ answer, she tells me that she designs with industry colleagues and her friends in mind. ’But you can have imaginary friends!’ she beamed, in an uncharacteristically wacky way, before qualifying the statement, explaining that she meant people in the industry who you could see easily fitting into your social circle, but who you don’t actually know, like Susie Lau, whose style she admires and blog she likes to follow. This philosophy is interpreted in a practical sense, as Yuzefi designs not only with these people in mind, but their wallets too, making pieces that are directional and premium in appearance, but mid-ranged in price. A studded or flower-adorned leather collar retails at £95 and has sold well through both the Far-fetch website and at Diverse, the Islington boutique.
Having studied tailoring in Iran, India and in London, first at the Istituto Marangoni and then on the Central Saint Martins post-graduate Innovative Pattern Cutting course, Yuzefi cites clothing as the reason she got into fashion, but ’being a small new label,’ she explains, ’ you have to think about what you can actually achieve with what’s available to you.’ She made a conscious decision to launch her label with accessories, which cost less to make than garments and are easier to sell to buyers, who will more readily buy ten to thirty pieces with an amount of money that might otherwise only buy three dresses. That said, the few garments Yuzefi made to be worn with the leather-wear in the Spring Summer 2012 lookbook have attracted favourable press of their own, a success which has encouraged the designer to include more for SS 2013.
Sagely, Yuzefi advises ’[as a designer] you shouldn’t be ashamed of saying that certain things are business decisions rather than creative decisions, because to get to a point where you can do whatever you want, you really need to be quite business savvy.’ With sales up in the region of eight- to nine-hundred percent from AW 2011 to SS 2012, it seems like good advice.
When I asked whether her parents were creative, Yuzefi tells me that her father is a talented painter, but that he works managing an insurance company in Iran, having suppressed his creative side in return for security, something he tried – unsuccessfully - to impress onto his daughter. Does she think that perhaps, having chosen to follow her creative instincts, her father’s experience has highlighted the importance of creating a viable business? ’Maybe, maybe’ she concedes, ’there is certainly no room for failure.’
Yuzefi considers herself very lucky that the development of her business has been largely organic, her relationship with stylists and other industry players driving its growth until now. On the brink of selling to a large online retailer, it feels like Yuzefi’s small brand is about to change up a gear. ’I’ve got my fingers crossed,’ she tells me, ’if the order’s confirmed I’m going to be a very happy girl.’ One suspects that, whatever the outcome, Yuzefi’s drive and dedication to her craft, both creatively and commercially, will ensure that her brand achieves even her own high expectations.
words by Charlotte Gush
photography (first & last images only) Asher Herr