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When the quiet designer decided to get loud

Matthew Schneier, The New York Times, Apr 29 2017, 0:07 IST

YOUNG 'N' BOLD

unique Nili Lotan

unique Nili Lotan

A new flag hangs above Mercer Street, announcing a new shop: Nili Lotan. To which many may ask: Who? The Israeli designer doesn’t stage fashion shows. She doesn’t shoot ad campaigns or pay for them to run in magazines, and she doesn’t spend a lot of time kissing up to the people who run them, who decide which clothes to feature and which to forget.

Her clothes aren’t flashy or splashy: They are neutral, well considered, the sort of thing those magazines like to euphemise as “elevated basics,” as if there were anything basic about making something women want to wear every day. After 14 years in business, she is successful enough to keep her two other stores (in Tribeca and in East Hampton) and sell briskly at department stores, but mostly in her own quiet way.

“In our crowd, in the fashion circles we work in, so few people know about her,” her friend, photographer Inez van Lamsweerde, said. “They’re blown away by the sense of fashion, but also the fact that you could actually live your life in it.” She met Nili after Emmanuelle Alt, the editor of Vogue Paris, saw Inez wearing her designs and demanded to know whose they were. Nili happened to be in the boutique when they visited, and a friendship developed. “When I would say to other friends of mine, not in fashion, ‘I found this incredible designer,’ everyone says, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve been buying her pants for the last 10 years,'” Inez said. “I missed that.”

But in the past year or two, something happened. Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner — supermodels, super-friends and Instagram juggernauts for whose endorsements brands pay handsomely — discovered Nili’s clothes. As the celebrities wore her slouchy sweaters or her silk camisole dresses, their fans clamoured after Nili, and swelled her numbers on Instagram. “I started to look at who is following me more in depth,” Nili said. A majority are women between ages 24 and 34. “It could be as a result of Kendall and Gigi,” she said. “It’s possible that they brought all this younger crowd.”

This younger crowd is not necessarily the one that Nili has in mind when designing, and it is not necessarily one that can afford her designer-level prices. So, taken with the digital experience (not to mention the migration of a significant part of her business from in-store to online), Nili hit on the idea for her new temporary Mercer Street shop: a brick-and-mortar extension of her e-commerce platform, with new pieces priced lower than her usual for the young new fans who otherwise swarm her sample sales, hoping for deals.

In her new space, Nili seeks to emulate the speed and ease of online shopping. Orders will be taken on iPads, without cash being exchanged, and purchases can be carried out, shipped or delivered the same day in the New York metropolitan area. Each month, a new theme will take over the store: To begin, a feather motif inspired by Emily Dickinson’s poem known as “Hope Is the Thing With Feathers,” which also gave rise to a photo shoot by Inez and her husband, Vinoodh Matadin, the results of which line the walls.

“The past year I’ve been walking around feeling constant concern,” Lotan said. “The only thing I could do to feel better was think about the word ‘hope.'” But that’s this month. Next month comes camouflage. And the next, riffing on her communities, Tribeca and Tel Aviv, Israel. Nili lives and works in Tribeca with her husband, Israeli singer-songwriter David Broza, a superstar in their native country who is sometimes called “Israel’s Bruce Springsteen.” (Gigi, for the record, is half-Palestinian; David has been a vocal activist in song for Israeli-Palestinian peace; and Nili is involved with the organisation Women Wage Peace, and will host a benefit for it in the store.)

The shop will stay open through August, when it will become a kind of travelling caravan, opening its doors wherever Lotan finds an outlet. Toronto has already been booked. She hopes Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Tel Aviv are to come. For the younger fans looking for the lower-priced items, starting at $98 for a T-shirt, they will be available (and in limited quantities) only at these pop-ups, and, for those who cannot get to one, online.

In honour of Gigi, Nili has renamed an Aran sweater that the model wore in her honour, and at the opening, a rack of the silk cami dresses she favours hangs in a new rainbow array. But, Nili added, the two have still never met.

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