Current Issue__ Yara Flinn of Nomia

May 15, 2012 | By

Designer Yara Flinn of NYC-based brand Nomia never wanted to work in fashion, loves the Steelers and went to art college to get weird

Words: Dana Droppo
Photography: Christelle De Castro

Yara Flinn is sitting in her Williamsburg studio talking about her line when she gets an email alert. It's Japanese retailer, Tomorrowland, with a sizable order. It's an exciting moment to witness for a designer still in the infancy period--a time when her business might look like a big operation from outside, but is mostly just a one-woman team. With the Japanese customer in mind, it makes sense most of the order is for dresses in sizes 2 and 4--but another part of the order comes as a surprise. “Oh my god they’re ordering the snood! 8 of them," Yara says, referring to a fur collar she created that was never meant to be produced. Flinn pulls out a crop of expensive synthetic fur in browns and blacks. “I just made them for my show—I sew them myself."

Flinn’s initial creative interest wasn't in fashion, she wanted to pursue art. She attended Oberlin to get her BFA. "I tell people I got all my weird out there." Having grown up in Manhattan she was looking to get away and have a chance to do something different. With her tall, slender 6"0 frame she says, "Everybody already knows I used to play basketball," with an eye roll. So she flipped the switch and worked on sculpture and video installation instead. She's still a sports-fan, but nowadays she'd rather talk about the Steelers. She flips through photos on her Blackberry to pull up a picture of a guy she saw on the subway who was dressed in head-to-toe black and yellow fan garb. "When Black and Yellow comes on in the club I'm on the tables," she laughs.

After graduating and moving back to Manhattan, Yara decided to get behind a sewing machine.“I wasn’t a good enough artist to do what I really wanted,” she says. “But I love the idea of making something functional instead of purely aesthetic.” Flinn's artistic versatility allowed her to move organically into the fashion world.

Flinn launched her debut collection in 2007 under the name Nomia, with three dresses that she sold to Barney's in her first season. Half-smirking, she says, "It's never been as easy to get my stuff back in." Since she made her start as a designer, Flinn has developed full seasonal collections, sold to retailers all around the world and shown at NYFW four times. Growing up in a city that serves as a cultural mecca gave her a sense of comfort to experiment, "I never felt like I had to 'make it." But she does have a keen understanding of getting her stuff in front of the right eyes. “You can make an amazing collection and if the right people don’t see it, it’s never going to get out there.” Five years into the business, Nomia is a sophisticated, clean and thoughtful line that draws inspiration from artists, objects, and minimalist designers.

"I don't really believe in designing for trends," Flinn says. She talks about some of to her design influences like Jeremy Scott, Rick Owens, and Riccardo Tisci, who maintain a consistency in their aesthetic that communicates a strong vision over time. She strives for a certain seamlessness between each season with the intention that her clothing is able to portray a continuous narrative over the course of her career. "Even though minimalism is in right now, these men have been making the same type of clothing since they started out, and I'm sure they'd be creating the same stuff regardless of what is considered on-trend."

The art world has always been Flinn's comfort zone, much moreso than the fashion. Still now, Flinn draws more from an archive of art history knowledge when she is creating. But growing up in the global fashion hub, it's impossible to ignore its presence. Flinn is attracted to the older class of of the city’s fashionistas, artists and bohemians of 80's and 90's. She references a crop of New York women who dressed for themselves rather than to be seen by others. “Meeting all these awesome women with these crazy styles, women who were willing to take risks—I think that informed me a lot. I want to reach that audience—not someone who just wants a name brand.” She loved the women who spent time in Soho before Prada open its doors for the first time.

“I think ultimately clothing is something that you want to feel beautiful in,” she says. “Even if you want to challenge that it should still be something that you feel attractive in—it should make the wearer feel like themselves. I don’t want to overtake someone’s personality with my clothes.”

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