Ninamounah is fashion for the fearless

Ryan Cahill

Ryan Cahill on the Amsterdam designer whose gender-neutral designs are breaking the industry’s conventions

29 September 2018 11:30

Amsterdam: the city of picturesque canals, tranquil bicycle routes and a whole lot of legal highs. But it’s not the first place that springs to mind when discussing the latest and most promising new fashion talent. In fact, the schedule for Amsterdam Fashion Week only includes about 12 shows on average — hardly the fore-frontal focus of the world’s fashion press.

Within this close-knit community of designers, there’s one that stands out amongst the rest: Ninamounah. Having only been established for a year, Ninamounah and her eponymous brand are already making their mark on the industry, in part a consequence of the fact that they’re are totally disrupting the status quo. Their aesthetic, retail strategy, runway shows and casting all exercise a new approach. The clothes shun the idea of being ‘fashionable’; the brand disregards mass-market production; their runway shows are transgressive and hypersexual; and the real people who walk in those shows break the standard conventions of what it means to be a model.

‘People are really quite shocked. They’re nervous and scared around my work,’ explains the brand’s founder as we link up over a phone-call. She’s in her native Amsterdam and I’m in London – geographically not that distant, but worlds apart when it comes to fashion scenes. ‘I think that’s exactly what I need at the moment. I need to see those reactions. People are uncomfortable.’

Born and raised in Ruigoord, a village on the outskirts of Amsterdam that was squatted by artists in the Seventies, the 27-year-old grew-up surrounded by a ‘library of creative people’. Whether she was interested in sculpting, painting or design, there would always be someone on-hand to teach her a new skill. This level of exposure to raw creativity helped to shape Ninamounah’s own talents and pushed her to develop her own means of self-expression. After maintaining some stability (she admits that she probably needed someone to tell her ‘no’ more when she was growing up, as she was mostly free to do whatever she pleased), she studied Textiles and eventually Fashion at Amsterdam’s esteemed Rietveld Academy, honing in on her love of fabrics and finding her niche when it came to her design aesthetic. She launched her label by accident not long after she graduated.

‘I never decided to launch the brand, it just happened,’ she explains. ‘I’m a bit of a workaholic and after my graduation I started panicking about what I should do next, so I just started working and working. I needed to bring [my work] to the world. It just happened naturally.’ An infatuation with the world’s natural order is one of the core ingredients of Ninamounah’s brand. Rather than trying to make something aesthetically pleasing or on-trend, the brand’s collections are an accumulation of cultural research, and the outcome is a range of pieces that break the conventions of ‘fashion’. They’re aggressively provocative, otherworldly and push the boundaries of wearability. Her first three collections have featured everything from suit trousers doubled up as chaps, to fitted, super-cropped long-sleeve shirts, and even logo-embossed dresses, where the back ends just above the buttocks and the front cascades to the ankle. The pieces are uniform in their cut and aesthetic, but intrigue with not-so-subtle hints of sensuality. Part apparel, part titillation device. ‘A uniform has to be asexual and, by being so, it becomes hypersexual. For me, a uniform is the most sexual thing you can wear without showing any skin,’ Ninamounah professes.

More often than not, a uniform has to accessible to anyone and everyone, regardless of their gender identity, which is why constructs of gender are archaic to Ninamounah. ‘I think if you say that “this is for men”, or “this is for women”, you really lock yourself up as a designer. That’s so outdated. I don’t even understand how people can think like that.’ All of the brand’s creations are positioned as gender neutral, something that is evidenced in both its shows and look-books. Men wear mini-skirts and dresses, while women wear heavy-duty leather jumpsuits and tailored suit-chaps – anything goes.

Having such an all-inclusive collection means that Ninamounah has to be prepared to fit designs to a plethora of body types, which is why the brand offer both made-to-measure and ready-to-wear services. Rather than following mass-market maxims, Ninamounah shuns large scale production to offer something more bespoke, ensuring that every garment is perfect for the client. It’s a contemporary approach, one that doesn’t exclude certain body types as many other well-known brands do. ‘It’s really exciting and quite scary because you keep [the production] really close to yourself,’ she begins. ‘Researching who buys and wears our clothing is really important to us as a brand, so we wanted to keep that near us. With the made-to-measure part, we just want people to look perfect in it. We do so much tailored clothing, so it is important to me that it is actually tailored and not just something you wear because it’s fashionable. It has to be an extension of your body, it has to be yours.’

This attention to detail stems from Ninamounah’s love of art – the brand even uses sculpture when mood-boarding, rather than the traditional picture-collage approach. Most recently, they held a collaborative exhibition with Gruppe magazine in Berlin, in which they developed their very own Ninamounah fragrance with CPL Aromas and recent Royal Collage of Arts MA graduate Anna Gray – a testament to their versatility and ability to branch out into other luxury arenas. Despite it being an amazing opportunity, it wasn’t one that came easily to Ninamounah; she admits to having a love-hate relationship with perfume. ‘I don’t like covering your natural body odours up, but I was looking at dogs or animals that hunt and they actually roll into other dead animals and faeces to mask their scent,’ Ninamounah explains of the process. ‘I really like the smell of gasoline because it’s dangerous but also attractive. I thought that gasoline could be the main scent of the perfume. We added leather in it with sandalwood. It’s a very strange, awkward smell that you need to learn to love.’

Whether it’s making a one-off scent, championing diversity on the runway, or creating uniform-style clothes that are made for men, women and everyone in-between, Ninamounah does nothing for the sole purpose of looking pretty – everything has a deeper meaning. Behind every collection is a social idea or consideration, ranging from explorations of mother nature to the influence of hormones; it’s fashion and science united as one. This kind of approach to design is something you’d usually only hear of in places like Paris, New York and London, but maybe it’s a time we looked elsewhere for our freshest fashion talent. If Ninamounah is anything to go by, Amsterdam is a pretty good place to start.

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