With its white-walled minimalism and exquisitely curated selection, Maryam Nassir Zadeh's eponymous New York City boutique is a Lower East Side shopping destination with the ambience of a Chelsea gallery space. And as in a great museum, everything has a backstory.
The cash register sits on a black marble bar table, rescued from a favorite Nolita restaurant after it closed down. Sitting among the jewelry for sale is a 300-lb. piece of smoky quartz, shipped back from a flea-market adventure in Goa, India. Beside racks of clothing by high-end designers shirts and skirts by Jil Sander, colorful patterned Suno shifts a piece of driftwood leans against the wall. It's a memento from Zadeh's first trip to Fire Island, New York, with her husband, graphic designer and photographer Uday Kak, who gave Zadeh the idea to open a shop.
"When we were first concepting the store, we wanted everything to be very personal," says the Iranian-born textile designer and stylist, whose fans include model Erin Wasson and singer Leslie Feist. "We wanted to have handcrafted textiles people might have in their home or plants and books they'd display."
So it's not surprising that Zadeh's two-bedroom East Village apartment which she shares with the Indian-born Kak and their 2-year-old daughter Anaïs Vida bears a strong family resemblance to her boutique: lots of white, spare yet warm, rich with history and anecdote. A giant hammock spun from a tropical plant is mounted above the living-room sofa. (It's from Puerto Vallarta, where Zadeh's parents spend part of each year.) Above the baby's changing station hangs a 60-year-old patchwork quilt made in Rajasthan, India, and purchased on a visit to New Delhi. A multicolored, multicultural cluster of hats hangs on one wall, hailing from everywhere from Montauk, N.Y., to Peru. "The pieces in our home are among our favorite and most meaningful from our experiences," Zadeh says, "and we know we'll live with them for a long time."
Zadeh and Kak first met on a New York City street when she asked him for directions to a bar where she was meeting a date. (Kak claims she was standing directly in front of the bar at the time.) They married in Oaxaca, Mexico, in May 2010. Travel is a shared obsession for the couple; hats are another. "Hats are something we can pick up on vacation to make a memory," says Zadeh, whose apartment is a virtual pushpin map of their journeys through the world. "But more than anything, we're attracted to the shape of a hat not necessarily on a person's head but on a wall as a piece of art."
Zadeh has an instinct for taking a beautiful form, removing it from its function and making it pure art, whether it's the hammock above her couch or the gray metal, tin and cotton scarf that she wove by hand in college and is now tied in a sculptural knot on her dresser. On a bedroom wall hangs a color-blocked scarf made by Susan Cianciolo, a fine artist and a friend of Zadeh's. "When I first saw this, it made me realize how much I missed using my hands, because I hadn't made textiles in ages," she says. "I can weave, knit and silk-screen, but these are sort of hidden talents. It triggered something inside of me."
So after years of finding treasures for her store, Zadeh has recently turned back to making them herself. "At times I would get hard on myself, thinking, I'm a designer I should be using my full potential," says Zadeh, who studied textiles at the Rhode Island School of Design and designed her own fashion line for five years. Her first sandal collection, officially debuting this spring at her boutique, is produced in Mexico and imbued with her love for the beach, warm weather and all things summer. "They're traditional shoes worn in Mexico that generations have grown up with," she says of the collection. "Other countries' cultures India as well as Greece have a similar aesthetic. The shoes are very simple and universal in style, but we've updated them with different-colored leathers."
She has plans for a second shoe line and clothing collection, inspired by Turkish and Italian craftsmanship. But lately, Zadeh's compass has been pointing more and more to Mexico. "Mexico feels really personal to us, and we definitely want to be there one day," Zadeh says. "I love the amazing creative energy of New York, and it's hard to imagine leaving. But then I think, if you're doing something really incredible, the people will come to you."