Nina Hollein
Countering the Boring Norm

Because only monotonous-looking mass-produced fashions were available for children, Nina Hollein, an architect who lives in Frankfurt am Main, sat down at her sewing machine – and now makes unique pieces from old fabrics and new cuts.

Kids Collection 2014 Kids Collection 2014 | Photo: Anja Conrad Kids Collection 2014 Kids Collection 2014 | Photo: Anja Conrad The fact that Nina Hollein, who has a university degree in architecture, ended up in fashion was something that was neither foreseen nor planned. After a lengthy stay in New York and jobs at the architectural firms of Peter Eisenman and Tod Williams, Hollein, a native of Austria, went to Frankfurt in 2001 with her husband Max Hollein, where he first became director of the Schirn Kunsthalle and then of the Städel Museum as well. At first, Nina Hollein also worked as an architect in Frankfurt, under Albert Speer and others, before she in quick succession became the mother of three children, “and therefore stayed home for the time being,” as she puts it. That said, there was also a sewing machine at home, and Nina Hollein, who had enjoyed sewing as early as her teen years, now and again found the time to give thought to interesting children’s clothing, “because that’s mostly how it begins,” says Nina Hollein, “that one makes something for those who are closest to one – and in my case at that time it was the children.” And there definitely was a need for it, because although the selection of children’s clothing was enormous, “… but to be honest, it was a bit boring.” She wanted her children to wear not just what major fashion chains were already pushing through in kindergartens: “Fashion is supposed to underscore the personality – and then one takes a closer look and it’s all standardised and uniform.” As a child and young person, she herself had sewn other things than what was commercially available, using dirndl fabrics for bikinis, for instance. “I think young people back then looked more different. People were more courageous then about wearing something unconventional.”

The courage to put on something different

Kids Collection 2014 Kids Collection 2014 | Photo: Anja Conrad Nina Hollein Nina Hollein | Photo: Anja Conrad During her maternity leave, she reconnected with this courage and will to reinterpret, and first off tailored skirts and jackets for her children from traditional Austrian dish- and hand-towel fabric. “If my children hadn’t liked them, they of course wouldn’t have had to wear them,” says Nina Hollein. But they did like them, above all, the gored skirt for girls that always swirled along with them as they moved was a total hit. And not just with the girls, but with their mothers, too. Starting then she was asked time and again if she could sew something like this for other children as well. And when she designed the first pieces for herself, which she then wore in Frankfurt’s cultural scene, the first inquiries about these pieces soon followed. “And so one thing led to another,” says Nina Hollein, who soon afterwards set up her own studio in Frankfurt/Sachsenhausen. And although she now sells both nationally and internationally, customers still drop by straight from Frankfurt, something that is definitely noteworthy in the conservative German banking metropolis, where business chic is more at home.

Wearable – but heading towards avant-garde

Kids Collection 2014 Kids Collection 2014 | Photo: Anja Conrad Nina Hollein Nina Hollein | Photo: Anja Conrad Although Nina Hollein’s women’s collection is both beautiful and wearable, a few pieces are nonetheless heading towards avant-garde. Her fine, transparent tops, for instance, demand self-assured wearers, just as her transparent evening gowns, whose gathering permits different ways of wearing them. The wearer needs discernment and also something of the designer’s own fearlessness where fashion is concerned.

A piece that is both a jacket and trousers at the same time is one piece that is heading in this direction, “and that has sold surprisingly well,” as Nina Hollein relates, somewhat to her own astonishment. The trick is perhaps that although she herself, an architect through and through, always approaches her designs with a plan – but one shouldn’t necessarily be aware of this in the piece, as she says.

Although she herself is fascinated by old crafts techniques, and the ways in which different fabrics can fall, the customer need not necessarily know about the whole background story of a piece of clothing. “I may perhaps make concept clothing, but it should stay easy and wearable.” Moreover, she also very much enjoys working with fabrics that are not intended for outerwear. In addition to dish-towels and bed-sheets, she tailors entire evening gowns out of lining material, which customarily only peeks out above from inside a dirndl.

Fabrics from old weaving companies

Nina Hollein Nina Hollein | Photo: Anja Conrad She discovers most of these fabrics in the Mühlviertel of Upper Austria, where her family still has a vacation home. Poking around in the old weaving workshops, taking fabrics home with her and then working them up into dresses or accessories in her studio – as a designer, this is what interests her about her work. The presentation of her collections, the excitement of the fashion business is something she calmly takes in stride, but this is not what has priority for her. “Fashion,” says Nina Hollein, “actually arises when you’re alone at home in front of the mirror.” And there, women can discover undisturbed whether the possibilities inherent in an evening dress by Nina Hollein have a greater appeal than ready-made, mass-produced apparel, which after all predominates not only in the children’s wear sector.