T

he fashion world revolves around trends, and the latest craze is for South Asian inspired goods. From Old Navy’s “tunic” kurtis to the ubiquitous khussa-inspired flats, stores everywhere are flooded with westernized reincarnations of desi favorites. In fact, many a desi entrepreneur has gained a foothold in fashion by drawing on their South Asian roots to inspire their creations.

Avani and Sneh Patel bucked this trend and took a different route altogether in establishing their clothing line, Nasaani. Rejecting the current east-west fusion, the fashion forward sisters decided to aim for an exclusively western look. Says Avani, “That’s something we wanted to stay away from. We didn’t want it to be a mix of east and west.”

We didn’t want Nasaani to be a mix of east and west.

Nasaani

It was an ambitious undertaking for two women without significant experience in fashion or clothing manufacturing. Avani, 25, was a graduate of Northwestern’s law school, and spent her days immersed in corporate and securities law. Sneh, 21, was a pharmacy student at University of Illinois at Chicago with the benefit of only one high school design class. But both shared a love of fashion and a desire for the avant-garde. They especially abhorred the cookie-cutter fashions so common among young men and women.

“I was on Michigan Avenue [downtown Chicago’s shopping district] all the time, and after a while there’s nothing you want to wear in the city. I started designing for myself,” explains Avani. “It was kind of one of those things where if we wore it out, people would always ask me [where it was from].” One outfit in particular, worn to a charity benefit in Chicago, attracted considerable attention. “A friend said to me: ‘You guys enjoy doing this, why don’t you do this as a business?'”

Intrigued by the proposition, Avani and Sneh put together some pieces which were then worn by the waitresses at Narcisse, a local Chicago hotspot. The feedback was overwhelmingly affirmative, and buoyed by the positive response, the duo decided to take their fledgling efforts to the next level. Except for a brief hiatus during which Avani studied for the bar exam, the sisters devoted themselves to the creation of their first collection. The result of their dedication was a clothing line characterized by stunning, even audacious, styles and cuts.

“What we’re looking to target is people between the ages of 17 and 50 who want something a little more edgy but still elegant and sophisticated,” says Avani. “Like if you’re going to a black tie affair and don’t want to look like anyone else. We never do anything ultra-casual; even our tank top has crystal on it.”

Nasaani is not for someone who’s ultra conservative. It’s for someone who wants to be noticed and wants something different.

Nasaani

As Avani claims, Nasaani is “not for someone who’s ultra conservative. It’s for someone who wants to be noticed and wants something different.” And if the response to Nasaani’s debut was any indication, people are definitely searching for eye-catching clothing that will get them noticed. Avani goes on to explain, “We have a white silk dress that symbolizes the women’s collection. It’s embroidered around the neck, and the belt is detachable. That dress reminded me of Cleopatra, and I’ve heard other people say the same thing. Women at the show were like, ‘I have to have that dress.'”

The Nasaani men’s line is equally striking. Just as with the women’s line, the men’s clothing evolved from the girls’ initial experimentation. “I had gone to India and just kind of dabbled, had a few shirts made. Not really for the company, just for friends or family, and I thought it was a lot more interesting. Men’s clothes right now are conservative, and men are looking for something different. The market’s wide open right now,” relates Avani.

Her efforts to liven up men’s fashion proved to prescient, as she later discovered. “We make a midnight blue and gold brocade jacket, very rich fabric. I had a friend of mine wear it in New York. He had so many women come up to him and touch him. Most of the time you don’t notice what men are wearing—he literally had women stop and touch his chest!” laughs Avani. The jacket brought attention not only to the lucky wearer, but to its creators as well. “I got a call a week later from someone who was interested in distributing us. He walked into the club, and that was the first thing he saw and he had to have it.”

The distributor’s request is not the only mark of approval the company has received. No less than rock royalty is said to be sporting Nasaani: Music star Prince reportedly owns a pair of Nasaani pants. “We were told by the person who owns the boutique that his buyer was there, and they were a special order,” says Avani.

No less than rock royalty is said to be sporting Nasaani: Music star Prince reportedly owns a pair of Nasaani pants.

Not content with their current wholesale into local boutiques, Avani and Sneh are eyeing expansion. Explains Avani, “We do want to go national. I have been speaking to someone who is going to start distributing in the San Francisco area, and we’re in the midst of talking to showrooms in New York also. Avani also looks forward to the eventual Nasaani accessories collection. “We do have some bags, but I’m not sure when we’ll start marketing them. Eventually we would love to do jewelry, and I’d love to do shoes.” Ultimately, the sisters would like to have the name recognition of more established fashion houses. “We don’t just want to be designers; we want to build a company. Something like Gucci or Prada where it’s in itself almost just an institution.”

Avani and Sneh Patel are experts at starting small and dreaming big, and if their past performance is any indication, Nasaani’s future as a house of unique and modern fashion seems bright.n

Deepa Kamath is an undercover fashionista.
Published on May 2, 2005.
Photography: Courtesy of Nasaani.

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Comments are closed.
  1. September 28, 2006, 8:19 pm Shreya

    I’m going to Chicago in December and would love to check out Nassani clothing style.

    Where is this located? I must have missed it if the location is on this page.

    Thankss

  2. September 28, 2006, 9:00 pm Nirali Magazine

    We don’t think Nasaani has any retail outlets; it seems that their stuff is sold in various boutiques. Contact them for retail locations:

    Nasaani, Inc.
    sales@nasaani.com
    773.368.5438