Niloufar Afnan is not an imposing figure. She is petite, soft-spoken and wears subdued colors. Her personal aesthetic belies the fact that she is the designer of vivid, patterned and bold jewelry, clothing and furniture. Upon first seeing Niloufar Afnan at TUMO Studios, she was flanked on either side, teaching her students the best way to get the stitching right on a structured garment they were working on. The audience was listening intently, eyes wide, mouths slightly agape as they tried to absorb each word — Niloufar may not be loud, but her words traveled. She was in the middle of her fashion and design atelier at TUMO Studios. We chatted with the designer to discuss her motivation, taking cues from whom she dubs as the ‘original’ designer, and her complicated relationship with functionality.
1. What inspires you the most?
It has to be nature. Mother Nature is the ultimate designer. When you look at a leaf with all its lines, or an insect with its array of colors, you can’t help but acknowledge the beauty behind each design. I think that my palette, my lines, my shapes are all, in some way, inspired by nature. Aside from that however, I’m also heavily inspired by the material I’m working with. When you look at or feel a certain cloth or textile, you start getting lost in your own imagination, visualizing what it can become. I never plan my designs before seeing what I’m going to be working with; it’s a spontaneous process.
2. What drew you to product design?
Over time, I realized that I really liked objects — furniture, tables, chairs, lights — but I didn’t like the idea of functionality. I wanted to challenge that, so I made chairs and tables that weren’t functional. We have enough chairs and tables and they all work great, beautifully. I think designers now should be more critical with what they’re putting out in the market because we already have an abundance of domestic objects. It’s time to be more conceptual.