The Rise of Misha Nonoo

by Alex R. Travers

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Misha Nonoo is trying to find the right words. She thinks for a moment. “It was a happy accident.”

About five years ago, Nonoo, who was then working at a small tailoring atelier in Manhattan’s Garment District, went out to meet some of her girlfriends for brunch. She recalled a conversation.

“I love your jacket,” a friend said to Nonoo.

She replied, “Oh, actually, I made it.”

“My friend is a buyer at Intermix. You should show them.”

Shortly after their chat, Nonoo secured an appointment at the multi-brand fashion retailer. She was hoping to receive some feedback on her capsule collection, which consisted of about eight pieces, all jackets and coats. It was something she was doing on the side—“weekends, evenings, before work.”

When she met with Intermix, Nonoo received some exciting news—the retailer asked to purchase her collection. Then, someone added, “My friend works for Women’s Wear Daily. You should get a press piece. They’re doing a story on new designers to watch.”

At the time, Misha Nonoo did not have a business set up. “I didn’t have an LLC. I didn’t have a lawyer. I didn’t have any of that,” she recalls. She only had samples. Suddenly, the designer had orders to fill. Her brand was born.

Misha Nonoo grew up near the Western shores of the Persian Gulf, in Bahrain. While Nonoo, an only child, was living in the Middle East, she and her parents did a lot of traveling—to Asia, to Europe—and the family would always spend their summers in the United Kingdom, with Misha’s grandmother.

Memory is a prime interest of Nonoo, the designer. She remembers the colors of Bahrain vividly. “When you go to the souks, they have these amazing pyramids of tamarack and saffron.” She also mentions the shades of the deserts. “I would say that definitely influenced me from a design perspective.”

When Misha was 11 years old, her family moved from Bahrain to London. “I had come from a co-ed school and for me everything became very regimented. The English educational system is known for being quite rigid and I had grown up in this slightly more bohemian environment, even though I went to an English school. After a year, I got used to it and I completely loved it.”

Though Nonoo was interested in sports and business and history, she had another fascination.

“I wanted to work in fashion,” she says. “I wanted to have my own label. But that seemed so far away at the age of 17, which is when I went to college.”

Nonoo studied business at London’s European Business School and at the École Supérieure du Commerce Extérieur in Paris, although she admits that she was always more creative than business-minded.

“My parents were like, ‘Maybe try business school and see where that takes you and if you feel strongly about design go work in a design house afterward.’ It was actually their advice that I took. That’s how I was led down [my] path.”

Most of Nonoo’s hands-on fashion experience came when she moved to New York after college. This is when she was working in the Garment District.

“I learned everything from product aspects to basic pattern making. And, at the same time, I was assisting the head designer, so I just shadowed everything she did, from start to finish. Because it was such a small team, I got a very comprehensive overview of what it takes to run a business in fashion.”

After two years of working there, she began crafting her item-driven collection of coats and jackets on the side—the ones that Intermix ended up buying.

“It was daunting, but there is also such a beauty in being young and naïve and not knowing what you’re getting yourself into. I was like, I can do this.”

Her first full collection was for the Fall-Winter 2011 season. After that, her career skyrocketed. She started putting on runway shows in New York. She was accepted into the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund and its incubator program. She launched her own e-commerce site. Nonoo made all the right moves for a young designer working and living in New York.

But what makes Misha Nonoo stand out among her competitors and contemporaries is her purity of style and innovation. There’s a certain romantic quality to her clothes and her cinematic runway shows. She tells me that a lot of her business is based on “contemporary classics.” And when Nonoo talks about her love of fashion and the arts, I’m pleasantly surprised by how those items relate to her brand’s mission.

“Great contemporary art is a huge part of history,” she explains. “It’s almost like looking at history being made now, from an artistic point of view. In 200 years’ time, people will be looking at [Gerhard] Richter’s art and that fascinates me—this idea of how something can stand the test of time and how modernity can age.”

Is that what she hopes her fashion line can achieve?

“It’s always been a very important aspect to me. It’s really about pieces that are going to last in your wardrobe, not only in terms of the styling and the details—it will be relevant in times to come—but the quality is there for it to really still last.”