Misha Nonoo’s “Husband Shirt” has become beloved by influencers and editors and has starrier fans as well, such as supermodel Karlie Kloss and Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex – perhaps the most influential style icon of her generation. The piece, available in a range of colours, fabrics and stud options, has become an enduring classic and perennial favourite of Nonoo’s nine-year-old brand.
The designer, who is based between New York and London (she has a store in Manhattan), was wearing it shortly before our Zoom interview, an olive linen version with gold studs that she had paired with jeans, tucked in slightly in the front, left loose in the back. She’d also previously worn it with a slender skirt, and left breezy and unbuttoned over a bikini for a day at the beach.
For Nonoo, the shirt – like everything else in her eponymous brand – was created with considerable thought. She says that she has long been a minimalist, preferring a few choice pieces in her wardrobe than a lot of random ones. It is an aesthetic that the Bahrain-born, London-raised designer honed while studying in Paris – where she went to get her degree not in fashion, but in business.
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It’s that same pared-down aesthetic that appears in all her collections, whether it be geared to women working from home or for those who may step out for a small, socially distanced holiday gathering.
Nonoo recalls wanting to become a fashion designer when she was 14 or 15, although concedes that “when that idea came to formation, who knew what that statement meant.” It was 20 years ago and she found herself profoundly influenced by Alexander McQueen, who was the fashion world’s big star at the time. When she told her parents she wanted to get into fashion, they advised her to go to business school.
“They said that if I was going to have my own business in the fashion world, I’d need to learn to balance the books. All of that sounded extremely boring, but I thought, ‘Fine, it’s a means to an end.’ It ended up being one of the best decisions I made.”
Although she wasn’t studying fashion design while in business school in Paris, that typically Parisian style of owning a few high-quality pieces resonated with her.
“It’s really about investing in beautiful pieces, classics that you wear in rotation with one another,” she says. “It’s about a capsule wardrobe of quality pieces like a black pair of trousers, a white shirt, a great blazer.”
She’s stuck pretty closely to the style ever since. Asked what’s in her closet today, she says she has a few pairs of white sneakers from Common Projects and enjoys fitness wear from Lululemon. Everything else she owns, she says, is her own brand.
She moved to New York after business school to work with a small tailoring atelier run by a brother-and-sister duo, where she learned the nuts and bolts of the fashion business. She designed a few pieces, including a jacket she later wore while sitting in a restaurant on the Lower East Side. A woman tapped her on the shoulder to ask her about it.
“I made it,” Nonoo told her. The woman happened to be a buyer at multi-brand retailer Intermix and asked Nonoo if she had anything else in the collection, and if she could bring them in. A week later, Nonoo had a purchase order for six of the eight styles in her debut collection, which wasn’t even a business yet.
“I had to deliver three months later and had to sort out how to manufacture. Really, all of that business school background which had seemed so lofty when I was thinking about how to design clothes actually came to be very important from day one.”
Her business received more of a boost when she became a finalist of the 2013 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, presenting her line to the likes of Anna Wintour. She was also one of the first designers to use social media as a platform to unveil new collections, debuting her spring/summer 2016 line on Instagram and her autumn 2016 collection on Snapchat.
More recently, Nonoo shifted her business to an entirely direct-to-consumer, on-demand model, and ships to customers around the world. This means that instead of making a certain number of items in the hopes that they will be sold, she now only makes a piece when an order comes in.
She understands that this is anathema in the age of instant gratification, when a designer dress can be delivered by Net-a-Porter within a day. She tells her clients that it can take up to 10 business days to fulfil an order. She works with four factories, one of which is in Hong Kong and another in Shenzhen, so her Hong Kong- and China-based buyers get their orders quicker.
She’d rather ask her customers to wait a few days than to overproduce, saying that so much of the content of landfills is textiles.
“Fashion has become so overwhelming, you can get anything at any time of day,” she says. “But the way I think about fashion is it’s a bit more of a slow movement. It’s going back to the idea of the capsule wardrobe, which I started to see and take shape in Paris – buy better, wear longer. That’s our north star – how do we eliminate waste so that the pieces you purchase and put in your wardrobe are special and have longevity?”
Her Husband Shirt is a prime example of that. It’s been a consistent seller and was given an enormous lift when Markle, her friend, wore a white version with jeans in 2017 at the Invictus Games in Toronto.
“If you think of style icons like Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Katharine Hepburn, you will find a picture of them in a classic white shirt,” she says. “There is nothing cleaner and crisper than a woman of any age, ethnicity or size wearing a white shirt. It’s something that never goes out of fashion.”
In September 2019, Nonoo and Markle collaborated on a capsule collection of workwear clothes to benefit the British charity Smart Works, which provides clothing to women about to re-enter the workforce.
“I’m a huge fan of her style,” Nonoo says of the royal. “I always think it’s important to work with someone whose values align so closely with your own.”
Instead of launching an ever increasing number of categories, as is the priority of many labels, Nonoo would rather focus her efforts on sustainability and sharing her on-demand technology with other brands.
“Helping other brands eliminate waste is something we feel passionate about,” she says. “It’s taken us a couple of years to hone this, and it’s something we would love to share with others, to look at how we can minimise their environmental impact.”
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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.
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