Getting to Know Rianna and Nina
During an eventful week, we caught up with Nina Kuhn of Rianna and Nina to talk about how she and her partner Rianna Nektaria Kounou met, why vintage clothing is so inspiring, and what is next for the brand.
Rianna and Nina was founded by Rianna Nektaria Kounou of Athens, Greece, and Nina Kuhn of Frankfurt, German, who met at a vintage furniture fair. They quickly realized that they both had a passion for unique fabric and prints, traveling, and a positive outlook on living. They launched their “Cabinet of Curiosities” in 2014 as a way to share these passions with the world. Here, Nina shares the inspiration behind the line, where they source their materials, and what is next for the pair.— Jessica Minkoff
Tell me a little bit about your past. Where did you grow up? What did you study in school? Were you always interested in fashion? Rianna has always worked in vintage fashion. She is a costume designer and her mom worked as a costume designer and made jewelry. She never did it professionally, but she had an exhibition at Palais Royale. She grew up at flea markets and antique fairs, and her parents are vintage fabric dealers, which got her attached at a very early age. She grew up in Athens, Greece. When she started working as a costume designer, she worked at her mom’s vintage and costume store where you could rent costumes for movies. She moved with her parents to Berlin because her stepfather is German, and, when she came back to Athens, she opened her own vintage store called Berlin because she loved the city so much. The store always brought a lot of designers in to see her collections. In 2009 she came back to Berlin with her son and husband and opened her second vintage store, Rianna, which is still open today. It has an amazing selection of vintage pieces from the 60s to the 90s, with designers like YSL and Hermes to no-name brands as well, all of which are colorful and beautiful. As for me, three years ago I was head of marketing for the French department store Galeries Lafayette, and they also have a store in Berlin. Prior to that, I got my masters in Milan in Fashion Design Management before moving to Paris. Then I came to New York to do an internship at Bill Blass and I also worked with the fashion section at BMW and collaborated with Visionaire Magazine. My whole life has been fashion and having my own label has always been in my mind.
Where did you and Rianna meet? Rianna and I first bumped into each other 4 years ago at a vintage furniture fair in Berlin. Everyone was dressed in black, and since we are both always dressed super colorful, we were immediately interested in each other. We started talking and she told me about her vintage store, which for me is one of the best vintage stores that I have ever seen worldwide. I visited her in her store and then I had dinner with her and her family. We felt we had so much in common, and we were totally surprised because we are so different in age, cultural background and experience. We just had this very special connection and wanted to do something special together. We decided to open a super small store in Berlin, and just started with some bags, vintage scarves, and kimonos—not like the luxury way we do today, but the foundation and direction we wanted to take was already set. We had carpets and rugs from Afghanistan, I brought jewelry from Tulum, and we really wanted to create a little colorful department store. We quickly saw that our clients really wanted the products we were creating personally as opposed to the other pieces we were bringing in, so we started to work more on our designs. We opened a bigger store with just our selection, which we just closed two months ago when we opened our big atelier where our seamstresses can work and we can do private appointments. We needed a space that could meet all of the requests for Rianna and Nina.
Have you always had a interest in vintage clothing? Did you shop/wear vintage at a young age? Always! I don’t have a crazy grandmother or an Hermes collector for a mom. But when I was 12 I bought a vintage pair of Levi’s jeans. I loved them so much and I always talked about them and from that moment I never wanted to go to normal stores anymore. I would go to charity sales and flea markets. By the time I was 18, I had already bought vintage kimonos. Now my whole closet is vintage, and that’s why Rianna and I were really drawn to each other, because we both share this passion.
Can you describe one another's role in the partnership? Do you do different things? Totally different. Rianna is our designer. But we decide everything together at the end. We think it’s most important that we go in the same direction. We talk about shapes and styles we want to do, but Rianna dreams of things and, if we both like it, then we just do it. I do more of the business side—the PR, marketing, sales—everything besides designing is me.
Where do you source the fabrics? It’s really everywhere. Since Rianna has a fabric background through her family, we have a worldwide network of people that collect scarves, buy them, and call us. We also go to flea markets and thrift stores, and we talk to collectors—it’s like a network that we have built. Our pieces are so expensive and special because you can’t go to a fabric store and say that you want 10 meters of the yellow and 10 meters of the pink. At any given time we may have a simple color or a vintage couture fabric or a wall carpet from the 60s from Hungary.
"At any given time we may have a simple color or a vintage couture fabric or a wall carpet from the 60s from Hungary."
If you could describe the aesthetic of Rianna and Nina in 3 words, what would they be? A lot of clients say is that it’s reworked, but it’s finally something new. We hear from so many people that they see so many brands everyday and that it’s really hard to feel excitement about things. But when they see Rianna and Nina, it feels special. But, in general, I would say colorful, extraordinary, and us. It’s really Rianna and Nina—we don’t need a fancy name because it is really who we are, which shows that it's not made for a specific woman. We don’t have sizes, and they fit a lot of women. I am very tall and the kimono fits me as well as my tiny friends.
What are some of the best selling/most popular pieces? Is there an element of your collections that was quite popular unexpectedly? The kimonos and the long ruffle dresses are really popular. They are made of up to 30 different scarves. We started doing the kimonos three years ago and that is how it all started. Kimonos are so popular right now, which is good for us, but, on the other hand, it has also been annoying because it may feel like we did something trendy and we hate that. We don’t want to be trendy at all but instead the goal is to make classics that are fun and special. We’ve had so many clients say that the kimonos are something that they would give to their daughters because of their special quality. So for that reason, the kimono will always be a part of the collection. It is amazing how easy it is to look good in a kimono. They have always existed and will always exist. It’s something you can wear as a dress, or you can put on with jeans and it’s super easy.
How has the label evolved and changed since it first launched in 2014? It has totally changed! When we started, it wasn’t really a brand but a small boutique. The brand how we think about it today started at the beginning of this year. We had never worked with other stores before. Our clients found us through word of mouth. At the beginning it was just an experiment and it wasn’t really about a collection. We just did some kimonos and they worked well. Now we have collaborations with Swarovski, we have coats for $20,000 and the clients continue to support us. For Spring/Summer we also launched a second line in addition to our one-off collection, because we had so many ideas for our own prints. It is called It’s All Greek to Me. We used Greek prints from fairytale books from the 40s, and from old table cloths. This is what collection is all about and it will be available for all seasons if the clients like it.
How would you describe the Rianna and Nina girl? Is there a specific style inspiration/icon that guides your collections? She is fearless. She plays with fashion. She has fun. She loves color, of course. She doesn’t take herself too seriously, and she doesn’t have a problem getting attention. She will wear a kimono to go to the mailbox.
"She is fearless. She plays with fashion. She has fun. She loves color, of course. She doesn’t take herself too seriously, and she doesn’t have a problem getting attention. She will wear a kimono to go to the mailbox."
Where did you gather inspiration for the SS18 collection? What was the process like? It’s a mix. Rianna and I are both not designers. Rianna really did more like costume history. We both can’t draw and we both can’t sew. Everything we do, the entire start of brand, it was really just us following our hearts. We also do that when we design. Sometimes Rianna calls me with an idea and she needs to find the perfect fabric. Other times we find fabrics that are so amazing and she has to make something specifically for the fabric. It totally depends. Since there are no rules, we can do whatever we want. Sometimes we try new styles and, if the clients like it, we do more. If not, we change it. We are super free, and that’s the best part.
How long does it take to make the dresses made out of 30 scarves? One dress is handmade in 10 to 15 hours. It is made in our atelier by our seamstresses by hand with these unique fabrics.
Do you have any dream collaborations? We are talking to very special eyewear brands because we love sunglasses and want to do something special with them. We also get so many requests for collaborations, but we are very picky because the brand is still so new. We don’t want to mix it up with something else until our identity is totally clear. Rianna and I love shoes and jewelry and hope to do something with that eventually. And candles! We do interiors by ourselves now—we have lamps and cushions. We buy vintage lamps and make the shades by hand with vintage fabrics. We want to present our whole world to the client but, right now, since the fashion is growing so fast, we have to focus on that.
What is next for the brand? Anything special on the horizon that you can share with us? Next season we will be in 15 stores. We had to say no to some people that didn’t feel right to us, but when I saw Beth’s Instagram and read about her, I knew that we matched perfectly. Color wise, style wise, KZ is so special. It was the perfect fit. We will also be holding pop ups in Hong Kong and Italy because those are a great way to meet our clients in person. We love to meet interesting women, and we always come back with such nice, fun stories. We want to meet as many clients as possible and get their feedback. This is also where we get inspiration.
Is there anyone in the fashion scene or the public eye that you would love to see in a Rianna and Nina piece? We love Giovanna Battaglia, Tracey Ellis Ross—there are many different women we would love to see in the clothes—but those two for sure.
Shop Rianna and Nina exclusively at Kirna Zabête Palm Beach or call to order 1-877-KZ LUVS U (1-877-595-8878) Monday-Friday 10:00AM-5:00PM Eastern Standard Time.