"It's like a UFO has landed in Berlin" is how Rianna + Nina’s fans described the initial launch of the brand three years ago. The vivid colors, complex patterns, rich silks and stunning, indescribable textures are archetypal opposites of the dark, minimalistic style Berlin has become synonymous with.
It all started when Rianna Nektaria Kounou met Nina Kuhn at a vintage furniture fair. Both were wearing bright colors and immediately hit it off. As if that wasn't enough, Kuhn had a background in public relations, doing press for Galeries Lafayette in Berlin, while Kounou’s family has been working in the secondhand clothing market for decades by way of vintage shops and collecting rare fabrics. Naturally, Kounou also got her education in costume design.
Shortly after the two had their first dinner together, the brand Nina + Rianna was born. Ever since, they've been having touble keeping their pieces in stock. Taking a look at their website instantly reveals that almost everything is sold out. A previous trunk show on Moda Operandi sold out within just two days. Their pop-up, which just opened on the third floor of Bergdorf Goodman (and remains open for the next two weeks) brought fans who plucked some of the very best pieces during the first day. One individual had her stylist spend over $100,000 on opening day.
The secret of their success lies in the individuality of each of their garments. A Rianna + Nina kimono is one of a kind. Each is crafted from an assortment of vintage silk scarves and fabrics and handmade in Berlin, hence the brand’s couture references. Sometimes, you’ll even find one made completely of Hermes scarves.
But the magic doesn’t end there: you can style them in a variety of ways, too. A printed kimono can be worn open with jeans, its sash tied around the neck like a choker necklace. Or you could belt it and wear it as a dress for a night out. The beauty of the Rianna + Nina’s pieces is that you could have an entire wardrobe of them, but it wouldn’t feel like you were wearing the same thing.
“We use about six different scarves, from Hermes, Dior, different brands, and mix them together,” says Kuhn. While the focus is clearly on kimonos, the friends also craft kaftans, dresses and some variations of outerwear, such as capes (all one of a kind.) One dress from the line encompasses up to 30 different scarves. Rianna + Nina also recently collaborated with Swarovski, for a few over-the-top glitzy pieces available at the Bergdorf pop-up. In general, pieces range from $800 to over $15,000. However, the key philosophy that makes an impact no matter the garment, is that everything is one size. Along with that, all the jackets are completely reversible. Some of the heavily patterned silk pieces are transformed into classic, demure blazers when flipped.
“What we like about the kimono is that it’s not fitted,” says Kuhn. “It fits so many women, it’s comfortable and it’s still special. You can wear it with a belt or without. It’s so tiring for so many women with tops that are so small. It’s not a problem, but the industry makes a problem.”
“Rianna and I, we are so different body-wise, but we look good in our designs. Both of us.” Notably, both were wearing their own designs and looked incredible at the Bergdorf event.
Prior to arriving at Bergdorf Goodman, the label sold pieces from its Berlin shop and atelier, as well as from a few international retailers in Europe. Coming to New York signifies not only that the brand is expanding, but also highlights the launch of their ready-to-wear line, which debuted in Berlin just a few months ago. Like the line’s signature pieces, the ready-to-wear clothing focuses on vintage textiles—the difference is that they are not one of a kind. Instead, the duo hunted down pieces, like vintage 1940s tablecloths, that would make for the perfect garment.
“In this industry, everything is so fast and everything is about cheap production,” says Kuhn. “Everything is about trends. We will keep on doing the kimono. We know it’s a trend right now, but we did them right when we started three years ago. It’s really shocking for us how big kimonos got. It’s our bread and butter.”