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Fantasies Dipped in Color | India Mahdavi

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Ask anyone in the field of design and architecture, and they would know India Mahdavi. Being an architect, furniture and interior designer and author of  ‘Home Chic’, she is certainly a master of all trades.

India has an intriguing personality; often referred as a nomad, India was born to Iranian-Egyptian parents, and grew up in different countries which lends to her personality. “I’m like a chameleon; I absorb and understand and adapt” she says.

Portrait by Paolo Roversi

She wanted to be a film maker as a child. “I imagined my life in a really aesthetic way.” And over the years, she fulfilled her dream by channeling her theatrical fantasies into spaces.

Her work has a vibrant visual language-unexpected play of colors, abstract prints all harmoniously sitting together. “My work is about a certain form of comfort and I also work on a level of happiness. It’s colorful, immersive and there is a modern comfort that I’m providing” she says.

Ladurée, Quai des bergues, Genève.  Photo by Annik Wetter

MiND met India Mahdavi at Nilufar gallery, at a private club named Chez Nina, which is tastefully designed by India herself. The velvet upholstery paired with Plexiglas chandeliers created a perfect setting to chat with India.

Chez Nina episode II Imagined by India Mahdavi. Photo by Mattia Iotti

How has growing up in different countries left an impact on you?

I was born in Tehran, and within a year and half, we moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts where I lived up until I was 6 years old. From there, our family went to Heidelberg, Germany for a year, and finally moved to the South of France. There, I attended a progressive school focused on the arts. I was just a child when all this happened. I was obliged to switch languages a few times; some I can still speak, and others have remained in my subconscious. Leaving my friends behind to go to Europe was quite traumatic because you lose your bearings and at that time the gap between the US and Europe was huge. I used to watch cartoons on technicolor TV and switched back to black & white animated cartoons on TV programs starting at 6 o’clock.

Predominantly, moving countries incited me to adapt to the rules of every new place and taught me how to adapt myself to new situations.

India Mahdavi portrait by Sabine Mirlesse

"I think that this barrier of language obliged me to express myself differently, and I started to develop the sensitivity and creativity."

You have often spoken about your interest in film making. What got you started as a furniture & interior designer?

When I finished high school, I was passionate about cinema and spent a year going to the movies three times a day – I therefore knew I wanted to be a film maker. However, there was only one school in Paris that offered postgraduate courses in film making at the time, so I decided to start with something else. Since I was inspired by Fritz Lang, the film director, who had become an architect, I thought it might have been the right path to follow and therefore, I embarked on a long architecture course. By the end of my studies, I decided that I would become a set designer and quickly realized that Paris was not adequate for the kind of movies I wanted to work on. Thus, I went to New York to pursue various courses on the visual arts, graphic design, product and furniture design; and everything fused together.

Now when I design places such as Chez Nina for Nilufar gallery, I create these immersive spaces where the people become actors in the film of their own life.

Chez Nina episode II Imagined by India Mahdavi. Photo by Mattia Iotti

What was your concept behind the RED Valentino store?

Valentino’s team was hoping to create a space that could respond to their ideal client – a young girl who is romantic but rebellious at the same time. They described her in many ways; she’s a dreamer and she’s talented. As I started working with this brief, I tried to picture what youth is: a form of perfection – and a circle, is the shape that reflects perfection. That’s how I started with the floor patterns. The round mirrors are like moons because they’re allude to a dream. We’ve also added a staircase that leads to a mirror – a sort of fantasy. The changing rooms are centered in the space and are covered in velvet tiles. One aspect is soft and velvety whilst the other is rough and hard. I played with the contrast of materials to construct a dream.

RED Valentino store at London Sloane Street. Courtesy of REDValentino

A piece of advice for those who are starting their profession as a designer?

It is important to absorb as much as you can. By this, I mean seeing things for real, not just images on Instagram, Pinterest etc. I think it’s important to get an understanding of all cultures, because you need references. By seeing a lot, you learn a lot. And I’m still doing so to this day.

Ladurée, Tokyo. Photo by Gorta Yuuki

How do you think the architectural landscape is evolving/where do you see it going in the future?

That’s a vast question as there are residential spaces, commercial spaces, public spaces etc. I would say that interior design is a colossal industry nowadays and I’m starting to realize that people are swayed by a volume when they enter a space. I’m not entirely sure where it’s going, I have mixed feelings because I think that we should be careful about what we’re producing and why we’re producing. Everything is possible; there are very intense moments and very hollow ones too. There are so many different directions to explore at the same time, but I think color will be one to stick to.

Mobility is another aspect to consider because living spaces will become smaller. As people lead several different lives when they move from one place to another, they require compactness and mobility. Sometimes these spaces are adorned with a few objects that define what your home is about. On the other hand, I see larger spaces for interaction and sharing. Perhaps living can become a shared experience. Today, it’s students that share communal spaces, but I think that in the future, communal living will become the norm.

"I think there are many directions possible. You can see spaces that are super tailored and then roughness elsewhere that works well. We have to make sure that where we use these tailored elements is one moment, and roughness in another."

The Gallery at sketch. Photo by Thomas Humery

Can you share any future projects?

I’m always working on interesting projects, but I also work on my own projects. Right now, I’m renovating my house in the south of France, which is very exciting. I’ve just bought it and haven’t touched it yet. I’ll leave it as such for 6 months and then start working on it.

By Akanksha Salunke