Come Dine With Me... Nili Lotan
TriBeCa based designer NILI LOTAN invited the Browns team out for dinner at her favourite local restaurant, The Odeon; talking us through everything from her military ID number to her mum’s best recipe for Hungarian ratatouille.
On her designs…
Some of the best advice I’ve ever been given about designing was, ‘stay true to yourself.’ It’s very straightforward and it’s true! It’s why I’ve never been really drawn to fashion in a way, that wasn’t what pulled me in to start doing what I do. The message of my brand is about effortlessness and rock and roll but most importantly timelessness. I’m more inspired by an individual’s personal style than I am by trends, therefore I aim to create pieces that will serve the wearer forever and become part of who they are. I have a philosophy from which I always start too, one that says the clothes should be about making you feel good, allowing women who wear them to discover and nurture their own personal style. Once a person has found that out then they always feel comfortable in what they’re wearing! To me, clothes are like your home, so when you’re confident in what you are in then you can project that feeling, they are a means by which to express yourself. We all go home to regain our strength too, clothes should help us to do that. I have never aimed my collections at any one particular age, size or body shape either, all women are beautiful and I believe in creating the tools that can be used to enhance that for everyone.
On her background…
I’m from Tel Aviv, Israel. It’s a country in conflict and I think the way that you grow up there is with the sense that you should enjoy today because you don’t know what tomorrow may bring, if tomorrow will even exist. It means that you embrace the time you have and try to fit in as many things you can into 24 hours; it’s that attitude that instilled in me the drive to start my own business. My upbringing is reflective of the way I ask people to react to the questions I raise with my work and also how I function: I function as if I’m in a war zone. When I was younger, I lived by the beach near olive groves that looked out over the Mediterranean Sea and even now army green, the colour of olive trees and aqua blue are still my favourite colours. I am now a supporter of Women Wage Peace, an Israeli peace initiative, and believe in the opposite of what guns represent, but when you’re surrounded by such things, it becomes part of who you are sadly. Going into the army in Israel is not a choice and I served earlier in my life, my ID number from then, 2609988, can be found on the labels of every one of my garments. To me, it acts as a reminder to put egos aside and become part of a bigger community.
On setting up her label…
After the army, I studied fashion and later moved to New York in the 80’s. I was originally very sceptical about moving out here to NYC! It was a different place back then but I quickly fell in love with it and established myself with my own successful career. I’d been working for the best designers in New York for 23 years and it ended up being quite a sudden decision to set up my own brand. Freedom was what I really craved, I sought something that allowed me to do what I wanted, when I wanted and as much as I wanted. When I first started, I asked myself why did I deserve my own line and what could I bring to the world that others weren’t. Looking to the founding columns of my own personal wardrobe, I made a selection of what that first collection could be. I think it was an exploration of my own self but I also kept in mind that every woman should get to know herself and her own body, who was I to tell them what to do? I wanted to serve women in providing pieces that allowed them to find that out for themselves.
It’s in high school that people usually begin to develop their own sense of style; for me that time was in the 60’s and 70’s and I’m really attuned to those decades because of it. Music is often a starting point from which I begin to design and though any references to particular artists may not be literally translated into the garments, they are still there in spirit. In the past, I would buy hundreds of magazines and sit there tearing out pages and create boards of things that I loved, now I wake up at 5am and go to my Instagram and other social media platforms and I’m immediately inspired - the world comes to your bed! It’s fantastic. The process by which my brand has grown has been very organic and for that I’m very fortunate. It’s what I wanted, for people to find it and really fall in love with it. Some of my fondest memories include seeing Ashley Graham in one of my jumpsuits looking brilliant and along with Rihanna, Julianne Moore and Gigi Hadid really enjoying the pieces.
Dream guest for dinner?
My late parents.
Favourite piece of public art?
Red Cube, 1968, by Isamu Noguchi at 140 Broadway.
What would you like to do that you currently can’t?
Sit on the beach with my husband and have a drink.
Are you a good cook and what’s your signature dish?
I’m a great cook! And I bake also. My mum’s recipe for a Hungarian version of ratatouille is a particular favourite.
What’s your cure for procrastination?
I just don’t procrastinate!
How would you describe your culinary tastes?
Top tip for lazy dressers…
It’s the way you’re being perceived in the world so you’d better start paying attention.
What is New York’s best kept secret?
If the world was about to end, what would your last meal be?
My husband’s shrimp dish followed by a poppy seed babka.
What’s your most used app and how do you stop yourself from scrolling?
Instagram and I don’t stop!
What’s your favourite bar?
The bar here at The Odeon, of course.
What’s the most exciting thing about the fashion industry today?
I think you can create a brand today and go straight to the consumer doing business, all you need is a website or a social media account.
What’s a popular food that everybody loves that you just don’t understand?
Bananas, I can’t stand them! I don’t use the word hate a lot except for bananas, they make me nauseous.
What’s another of your favourite restaurants and favourite dishes there?
One of them is Bar Pitti and their shrimp in tomato sauce.
What would you most like to change about the world?
That people respect each other more and don’t fight.
Why do you love The Odeon so much and why are we here today?
At one point, I was renovating my apartment and didn’t have a kitchen so would come here every night, it became my second home! The people here are so nice and together we are all part of community. Being here is all about feeling good, it’s not just about the food, which is very good, but also about loving the people here and them loving us.
Photographer: Jonathan Middleton
Interview: Ross Aston
Location & food: The Odeon