Interview with Neima Sitawi by Usha Das of Plural Art Magazine Singapore

What are you wearing today? Tell us about your outfit and your practice as a fashion designer.  

Today I am wearing the original Zoe pant from NEIMASITAWI. These pants were highly inspired by the elegant and strong silhouettes of Katharine Hepburn in the 1940s. She was one of the first actresses to immortalize women’s trousers after Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel popularised the garment.   As a designer, I have always been inspired by style in film noir; channelling a sense of femininity and timelessness in all of my work. The essence of the brand is the idea of nostalgia, dating back to a time when dressing was still a ritual, and quality was at the apex of style decisions.

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 14.47.46Your clothes are gorgeous, the fabric is thick, structured and lush. But do you think they are practical in Singapore’s tropical climate?

Natural fabrics (for e.g. cotton, silk, linen) adapt well to temperature change. Most of my clients travel abroad to Europe or Northern Asia frequently so I need pieces that are able to match all climates. Most of my work is lined. To many, adding a lining would seem counterintuitive in a tropical climate. However, let it be known that a good lining protects clothing from sweat and body oils! Linings are frequently used as a preservation tool in the luxury apparel world. One tell-tale sign that you are paying too much for your luxury pieces is if you discover that they are not lined!

The Italian aesthetic of the 1950s that I favour, requires structure and a proper cut that sits well against the skin without resorting to synthetics and elastics for a snug fit.  In addition, I realized quickly that in Singapore, people tend to move from one overly-air-conditioned place to another, so I don’t envision many people will be standing around in my clothes, under the hot sun!

You’ve offered up your home to be a part of the OH! Open House art tours. Why?

I moved to Singapore from Geneva, Switzerland in August 2017, after having lived for a year in Chicago and for 3 years in Shanghai. Although I am American, Europe is my home; it inspires me and brings out the best of my creativity. For this reason, and because of the historical architectural legacy of Emerald Hill, I chose a shophouse to live in when I moved to Singapore. During my second week in town and before my container of belongings had even arrived, I found a small card in my mailbox calling for potential sponsors for the OH! Emerald Hill project.  For me, it was a sign that despite Singapore’s young age, it was in fact home to a community of old-world dreamers just like me. I felt that connecting with local artists around architecture and history was probably the most authentic way to give light to my creative ambitions.  On a separate note, when I discovered that Alan (Oei, OH!’s creative director) had constructed an experience to bring to light the darker underbelly of Singapore’s colonial roots, it really resonated with me. Being of Native American descent myself, the plight of an indigenous people hits me in the heart.

And why the work by artist Mamakan?

Neima considers Daughter of the Soil, the installation on display in her home.  I was actually introduced to Mamakan by a mutual friend who thought that the two of us would get along really well. We met officially at a fashion show at the Alliance Français and after learning more about her work, I realized that she should be involved in OH! Open House. I immediately connected her with the OH! Team. Even without knowing the exact work that she was planning to present, I felt a strong connection with her own sense of nostalgia and timelessness. Thus, I requested that she exhibit in my home. The rest is history!

How would you like audiences to respond to the artwork in your home? 

My hope is that people are mindful, quiet and really take the time to listen to the complex and fascinating story that Mamakan has uncovered for us about the origins of the national flower and all of its secrets.

We noticed you run styling workshops – why did you decide to run these and what is your clientele like?

The fashion label NEIMASITAWI was born in 2010 in Bologna, Italy where I lived with my family. Over the years and across the various countries I have lived in, I have come to know many wonderful women from different backgrounds. These ladies mostly come to me with the original intention of doing some “luxury shopping,” or simply buying pieces from an “Italian label.” What I quickly picked up on, was that aside from buying lovely, hand-made Italian clothing, these ladies also felt a need to obtain more in-depth style and lifestyle advice.

Currently, in the market, styling advice falls short in content; focusing mainly on external and visual elements such as how to hide one’s flaws or give the illusion of being something or someone else. My ambition is to bring the word “style” to its maximum fruition. A sort of “360 degree- view” of style, one which encapsulates how people make decisions about their image from a physical, psychological, philosophical and educational standpoint.  I want to intellectualize the concept of style and move my audience away from simplistic versions of trend-based style or style that chases stereotypical brand names. For example, the point is not to be able to simply drop names of expensive wines, anyone can easily google a list of names! I give my clients the knowledge of how to engage with specialists in various luxury sectors (for e.g. clothing, accessories, food, wine, perfume) so that they have the confidence to share their own opinions, based on solid knowledge and experience.  I think it is essential to travel deep into histories and legacies so that people can learn why certain things are considered special and expensive. Only if we understand something, can we then make an informed decision about whether we like it or not!

Borrowing from my background as an MBA-holder, some of my modules are actually very intense, including elements such as budgeting, forecasting, procurement and expense allocation with regard to how one should financially approach a styling goal. I do however include more fun modules such as body language, the art of the scarf, and European connoisseurship.  I’m not saying that European etiquette is necessarily better or more superior, but if one has to move around in those circles it could be useful to have this kind of knowledge.  In short, my clients are intelligent women who want concrete and rich guidance on taking their image to the next level. I help them to identify their goals and to establish a sustainable and holistic execution plan.

Who’s your favourite artist right now? 

Unfortunately, I’m not up to date on the latest and greatest, but I love Gustav Klimt’s ornamentation. Modigliani is the artist who makes me blush and inspires the deepest caverns of my femininity.

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