Dazzling the Gods

Meet Chicago-born designer Nadya, whose one-of-a-kind clothing expresses the essence of paradise—her adopted home, Bali

 

 

By Andrea Rademan

 

“Mass production is not in harmony with the Balinese spirit.”

 

Bali is “the morning of the world,” said the great Indian statesman and writer Pandit Nehru of this predominantly Hindu speck in the Indonesian archipelago. It’s an art-filled magical paradise but, unlike the fictional Shangri-La of “Lost Horizon,” Bali truly exists.

 

The Balinese believe that nature and art are extensions of each other and that each are gifts of the Gods. Since the surest way to keep the Gods happy is to celebrate their gifts, creating art is seen as a form of tribute. In fact, art is such a natural part of daily life that the local tongue has no word for “art” or “artist.”

 

Originally, paintings were simply used to commemorate special occasions. Artisans never signed their pieces, which were often discarded after the ceremony, having served their purpose of telling a story. Paintings were not a mode of individual expression but an attempt to achieve perfection. Free of Western individualism and commercialism, the Balinese painter is proud when other artists try to copy his style.

 

Just outside of Ubud, Bali’s cultural belly button, is a cluster of artisan villages: woodcarving, painting, #batik# (wax dying), and #ikat# (handweaving), to name a few. Among the Balinese and expat artisans who live here, none are more talented than Nadya, whose Puri Naga Studio churns out an endless array of eye-stopping handmade clothing.

 

 

In the style of her future adopted country, she had no formal artistic training when she left her Chicago hometown and headed for Paris at the tender age of 21. Regardless, she carved out a career with the top names in fashion by showing them how to market their couturier clothing to American women. Her wanderlust kept her traveling between both continents even after she married a successful attorney.

 

When she divorced, a decade later, she consoled herself with what she envisioned would be a once-in-a-lifetime tour of Southeast Asia. On her way home, she stopped off in Bali and the unfinished pieces of her life came together. Unable to tear herself away, she prolonged her stay until she was flat out of cash. She returned to Chicago with a trunk full of “souvenirs,” borrowed a friend’s living room to show them, and sold out every last piece. With what she earned, she returned to Bali and repeated the cycle, then repeated it again until she had an epiphany and realized that Bali had become her true home.

 

Continuing to travel back and forth, this modern day nomad eventually set up a garden studio, which has expanded into a 12-house village compound where she lives with a team of skilled artisans and their families.

 

Working with many of their own fabrics, they begin each garment with an outline and an idea. “I tell the artisans what I have in mind,” says Nadya, “and they create what they thought they heard.” Although she shows them art books to help illustrate her ideas, they take their inspiration from a higher source. “The Balinese,” she says, “listen to the Gods for direction.”

 

Once they have a design in mind, the artisans rely on traditional cloth painting, batik, ikat, and other techniques, sometimes embellished with beading, embroidery, or patchwork. They even create many of their own buttons, inlaying them with mother-of-pearl and onyx. No two pieces are alike because each material takes the dye differently. “Mass production,” Nadya says, “is not in harmony with the Balinese spirit.”

 

After a stint selling through upmarket shops like New York’s Bergdorff Goodman, Nadya opted to handle her own sales. “Meeting the people who are buying my clothes makes my designs more personal,” she says, “and their suggestions inspire me.” Customers range from business executives to society wives, New York’s intelligentsia to Los Angeles’ showbiz biggies. Her clothes have been featured onscreen more often than most members of SAG and, although she won’t drop names, numerous famous faces have covered their famous bodies with her designs.

 

Her clients keep an eye on the mailbox, waiting for a postcard from Bali signaling that Nadya is on her way to the States. They know she’ll be toting duffel bags full of her show-stopping but comfortable, neither in nor out of style clothes. Unsized and mostly reversible, these jackets, coats, vests, skirts, and pants in exotic fabrics and exquisite colors are meant for mixing and matching, allowing for the ultimate means of expression—one’s own. This is not clothing meant to impress other women, boyfriends, or husbands.

 

“This,” says Nadya, “is clothing meant to dazzle the Gods.”

 

More online at nadya.com

 

 

STAY IN STYLE

 

BALI

With lush natural gardens and softly lit palace-style walkways, Ibah Luxury Villas & Spa, located in the picturesque foothills of Ubud, offers the best of Balinese culture. A blend of modern and traditional design, the property boasts the amenities of a luxury hotel in an ancient setting. #More information at broughtonhotels.com#

 

LOS ANGELES

Nadya does two to three shows per year in Los Angeles. Check her website regularly for updated info.

 

The Georgian Hotel, Broughton Hospitality’s coastal landmark overlooking the Santa Monica Pier, has been a locals’ favorite gathering place since 1933. The property’s distinctive turquoise and gold Art Deco exterior and original period details belie sumptuous furnishings and state-of-the-art amenities. 1415 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica, CA; 310.395.9945

 

The Sportsmen’s Lodge offers the comfort and convenience of a country lodge in the heart of a big city. An L.A. classic, it has hosted A-list celebrities including Clark Gable, John Wayne, and Bette Davis since opening in the mid-century. 12825 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA; 800.821.8511

 

 

For details on each of these properties, see broughtonhotels.com.