A Discussion With Fashion Designer Nana Yaa Asare-Boadu

A sense of style that evokes confidence and even a little whimsy, Nana Yaa Asare-Boadu may be new to New York, but her style is all Brooklyn. The head designer for Jonathan Simkhai, Nana Yaa has an eye for details. Informed by her experience working in fashion in Milan and Paris, this designer takes the time and care to work by hand in one of New York’s most fast-paced industries. Here we discuss what led her to the fashion industry, how her Ghanaian heritage informs her aesthetic and her favorite places for design and decor inspiration in the borough.

What led you to fashion design?

I loved designing clothes from the age of six. I never thought to be a fashion designer because I didn’t know what that was. It was only when I was seventeen, a friend suggested I enroll in a fashion department at an art school when I lived in Holland. I guess this was the moment I knew what I wanted to be. Sometimes things have a funny way of working out in life.

You have worked in major fashion houses, and are currently the Head Designer at Jonathan Simkhai. Where has the journey in fashion led you and what is it like being in the fashion industry in New York?

It’s led me to being able to travel the world and do what I love most in life – designing and being challenged. But also I’m working for a brand I love with really lovely people. The fashion industry in New York is work hard play hard. It’s pretty fast-paced, maybe even crazy, much more than Paris or Milan. There is always 100 things going on at the same time. But regardless, there is something about it that I really love and have gotten used to, but I don’t quite know what it is.

What inspires you as a designer? Is there a specific person or place that inspires you?

I think for me inspiration comes from anything – books, poetry, travel, music, architecture, everyday objects, artists. Sometimes it might even be a feeling or a way a piece of fabric hangs.

You have lived in many different parts of the world. How has living in many places influenced your style?

I guess you are always influenced by your surroundings, you pick up bits and pieces of what’s going on around you and make it work for yourself, either adding or subtracting pieces. You evolve in each country you live in. My favorite places so far have been Israel and Ghana. Every time I go I see something new and magic happens. But it’s not about going back to one place for inspiration, it’s about visiting everywhere to constantly be inspired by new things.

How do you keep your aesthetic fresh?

Wow, that’s a question I don’t quite know how to answer. I wear everything that flatters me and it is comfortable. Whatever catches my eye. I’m not sure that I keep my style fresh always, sometimes I like looking like a dowdy school teacher from the 1950’s.

Your family is from Ghana. How do you bring your cultural heritage home?

I listen to a lot of old high life music. Most of my jewelry is from Ghana. I have had waist beads on for the past 10 years and apart from masks, statues and books in my home, I have my grandmother’s very old Kente cloths displayed in my bedroom. The beauty of them is they are not all the orange ones that everyone recognizes, but bright pink and green striped, purple and silver and a black and silver.

Now you’re a Brooklynite. What have your first couple of years living in Bed-Stuy been like?

I hated bed-stuy when I first moved here. I really questioned my decision. It took a long time for me to discover places. I would always let people take me to places until I bought a bike and understood what an amazing neighborhood I live in. I’ve actually become a bit of a snob where I don’t travel to the city on the weekends. I love staying in Brooklyn.

Do you have a favorite place for shopping for home decor and fashion shopping in your local neighborhood in Brooklyn?

There is a great place on Nostrand Avenue called Peace and Riot. They have so many unique gems for the home. Then for clothing I love going to Brooklyn Flea. There is a stall a friend of mine, Joan, who just has so many perfect pieces no one else has. And Sincerely Tommy is a good place for directional pieces.


Chinasa Cooper