When she launched Nanushka in 2006, Sandra Sandor was all in. A 2005 graduate from the London College of Fashion, Sandor bypassed the traditional post-school apprenticeship at a European fashion house and headed straight for the major leagues, debuting her women’s ready-to-wear collection with a giant leap of faith.
“I felt inspired when I started working on my final thesis and eager to develop it into a wider collection,” says Sandor, who moved home to Budapest and promptly established Nanushka—the moniker taken from a childhood nickname bestowed on her by her father. Without industry connections, Sandor relied on family to get her through those early months. “My mom was a great help at the beginning as she was able to connect me with local seamstresses and help with business advice thanks to her experience in childrenswear,” she says. “She was the one who initiated my love for designing, really.”
From its inception, Nanushka has danced across gender lines—providing a seamless mix of feminine and masculine details applied to modern, easy silhouettes. Sandor’s aesthetic influence comes from the mid-century Bauhaus movement that based its art and design philosophy on the principles of form following function. “It’s very important for me to create pieces that are not just beautiful, but also functional,” she says. “The clothing needs to have a purpose and be comfortable—this is what enhances the beauty of the person wearing it.” Asked who embodies this philosophy for her, Sandor calls out celebrated designer Phoebe Philo.
Given the brand’s massive buzz today, it’s hard to imagine its fledgling beginnings. But launching a line from Eastern Europe in 2006 wasn’t exactly the conventional approach, and Sandor faced her share of setbacks. “I had to learn from my own mistakes,” she admits. “I didn’t have any experience to fall back on, so I had to figure out on my own how to operate and run a fashion business. I’m very glad for what I have achieved—I needed the hardship to get where I am now—but if I could go back in time, maybe I would gain more experience in certain aspects of the fashion business before setting up my own company.”
Instagram proved to be a game-changer for reaching beyond regional boundaries and into the phones and lives of influencers on a global scale. Today, Nanushka is available in 30 countries worldwide and its authentic Eastern-Euro-meets-Western-attitude gives it a singular vantage point in the crowded ready-to-wear market. Nanushka’s male fans, who have coveted the women’s line for years, are celebrating this fall with a dedicated label of their own, although Sandor stresses that the division is somewhat artificial and she hopes both genders continue to freely help themselves to any and all of her creations.
“For Fall ’19, I wanted to explore the fluid nature of the relationship between men and women,” she says. Entitled Mystery Child, the dual collections speak to those who are “free of preconceptions, and open to change with a fearless and optimistic point of view.” In keeping with Sandor’s genderless approach, men and women walked together on this season’s runway, a trend she hopes to continue.
If gender fluidity is one brand pillar, sustainability is another. Few designers were jumping on the vegan leather bandwagon back in ’06, but for Sandor, responsibly sourced, environmentally friendly material has been a signature since the beginning. “One of the core values at Nanushka is to cherish people and our surrounding environment,” she explains. “Protecting the planet for the future generations was always important for me. Sustainability is not just being mindful in sourcing and production, but also taking care of people and their wellbeing.”
The challenge of creating sustainable synthetics with the same luxe look and feel as the original material is well-known. But Sandor says it’s getting easier as technology improves. “I love working with our vegan leather,” she says. “It’s very soft and it allows us to use the fabric in many different ways.” To wit: A super-luxe vegan leather puffer has become one of the brand’s best-selling items. Ultimately, says Sandor, “comfort is everything. I believe clothes should elevate and not restrict. I think people are at their most beautiful when they also feel comfortable.”
Seeing Nanushka’s popularity, it’s Sandor is not alone in this sentiment. At moments, the collection’s popularity can feel surreal to the Hungarian designer. But then again, it’s been 14 years of daily grind to get to this point. “We are at a very exciting stage,” says Sandor. “Finally, in the last two years I am able to say all the hardship was worth it for these great moments we have happening now.”