Article writed by Mathilde Pagnier
Pictures by Nathalie Mohadjer
Artistic direction by Charlotte Huguet
A nomad at heart, Ninon Gavarian never stays too long in the same spot. She is like a unique migrating bird you can spot only at a certain time and place.
After years of collecting vintage clothes, furniture, and objects of all sorts, she took a hairpin curve to embrace a minimalist lifestyle, keeping only the bare essentials. She recently settled in a secluded cabin to develop a new collection of ultra-comfortable and naturally-dyed garments for her slow-living label, Nonchalance. Launching your brand while living off-the-grid, Ninon is up for the challenge!
Hi Ninon! For those of us who don't know you, could you introduce yourself in a few words?
Of course! My name is Ninon Gavarian. I'm the founder of Nonchalance, a brand that offers naturally dyed sleep-wear and bedding. At the moment I live in a tiny cabin in the middle of the Fontainebleau forest, but usually, when I don't test dyes or stay in my —silk— pajamas all day, I'm a bit of a globe trotter!
What about your brand? What got you into the natural dye business?
It's a long story. For about 15 years, I was an antique dealer. I had several stores in Paris and in the Saint-Ouen flea market where I sold vintage clothing and furniture. Inspired by vintage clothes and cuts, I quickly launched a clothing line: Ninon Retro. At the time, I was also traveling a lot, and during a trip to Jaipur, I was faced with one of fashion's dark sides: synthetic dyeing. Not only does it consume a lot of water, but it also pollutes rivers and oceans in ways we can't even conceive. I didn't want to be part of the problem, so when I discovered natural dyes, I got hooked right away. This alternative to synthetic dyeing is respectful to both the body and the planet.
Launching Nonchalance wasn't an overnight process. It takes a lot of time to dye fabrics with plants. I went through a lot of trial and error, learning from my mistakes. First, I made things for myself, then for a few friends and, one thing leading to another, Nonchalance came to be. Before I knew it, I was taking orders for acacia-dyed pillowcases, silk pajama sets, and matching scrunchies.
And what about the cabin? What's the story behind it?
Haha! That was also a whole process. I used to be a maximalist, meaning I collected everything: boots, handbags, clothes, you name it! But all this stuff was weighing me down. It was incompatible with my desire to be lighter and travel the world. The more you own, the more you are owned. So I decided to let go of my stuff.
What's great about quality vintage is that you can always sell it. That's what I did. With the money from one lamp, I managed to buy myself a car!
Down-sizing allowed me to explore the world. I went to India, Japan...and one day, I found this secluded cabin on "Le Boncoin". It's very small and completely off the grid, without running water or electricity. It's just perfect to settle down for a while!
I furnished it with the last remaining pieces of furniture from my antique dealing days, bought a gas oven and a wood stove for colder days. For power, I have a small battery that needs to be recharged every five days, and if it runs out: diner by the candlelight! Old school.
Living in the wild made me realize how disconnected we are from the elements. When it snows here, I can be stuck in the cabin for 4-5 days. It's a strange feeling, both powerful and humbling.
Was it hard to down-size and let go of your things?
It was a very organic process. I sold as much as possible. Today, every time I buy something, I get rid of something else. I follow the rhythm of the seasons— winter wardrobe/summer wardrobe—and with every rotation, I take out what I haven't worn. I've become a master at decluttering!
The cabin is tiny, so it quickly feels crowded. I had to be smart about what to keep: light, compact furniture that can follow me anywhere. For instance, I keep my seasonal clothing in a small steamer trunk. It belonged to a general who traveled for a living—someone with the travel bug just like me!
Does living off-the-grid change the way you dress?
Not really. I dress for myself, not for others. But being in nature, I mostly wear clothes that are practical and relevant to the weather conditions. Linen in summer, wool in winter, rubber boots to explore the forest—regardless of the season— and silk pajamas indoors.
Did you conceive your collection in the cabin?
The first tests, yes. For large collections or production, I have a workshop in what used to be a fire station for the Courances Castle.
What's great about being in the forest is that I have all these plants right at my fingertips. I can test and reference new colors on the spot.
Can you take us through the process of natural dyeing?
It's a slow process. It can take up to several days to dye a piece. First, there's the color extraction, then a mineral bath for the fabrics to bind with the colors, and finally the color bath— with some colors requiring several baths.
I make it all from scratch. Each piece is made-to-order and finished with a label retracing all the plants used for that specific color.
The garments are designed to be ultra-comfortable, but it doesn't mean you can't wear them for special occasions. One of my clients wore her silk pajama set for a wedding. She looked smashing!
Which artists have influenced you in your creative process?
I love the colors of Hilma Af Klint's paintings. But it's Japanese Art that influenced me the most. Japan has a rich history of fabric dyeing with traditional know-how like shibori, a manual resist dyeing technique producing intricate patterns on fabrics.
As for my desire to live off-the-grid, it was inspired by two books: Savoir revivre by Jacques Massacrier and Living on the earth by Alicia Bay Laurel. The last one is a very poetic book, first published in 1971 and full of tips on how to make your own clothes, chop wood, forage...
You travel a lot. Is there anything that helps you find some kind of stability?
I don't have a lot of rituals, but I enjoy a bowl of matcha in the morning, practice kundalini yoga as regularly as possible, and sleep on my pillowcases. Once you sleep on silk, you can't go back to cotton or linen. It's so comfortable and good for your skin, your hair... My clients are hooked. Some even take their pillowcases on road trips!
What is the best advice you have received?
To let go and not be so demanding with myself. It's a daily struggle—I'm a bit of a perfectionist— but I'm getting there.
What are the projects that get you excited?
I'm working on a book about natural dyes from wild plants. It'll have recipes, tutorials, foraging tips... Everything to get you started.
I want to go back to Bali to work in a natural dye workshop where all the dye baths are made from endemic plants and wastewater is filtered by lily ponds. I would love to conceive the next Nonchalance collection there.
And, I want to buy a van and turn it into an itinerant laboratory to test different wild plants around the world and create one-of-a-kind pieces. I love "van life". It tastes like freedom!