Images courtesy of Roula Nassar
Text by Alec Coiro
Roula Nassar’s interests are vast and various. She struck me as a Roula of all trades but a master of them all. She is a designer of knits and textiles, bowls, furniture and necklaces, but we started out with her passion project: her art books. The most recent book is called Outside Gets Inside. Created for the San Francisco zine outfit, 8 Ball Zine Fair, the subject matter is totally captivating and completely bananas and comes out of Roula’s research into something called “breath play.” Breath play is just as sexual as it sounds (I won’t provide a link); it’s the gearhead version of the asphyxiation fetish. However, the images Roula works with involve so much latex as to almost seem sterile, the fetishwear look like a cross between high-concept 1950s workout clothes and styles from our irradiated future. Roula’s initial inspiration was hearing about the fetish for women popping balloons by sitting on them. This subject matter in Outside Gets Inside is part of Roula’s larger project of exploring the creation of the self. “All of it has to do with the construct of identity.”
I don’t like the idea of disposable fashion, so it felt right to invest in something where somebody could just buy one and have it for a lifetime.
Roula’s books always sell for cost, most recently at Printed Matter and Mast Books on Avenue A. “I hate charging a lot for books. I break even. I make enough to make the next book. The knits and some of textiles are how this whole thing is balancing itself out.”
The knits she refers to are her finely crafted, merino wool Otto sweaters. “I wanted to make something that I wouldn’t have to be so involved in like a full collection but that still felt sculptural, which I think knitwear is.” The sweaters are built to last both in terms of the quality of their craftsmanship and the timelessness of their designs. “I don’t like the idea of disposable fashion, so it felt right to invest in something where somebody could just buy one and have it for a lifetime.” She describes her production approach as “A reaction against how things have been heading toward mass production.”
Otto is based out of her South Williamsburg studio. The palindromic name Otto reflects the geometric, architectural aspects of her work. “The name is also a reaction to the fact that so many people in design or art have branded themselves as part of their work. I just wanted to pick a neutral name.”
Her work in fashion traces back to her schooling at Parsons, where she studied men’s wear. When she went to work for Tess Giberson, she learned embroidery; “At the time— 2003 — handwork was really popular in fashion, which was so nice. I slowly got out of that and then floated around for a lot of my 20s.” Originally from the Bay Area by way of Saudi Arabia, Roula has been in New York for over a decade and feels she’s just now beginning to reach her apex as an artist. “There has been this emphasis that people peak early and do everything by 19. That was really hard for me because I didn’t have any of that clarity in my 20s at all. And I’m grateful for it because I think my work would be different.” Her style and media of choice are still evolving. “I think it evolves naturally as you take in new things each year.”
Her big project currently is completely to fashion. She’s in the process of inventing a modular table with fabricators in San Francisco. It is an inspired bit of interior design, and it almost seems too limiting to call it a table. It would be most accurate to call it a flat plane of wood that is hinged in such a way that it can be folded into any piece of furniture desired. “The challenge for this table was creating a hinge that would allow for movement and stability while being concealed. It became a more complicated solution than I imagined when I first thought of designing a modular table.” Once this table is on the market, Roula will add furniture designer to her own modular identity as a designer.