2016, Interview. Born in Germany and living between Paris and Berlin, Nini Gollong has worked in fashion, design, and art as a set and interior designer, installation artist, and prop stylist for the past decade. She collaborates with the NGO Africa Amini Alama and founded the charitable fashion label ALAMA.
Since the start of her career, Nini has worked with photographers such as Karl Lagerfeld, Ellen Von Unwerth, Camilla Akrans, Ben Hassett, Lachlan Bailey, Karim Sadli, Serge Leblon, Ward Ivan Rafik; And clients like Chanel, Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Pierre Balmain, Azzedine Alaia, Giuseppe Zanotti, Karolina Herrera, and Costume National.
Her work has reached international acclaim and can be found in publications ranging from Vogue Italy, France, Japan, Germany, Russia, and Mexico, and Harpers Bazaar (Germany) to Vanity Fair (Italy) Glamour, InStyle, and GQ Style.
PIERRE BALMAIN, INDELKOFE UND KNOEPFEL
Iliana María SUCH: What does being noble in the 21st Century mean?
Nini Gollong: I think we all feel the time change, going from this huge overgrown commercial market to well-thought purchases. I definitely believe in that ‘Less is more’ is the way. Nowadays, I like this idea that I’m not alone in thinking that. It’s not a big secret anymore at what incredibly bad circumstances our clothes are made in and how much they are overproduced. With the big overproduction of food, clothes - pretty much everything - as well as this growing gap, between rich and poor on the planet, we can start paying attention to use what we already have produced. At our scale, our free will as a citizen, as a human may be empowered by acting on consumption every day.
ELLEN VON UNWERTH, VOGUE ITALY
ILIANA MARIA SUCH: Can you reveal a childhood experience that influenced your business career, especially your relationship with fashion, design, and art?
NINI GOLLONG: My parents used to have a children’s clothing shop in the city center of Munich, so I spent quite a lot of time there and had fun playing with my twin sister. We fixed the display window in our way- in a spirit of free exploration! I guess this was my first contact with fashion and creativity. My parents were also quite sensitive to fashion and had the most amazing style. My twin sister and I were always dressed with incredible care. Sometimes we even had a similar outfit to my mum! This lifestyle and aesthetic sensitivity generally inspired and influenced me from an early age.
ILIANA MARIA SUCH: How much research is involved in your projects before the bearing of creative fruit?
NINI GOLLONG: I’m used to being very observant, but sometimes I only follow feelings based on intuition. I try to let instinct guide my actions. My work is often the result of a perception floating via the unconscious mind. And I always hope that some poetry may appear at the end.
Foresight and spontaneity are the perfect mixes to move forward, but this state of mind requires an entire attention to the world. I spend much time listening to music, walking around, and watching people, animals, streets, and nature. Beauty is everywhere around us. And my inspiration is rich and never-ending.
"METAL" AXL JANSEN
ILIANA MARIA SUCH: Please tell us more about your following personal projects through imagery and short descriptions: The Alama and Glashaus Series.
ALAMA is a culture-to-wear label created by our team of skilled Maasai artisans. PICTURES BY SARAH STAIGER
All our revenues go back to supporting Africa Amini Alama's charitable programs. This non-governmental organization improves the living conditions of the Maasai and Meru tribes of Northern Tanzania. PICTURES BY SARAH STAIGER
NINI GOLLONG: ALAMA is Kisuaheli and means ‘symbol’; every unique piece has a certain meaning. Shapes, patterns, and colors of the jewelry pieces reflect the social position, marital status, faith, cultural background, identity, and age group of Nothern Tanzania people. The pearl jewelry of the Maasai is composed of geometric patterns and color contrasts, which express their cultural and philosophical worldviews. So many jewels are made in the form of circles because the Maasai believe that the universe is circular. The charity Africa Amini Alama works in the area of the Kisongo Maasai from Nothern Tanzania, who prefer to mostly wear white beads, unlike the Kisongo Maasai from Kenya, who wear very colorful jewelry.
Kisongo Maasai women in the steppe of Nothern Tanzania design all Alama pieces. Their creations have been strongly rooted in their traditions for a long time. So we could say that I’m the manager behind the scene, but the Maasai women are the designers, just like Karl Lagerfeld and his managers.
The jewelry bags are carried out by Maasai fabrics and produced by the Maasai women in Tanzania. Thanks to the Africa Amini Alama organization they learned how to use a sewing machine. The jewelry boxes are handmade by Die Schachtelmacher, an organization working with persons with disabilities in Berlin. I wanted each stage of ALAMA handmade to reflect the social and human approach that underlies the whole project.
ILIANA MARIA SUCH: Can you tell us more about the living conditions of the core charitable program, Africa Amini Alama? What particular experience moved you towards taking action with this cause?
NINI GOLLONG: Africa Amini Alama is a registered non-proﬁt association in Austria and a charity in Tanzania. The Austrian Dr. Jur. Dr. Med. Christine Wallner founded it as a private initiative in 2009 and has been maintained throughout the years with the support of her daughter Dr. Cornelia Wallner-Frisee. Since its inception, Africa Amini Alama has launched an incredible range of projects dedicated to health care, education, social care, and agriculture. Every single project is carried out on-site by a local team and supervised by Africa Amini Alama on a long-term basis. I visited the Africa Amini Alama Maasai lodge in January last year. Upon my first arrival at the lodge, we had 38-degree temperatures. I immediately got goosebumps all over my body when I set foot on the soil. At that moment, I knew that this place had a special meaning. Later, I learned that the land was a gift of the supreme tribal leader of the Maasai to the doctors for their actions. It is a part of the Holy Land of the Maasai. During dinner, I was enchanted by the wonderful nature of the founder Christine Wallner. The next day when I watched the sun rise behind Kilimanjaro at 6 am, I knew that I had to bring back the natural flow of this newly gained energy in this place and come back very soon.
ILIANA MARIA SUCH: What is a Culture-to-Wear Label? How did this label idea originate?
NINI GOLLONG: During my last working period with the Africa Amini Alama in Tanzania in August 2015, I spent quite a lot of time with the Kisongo Maasai and fell in love with their traditions, fashion style, and sensitivity to our planet. The warmth and joy these people carry in their hearts and the respectful treatment of nature and its resources have deeply impressed me. Although their material resources are low, their inner wealth is limitless, and we can learn much from them. Especially their white and graphic-shaped jewelry seemed like the perfect mixture of cultural transmission and contemporary design. The culture-to-wear label ALAMA stands for offering an exceptional exchange of cultural heritage while maintaining a personal handmade one-of-a-kind piece of one of the most powerful tribal cultures on our planet.
PICTURES BY SARAH STAIGER
ILIANA MARIA SUCH: What was a quality personal experience defining the Glashaus Series? What were your challenges?
NINI GOLLONG: The Glashaus series is like small-enclosed worlds that I’m carrying in my heart. I have always tried many things in life like I have had many lives. My challenge was to bring all of these different influences and experiences together in several single objects.
Each object of the Glashaus Series is considered as a whole where heterogeneity of nature does not prevent a kind of harmony. The transparency of glass brings closeness and openness, lightweight and depth, because it reveals a self-reflexive set of mirrors. My next challenge is completely achieving this idea in a big light installation. So the light could play its complete role. The light reflections link outside and inside, giving the impression of burning softly from within. In ancient Greece, Plato associated every element (according to the theory of elements: earth, air, water, and fire are the fundamental elements of a universe) with geometrical forms connected with numbers of triangles. The tetrahedron would be assigned to ‘fire.’ At that time, Greeks didn’t differentiate between science and philosophy; in their view, these elements were driven by love and hate. So you can imagine a modern, spiritual, and anti-religious trinity in the present — between past and future, and tied to Nature. But ‘Glashaus’ is open to interpretation, of course!
GLASHAUS is a series of carbonized wood, faceted glass, rare and extravagant minerals, mirrors, mineralized water, and metal set in geometric shapes - forms of a tetrahedron or 4-sided triangles. Every single piece is a world apart, a small cosmogony. Light plays an essential role through glass and mirrors. It allows each to reach these micro-universes while playing its reflection on interior mirrors. GLASHAUS SERIES BY NINI GOLLONG
ILIANA MARIA SUCH: Can you please share with us one of your more meaningful installation collaborations and for what reason?
NINI GOLLONG: I was invited to do an art installation in Tunis in 2013. For my installation, we needed a circle 250cm in diameter made from a metal frame covered in a mustard-colored fabric. The woman that came to do the sowing work brought a mixture of wool and silk. She colored it before using spices such as Curcuma or mustard as a natural colorant. It turned out to be the same color as the fabric I was planning to use. She started to spin the thread in the gallery and looked like an angel sent to help me. I understood then how some cultures are still paying close attention to details and how handcrafts are combined with their cultures. What an inspiring experience!
GALERIE EL MARSA TUNIS, TUNISIA
ILIANA MARIA SUCH: Which philosopher has inspired you throughout your life? Why?
NINI GOLLONG: He is not a philosopher; however, I grew up with his philosophy since my parents loved him, owned many of his books, and read them to us when we were kids. Joachim Ringelnatz is best known for his wry poems, often using wordplay and sometimes bordering on nonsense poetry. Some of his poems are quite satirical in tone and occasionally subversive. His most popular creation is the anarchic sailor Kuddel Daddeldu with drunken antics and disdain for authority.
ILIANA MARIA SUCH: Would you describe yourself as a spiritual person? Can you share one of your more profound spiritual experiences with us?
NINI GOLLONG: I have always felt deeply connected with everything in our beautiful world. I am a basic part of this organic whole.
I had one very profound experience two years ago in New York. I was riding in a cab crossing Brooklyn Bridge when another car showed up next to us. We were driving pretty fast, and it looked like the other car would crash into us, causing a huge accident with other cars. Suddenly, I felt like I was in a protected magnetic field that did not allow the other car to come closer than 10cm to us.
As well, many times visiting certain places, I could tell if something good or bad had happened there.
I don’t know if that makes me a spiritual person. I feel guided as long as I’m connected with my inner self and simultaneously connected with the world around me.
PICTURES BY SARAH STAIGER
ILIANA MARIA SUCH: You have an impressive portfolio. Could you please share your favorite editorial collaboration with us and tell us why?
NINI GOLLONG: I collaborated on a shoot with the photographer Stefan Milev on a beach in Normandy, France, in 2011. For one of the pictures, I built up a wall with a cutout hole so that you could see the ocean through it. The makeup artist, Hugo Villard, did a stunning job! The whole team was relaxed, and the energy was just incredible. The beautiful model stood next to the wall, everything was perfect. I love the interaction of contemporary elements in the middle of nature. Collaborating with Stefan has always been magic. Our minds join, the ideas match, and it’s like a ping pong game that never seems to end.
"QUEST" BY STEFAN MILEV
ILIANA MARIA SUCH: What is the single most inspiring video you have seen addressing today’s biggest challenges, which include: climate change, food security, poverty reduction, and quality of life for all?
NINI GOLLONG: I first saw this film when I was six. I have it on a DVD at home, and I like to watch it at least once a year. ‘Momo’ is a 1986 fantasy film directed by Johannes Schaaf and based on the 1973 novel by Michael Ende. It is about the concept of time and how humans in modern societies use it. It’s about how we waste or forget the precious time we have, in a sense, time is absent. This movie tells us the beauty of having time for each other, as much as for ourselves, instead of working like machines. ‘Momo’ has something light, true, inviolable, and yet humbling. It takes us back to long spilled areas of our existence. This movie is like a mirror that reflects the equally inevitable as the unwanted pursuit or neglect of our core values. When there’s still time, let’s respond by focusing on the important things for us: love, love, and love!
ILIANA MARIA SUCH: Can you share one of your more purpose-centered video collaborations with us?
NINI GOLLONG: The film ‘Waters’ by Kira Lillie. It is born from the understanding of the water power, the symbolism, and the purification that water portrays throughout religion and not only religion but spirituality as a whole. Water, such a precious liquid, perfectly conveys that which is essential and brings immense power. This film is about unifying religions through the common thread of water, the power of “Self,” and self-belief.
KIRA LILLIE: SECRET TREE ONE/VIEW/ONE GALERIE, PARIS & WATERS, SLEEK
ILIANA MARIA SUCH: What role does music play in your creative process?
NINI GOLLONG: Music is the most beautiful and one of the most important things in life. Often, the feelings I experience from listening to certain albums are the foundation and starting point of my creative process, especially for art installations. For example, the album ‘Ashes and Snow’ by Lisa Gerrard & Patrick Cassidy inspired me to work around an installation in Tunis in 2013. Music design is an essential part of all my installations, not only as an added element but as a component of ‘creation’ itself.
It’s also a pleasure to be transported and feel that your state of mind may be changed by a simple piece of music or a voice. Combining sounds such as burning wood, falling drops of water, or clinking crystals with piano melodies and deep bass sequences allow me to travel to another world. Music is the most powerful language everybody understands, no matter what mother language is spoken. This way, I can complete my story in any installation for every visitor.
CRYSTAL BLOOM INSTALLATION: L'ECLAIREUR, LOUIS BG
ILIANA MARIA SUCH: Can you provide an example of what you consider a true expression of beauty?
NINI GOLLONG: Beauty does not lie within the showing off or display. For me, beauty is intimately linked to human feelings: when people feel touched, they have a little smile or even a teardrop falling from their eyes. That’s beauty in all its realness. There is a quote from a very admirable artist, Xavier Corberó, “If you get the scale right, space stops being space to become mind.”
We are all connected through the invisible or visible threads of thoughts, body fluids, actions, and words – that’s the beauty of life in general.
ILIANA MARIA SUCH: What is your greatest hope for the future? What is next for Nini Gollong?
NINI GOLLONG: I hope to continue and balance great collaborations, art installations, and social projects. At the end of the year, I will participate in the permaculture project Fumba Town in Zanzibar, where I am invited to design furniture and interior objects; everything will be made from recycled materials during workshops with the local people to learn each others’ skills and know-how. I love having different projects and the opportunity to travel and know more about different cultures.
Iliana Maria Such: How would you like to be remembered?
“I just hope that when some people hear my name, they will smile and some of them say: that’s my friend.”
- Nini Gollong
ILIANA MARIA SUCH: Who is your top NOBLE brand?
NINI GOLLONG: My most noble brand of the 21st century is FADE OUT LABEL. Each piece is made out of recycled denim. They are bought at charity shops that are later deconstructed, washed, sanitized, ironed, and reassembled like mosaic tiles. You could associate ‘Fade out Label’ to artists like Yves Klein with his ‘blue’ or Alberto Burri’s and Robert Rauschenberg’s patchwork and to the recovery of objects in the American New Dada movement.