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A colour­ful life is ref lected in a wildly suc­cess­ful de­sign ca­reer that has known no bound­aries

for the past seven years, Paris-based de­signer In­dia Mah­davi has been re­turn­ing to her na­tive Tehran, Iran, on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. Dur­ing her time there, she has not only been struck by the con­vivi­al­ity of the lo­cals and the city’s chaotic na­ture — “It’s huge, and the traf­fic is ter­ri­ble” — she has also found par­al­lels with her own aes­thetic. “I’ve al­ways said, ‘I’m the Queen of Mix and Match’,” says Mah­davi. “That’s some­thing that’s all over the place in Iran. They’re not scared of putting things to­gether.” She now takes Farsi lessons ev­ery Satur­day and is even work­ing on a project there — a ground-up, six-storey res­i­den­tial build­ing. Since set­ting up on her own nearly 20 years ago, Mah­davi has risen to the top of her pro­fes­sion. She re­cently com­pleted both a restau­rant for Ladurée in Geneva and the women’s fash­ion floor at the KaDeWe de­part­ment store in Ber­lin. She has also been re­spon­si­ble for the Coburg Bar at the Con­naught Ho­tel in Lon­don, a host of cafes in Paris (such as Le Ger­main) and nu­mer­ous ho­tels, from the Town­house Ho­tel in Miami and the Con­desa DF in Mex­ico City to a desert oa­sis in Siwa, Egypt and Hô­tel du Cloître in Ar­les, France. “In­dia has a good eye and an in­cred­i­ble sense of colour,” says Hô­tel du Cloître’s owner, Maja Hoff­mann. An­other fan is fash­ion de­signer Al­ber El­baz, for whom Mah­davi dec­o­rated an apart­ment in Paris. “I loved work­ing with her,” he says. “We had so much fun. Her work is sub­tle. She gives soul to the spa­ces she cre­ates.” How­ever, the Mah­davi in­te­rior that has no doubt had the big­gest im­pact in the past few years is The Gallery at Sketch in Lon­don, the restau­rant she de­signed in col­lab­o­ra­tion with artist David Shrigley. Ex­tremely or­derly and struc­tured, it show­cases her ‘Char­lotte’ chair, whose play­ful form was in­spired by the dessert of the same name. The space is also all pow­dery pink, which has be­come a sig­na­ture hue in re­cent times. It fea­tures heav­ily in her new retail con­cept for the Red Valentino la­bel, too. “It gives a nice, warm light on ev­ery­body’s faces,” says Mah­davi in her of­fice in Paris’s 7th ar­rondisse­ment. “You feel like you have a three-day tan.” The de­signer traces her choice of ca­reer back to the peri­patetic na­ture of her child­hood. Her fa­ther was Ira­nian and her mother was Scot­tish–Egyp­tian. They left Tehran when she was 18 months old and lived in the United States, Ger­many and France. “I suf­fer from the fact that we never had a fam­ily home,” says Mah­davi. “We were con­stantly mov­ing from coun­try to coun­try, from lan­guage to lan­guage, and so I de­vel­oped a pro­found love of the en­vi­ron­ments I didn’t have in my youth.” She went on to study ar­chi­tec­ture at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and fur­ni­ture, graphic and in­dus­trial de­sign in New York be­fore spend­ing seven years in the of­fice of Chris­tian Li­ai­gre. Her style to­day is al­most in­stantly recog­nis­able. “Her work is full of en­ergy and has a very strong per­son­al­ity,” says Ros­sella Bisazza, who worked on an award-win­ning tile col­lec­tion with Mah­davi for her fam­ily firm, Bisazza. “There is al­ways a joy and a play­ful­ness, which is quite unique.” Mah­davi is best known for her dar­ing colour com­bi­na­tions, which oc­ca­sion­ally cre­ate a de­lib­er­ate dis­so­nance. “What’s in­ter­est­ing for me is how you can put them in dan­ger,” she says. “You can as­sem­ble them where it’s al­most like you’re walk­ing on the edge of a cliff.” She also has a love of lac­quer and vel­vet. For her, the lat­ter de­notes an in­her­ent sense of com­fort. All her trade­mark touches are very much in ev­i­dence in the fur­ni­ture and ac­ces­sories she sells ex­clu­sively through her two stores on Paris’s Rue Las Cases. She has edited more than 100 pieces, most of which were orig­i­nally de­signed for one of her in­te­ri­ors projects. Her best­seller is the now-iconic ‘Bishop’ stool, so named for its re­sem­blance to a chess piece. Mah­davi of­fers it in a new colour ev­ery year and has trans­formed it into both a ta­ble, by adding a top, and a bar stool, with the ad­di­tion of a cush­ion. “It’s like a Bar­bie doll,” she says. “It comes with lots of ac­ces­sories.” And the di­rect con­tact that the boutiques of­fer to her clients has given her a good idea of just why she has been, and con­tin­ues to be, so suc­cess­ful. “Peo­ple are touched be­cause they feel my work is per­sonal,” says Mah­davi. “They take it as a piece of emo­tion.”

In­dia Mah­davi in the ex­hi­bi­tion space of her show­room on Paris’s Rue Las Cases. She sits on one of her sofa de­signs, ‘ Jelly Pea’. “Peo­plep are touched be­cause they feel myy work is per­sonal. They take it as a piece of emo­tion” — IN­DIA MAH­DAVI

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