A MODEST OFFERING
Altrincham’s latest fashion opening is bringing a new brand of style to Cheshire. We meet founder, Nadine Naily, to discover more
The term has been on the periphery of fashion conversations for the last few years. It describes a more conservative way of dressing; high necklines and low hemlines, billowing sleeves and flowing, layered fabrics. It’s known as Modest Fashion and now Nadine Naily, a 37-year-old entrepreneur, is bringing it to Cheshire with her new Altrincham boutique, Neish – the first of its kind in the county.
Nadine, who was raised in Altrincham by her British mother and Tunisian father, spent six years working in the music and fashion industries out in Dubai, the home of some of the world’s major modest fashion houses. She returned four years ago to join her daughter, Neisha, who’s now 16 and a Year 11 student at North Cestrian Grammar School, who had come back a year earlier to start her secondary education.
Now she has set up Neish, named after her daughter and a play on the concept of a niche offering, to offer the women of Cheshire a new way of dressing.
Sipping green tea from a decorative glass cup, on the sofa of her Lloyd Street boutique, the smell of spiced scented candles filling the room, Nadine is keen to put one myth to rest from the start.
Although Nadine has been driven by her own discovery of her Islamic faith, she denies this is just a fashion for Muslim women. ‘The clothes are not just for people of Muslim heritage – often people may think that in Cheshire,’ she says.
‘But the modest clothes give the foundation of respect and that’s the message I’m trying to deliver.’
Indeed amongst the head scarves and more Arab-influenced pieces that Nadine models with aplomb are simple, unstructured shirt dresses as well as maxi skirts and biker-style jackets. The clothes have universal appeal for women who want to look stylish and feel comfortable in their own skin – without showing off acres of flesh. Significantly they’re designed to appeal to women of all ages.
You can see the trend playing out in the world of celebrity – look at Victoria Beckham’s transformation from bodycon-clad former pop star to serious fashion mogul in her ankle-skimming dresses and high-necked blouses. Indeed Farrah Storr, the Manchester-born fashion magazine editor, now at the helm of iconic title Elle, has written of her love for modest fashion, born not of her Pakistani heritage, but discovered accidentally via an Instagram search for flattering, age-appropriate fashion that conveys a particular message about her.
So who are Nadine’s clients? She says she sells to her friends and contacts who are stylish and wealthy Cheshire residents. She nods discreetly, but doesn’t offer more detail when I ask if the type of women who buy clothing from her may be Premier League footballers’ wives? She smiles. But she absolutely refuses to name who her customers are and won’t be drawn further, despite my questions.
She explains that discretion is key – otherwise her customers will go elsewhere and that could signal the death knell for the fledgling business, based unassumingly above a sewing shop between Altrincham’s upmarket estate agents and coffee shops.
Back once again in Altrincham, she is on home turf. She explains that while she had a traditional British upbringing in the town, ‘I was always drawn to my Arabic roots… the music, the culture or the people’. And so that culture is visible throughout her boutique. As well as the clothes and accessories, which include statement necklaces and sunglasses, there are coveted Saudi Arabian Oud and Attar fragrances. Nadine also sells lingerie, which is not on display in the store.
There are black and gold metallic pleated skirts and garments in her signature Empower print, which has animal themes and a Versace-style opulence. There are plain sequinned jumpsuits to wear beneath the modest clothes, a brown pleated kimono and traditional flowing abayas.
Shirt dresses are on sale with vibrant patterns. Some of the fabrics are decorated with pretty jewelled embellishments. All the clothes are reasonably priced from £55 to a maximum of around £120.
Nadine reflects on her journey to Neish Clothing and says she was living a celebrity lifestyle just two years ago. Back in Dubai she’d run an events company as well as being a model booker and executive assistant, constantly surrounded by models and the wealth they tend to attract. The glamour had continued after she left. She’d returned to Cheshire and set up Neish, a fashion brand that wasn’t in any way modest. ‘It was jumpsuits and figure-hugging clothing and fitness styles… a classy mix of modern things and party clothes,’ she says.
In fact it would be a party that would change everything. It was New Year’s Eve 2017. She was dating the bodyguard of an A-lister whom she won’t name (or give an inkling to who they are). She was at the mystery A-lister’s house in LA, surrounded by famous and beautiful people, when she suddenly felt lonely and entirely out of place.
‘I just thought what am I doing here? It’s not where I want to be,’ she says. ‘It’s supposed to be great, but I just wanted to be at home in Cheshire with my teenage daughter.’
So she turned her back on the celebrity lifestyle and the relationship with the bodyguard and then, after a trip to Gambia in January, further embraced her faith in Islam and began focusing on modest clothing.
‘I realised what was important in life,’ she says of her trip in January. ‘Living in Dubai, the Lamborghinis are all great, but they were some of the unhappiest people,’ she says. ‘It was a lifestyle that was exciting and luxurious, but money came in one hand and went out in the other.’
She got rid of her wholesale unit and all the mainstream clothes she’d sold online and established her high street presence, finally opening for business in late 2019.
Gone were the bejewelled black mini skirts (which I mistook for a snood) and in came the flowing, yet elegant, garments – with figure-hugging bodysuits to be worn beneath them as a base layer.
Crucially, the boutique is appointment-only and people can’t just rock up off the street, as the experience is so personalised and private to the individual, whether they be a camera-shy celebrity or a modest Muslim shopper.
Having embraced her faith, on Fridays she now teaches young women in small groups from North Cestrian and other schools about values and mind, body and soul as well as dressing modestly. She insists that there is no oppression in dressing modestly. ‘My brand is not just about fashion, but about brains, beauty and badass determination,’ she says. ‘I’m getting a lot of younger women interested in my clothing as I’m establishing an active range with hijabs made from thin material for when people are in the gym,’ she adds. ‘We call ourselves the hijabis.’
As for the sort of fashion she used to wear, she does admit to bristling when she sees young women dressed badly. ‘Where is the culture, the class, the elegance and what are we teaching these kids?’ she asks.
She resorts to her own learnings as a child: ‘My nana taught me two things,’ she adds. ‘Stay in your own lane and be kind – as you don’t know what people are going through.’ You have to find your own path, she says. By turning her back on a secure, successful career and ploughing her savings into setting up on her own, ‘I may have lost financially but I’ve gained so much spiritually with where I am now.’
‘My brand is not just about fashion, but about brains, beauty and badass determination’
Nadine Naily, founder of modest fashion boutique Neish