Nells Nelson, a line designed by Sisi Li (shown here with her right hand, Eun Byul or EB as everyone calls her) is one of my favorite under-the-radar collections of beautifully tailored have-forever pieces. (Read my first interview with her here.) Sisi loves tailoring, as I do, but hates stiffness, as I learned to often begrudgingly accept until I tried on her clothes. If details matter to you, will you will appreciate the ones she puts into her designs and fabrics; jackets are light and fluid because she knows how to get her Italian craftsmen to leave out the interface many on rely to give their collars and lapels shape and she inserts a knit portion under each elongated sleeve for flexibility, softness and a slimmer silhouette. Buttons are natural horn (the most expensive), and materials are unique, I have one of her waterproof blazers which weighs nothing. I am also slowing building a wardrobe of her silk blouses, because I plan to wear them with everything as long as I can. Nells Nelson pieces are the kind I will never give away.
Not only does Sisi have exquisite taste, her husband, Nelson Li, a fashion executive, has an eye for design and a collector’s bug to match. Throughout the years, he has amassed a museum-worthy collection of chairs, as well as incredible Murano glass, ceramics and more. Because one family can only hold onto so much (you should see their apartment), they have decided to start to sell some of the collection; pieces are available for the first time on their site today. And….as I try to bring you all a little Spring joy, Sisi is graciously offering 20% off her designs (not the art) to Flair readers, through Thursday April 8th. Her designs are not inexpensive, but worth it, and at a discount, all the better. Just use the code SPRINGFLAIR when you check out. Following, Sisi answers my Spring at Home questions.
What do you love about Spring? I love spring–the trees start flowering, the breeze and warm sun, it’s a season of new beginning.
What are some favorite pieces from your new Spring collection and how will you wear them? It is a tough choice! Every piece is my favorite, each piece means something and fits into its place–I live in them.
Lately, with the restaurants opening up a bit, there is a positive energy on the street, and I want to dress up for spring, to feel elegant with ease. I love to wear my silk blouse with the raw seamed details and horn-button cuffs, our drawstring pant in super fine merino that is softer than cashmere, and our super fine merino trench in an exclusive matte-shine water repellent finish. Since it’s not casual cotton or nylon, the trench has an elegant feeling and movement about it.
Another love is wearing my silk blouse with our silk cotton knitted pant or legging pant with our silk tailored jacket; I wear it as my denim jacket.
I love jackets! I don’t have to wear jacket to go to work, I just love how pulled together the look of one is. Our jackets are both soft and structural, they feel like you are wearing a cardigan and they are all hand-made by artisans along the Adriatic coast of Italy. I’m very proud of the craftsmanship and what we are able to achieve with the look and feeling.
Something already in your closet you are pulling out now: I have this tiny vintage diamond Rolex from the 1960’s, I bought more than 10 years ago, but it needed to be repaired. With the pandemic and using hand sanitizer and hand cream all the time, I don’t wear any rings, just this beautifully-crafted watch. Even though I’m not really going anywhere, it’s something that makes me happy. I actually prefer to wear it when I am not wearing dressy clothes. Luckily, I found someone to repair it, and I have been wearing it ever since.
Another thing from my closet is the old brown alligator Hermes wallet, I don’t want to carry a bag anymore, it has everything I need plus a lip balm. I like to collect jewelry and vintage bags. I don’t look for them but when I see something really special and beautiful I will try my best to get it. I don’t buy a lot of things, is not the quantity but quality. Throughout the years, I have accumulated a nice collection which we are planning to expand and add to our e-commerce.
What inspires you? Everything inspires me. It can be scenery, an image, a piece of music, but in general what draws me the most is the intersection of functionality and beauty, Form Follows Function!
Our home is surrounded with modern art and designs. My husband has a good eye for beautiful objects. He collects Murano glass, ceramics, objects etc., but his special love is chairs because there are a lot of challenges to designing a good chair. I love some of his chairs, they are beautiful and functional and they inspire me for every piece of Nells Nelson. The thought behind each detail that make the designs both comfortable and beautiful, like the [carbon fiber] Alberto Meda “Light, Light” chair, I saw it in MOMA Museum, the Musee d’art Moderne de Paris, The Centre Pompidou. It is so light, so delicate but solid at the same time. Another is the Shiro Kuramata Feather stool, I am always so amazed how the feather is suspended inside the solid block of acrylic. The kind of effort to create this piece is incredible. We are excited to introduce some of our art pieces along side with our clothes. When something is beautiful, it is beautiful forever.
Fave Spring food/recipe: I prefer clean simple cooking, and think it is important use fresh, seasonal ingredients. One of the dishes I like is Baked Fish which is from the Marche region Italy along the Adriatic Sea. We ate it a lot when we were living there a few years back, which was also when Nells Nelson was created.
The recipe is rather simple: Just mix some bread crumbs (I like to use organic brown or multi-grain) with fresh chopped parsley and a little salt. Then oil the fish filet, calamari, or small fishes with fresh garlic juice ( I chop the garlic and put it in a presser) and some salt. After you oil the fish, dip it in the bread crumbs. Depending on the thickness of the fish, I usually do 12 minutes at 350, and for last 2 minutes I turn up the oven to high, 475 – 500, to brown the bread crumbs. I love to eat this with roasted tomatoes.
Fave Spring smell: Lilac. We have a few lilac trees around our house upstate and I love how it smells.
Spring weekend activities: Going to the farmer’s market, and sometimes buying new flowers to put in the garden, watching the sunset. We usually spend our weekend in Woodstock. The sunset at the Ashokan reservoir near our house is so intense; it’s a surprise because you never know what to expect. The picture here is one of the sunset after the storm. The color is so so unreal, and I didn’t do any color correction or retouching, it’s just a picture I took with my phone.
Daily ritual you’ve abandoned: Because of the time difference with Italy, I used to wake up in the middle of the night around 3 am, when they first opened in morning to look through emails and talk to them on the phone. But I had no energy during the day, it was unhealthy and not productive. With this pandemic, I realized things can be handled in many different ways. I decided not to look at my email until later of the day and to start my day without stress.
Favorite hour of the day: I love the end of my work day, to relax with a glass of wine and have dinner with the family.
How are you looking at business differently? Now more than ever you have to be true to who you are. Since the beginning of Nells Nelson, I have tried to balance elegant and strong, structure and soft, I won’t compromise the look for the comfort. The pandemic has strengthened my ideas. I believe in having less and having the best. We always work with the most reputable mills and spinners who are environmentally responsible to maintain the tradition of hand-crafted artisanship. Art and Design are always an important part of Nells Nelson. My husband Nelson loves to find beautiful unique pieces from all over the world, and now we want to start sharing what we have been collecting for years on our e-commerce. Eventually we will expand to add vintage jewelry, bags–all of the things we love. We are really excited about that.
What do you miss most? I miss the human contact, to feel the energy, to travel , to meet.
What do you hope the new normal brings? That we learn to treasure the moment and to be happy.
Follow Nells Nelson: Instagram.