Balancing ’bad taste’, nostalgia and overt sexuality, get to know Francisco Terra’s Paris-based label Neith Nyer
Though it counts the likes of SZA and Miley Cyrus among its fans, chances are you might not be familiar with Paris-based label Neith Nyer just yet. Founded in 2015 by Francisco Terra, the brand’s diaphanous ruched dresses, sheer, nipple-baring blouses, peek-a-boo cutouts, and split-to-the-waist trousers offer a balance of high and low culture, bad taste, nostalgia and overt sexuality – something Terre puts down to his South American heritage.
Having grown up in Brazil, the designer moved to the French capital over a decade ago, but the country remains integral to his work. “My work puts strong emphasis on a woman’s body, it’s very sexy,” he tells us. “I like short, I like tight, you know, I think women’s bodies are meant to be shown and appreciated – but not just in a sexual way. In Brazil, you can go out in short-shorts, you can go out topless, whatever you look like, and it’s not really a big deal. I think it’s given my work a sense of freedom, I want to make clothes that allow you to celebrate and accept your body.”
Acceptance is a core theme that runs throughout Terra’s work. Despite the hyper-femininity of some of his designs, they’re in no way restricted to being worn by women – the last few seasons have seen him send male models wearing his collection down the catwalk as part of his PFW shows, too. “It comes from a personal place, I think,” the designer explains. “I never make the conscious decision to dress myself in menswear. I design for women, but if boys want to wear it, great. I want my clothing to be worn by a diverse range of people, which is why when I cast my shows I have artists and stylists and writers and fashion editors modelling for me. I don’t want to say ‘real’, because everyone is real. But at the end of the day, my clothes are going to be worn by people that aren’t models, and I want to reflect that on my catwalk.”
With Neith Nyer, Terra is keen to tell a story with each collection he creates, calling his label “a sort of ‘dear diary’ – everything I design is inspired by something I’ve lived.” For SS18, this amounted to a deeply personal tribute to his sister, who passed away when she was 18, while this season he takes inspiration from the crazy parties his parents used to throw when he was a child. Elsewhere, collections have been based around his obsession with Japan, anime and the Brazilian mountains that were once his home.
Also consistently on his mind are his two grandmothers, one of whom the brand takes its name from. “Both my grandmothers were seamstresses with their own ateliers,” he remembers. “I learned to sew when I was, like, six years old. Because of the carnivals in Brazil I made a lot of my own costumes for that. I never really imagined doing anything aside from fashion.”
“I learned to sew when I was, like, six years old. Because of the carnivals in Brazil I made a lot of my own costumes for that. I never really imagined doing anything aside from fashion” – Francisco Terra
His grandmother was the reason he moved to Paris in the first place, too. “She was super passionate about French fashion, and she particularly loved Givenchy. She used to make so many ‘Givenchy’ dresses for herself because they weren’t available in Brazil – or at least they were too expensive for her to buy,” Terra laughs. “She used to rip the pictures from magazines and make her own patterns. It was a dream of hers to come to France, which I feel like I’ve kind of carried with me.”
With his grandmother firmly in mind, not only did Terra move to Paris, he also secured himself a position at her favourite fashion house, where he worked closely with Riccardo Tisci. His first job out of the city's Instituto Marangoni school, the role propelled him head-first into an industry he wasn’t always sure he could break into. “I don’t come from a rich family, so there was no way I could pay for school outright,” he explains. Instead, Terra “Googled where you could earn the biggest salaries in the world” and ended up moving to Geneva to work for the UN, making a series of films about the African textile industry and saving the money he made while there.
As well as a stint at Givenchy, Terra honed his skills at both Raf Simons and Carven before setting out on his own. “Working at such different houses was great experience for me,” he says. “I learnt so much from each of them. Givenchy taught me the importance of creating a strong image and identity, while working with Raf and Serge (Ruffleux) at Carven reinforced how important construction and functionality are too.”
Also important to Terra is the ongoing development of his aesthetic. “In my mind, every collection should be different from each other,” he explains. “They’re for different places and different moments in time, and I think maybe I’m slightly less scared than some designers to push the boundaries of what’s perceived as ‘consistent’. I don’t think that we as creatives need to stick to a single aesthetic. You know, the beauty of being in fashion is to be free and to showcase different things. Sometimes I feel that commerciality gets in the way of designers approaching fashion as the art form and means of expression it once was.”
“I don’t think that we as creatives need to stick to a single aesthetic. You know, the beauty of being in fashion is to be free and to showcase different things. Sometimes I feel that commerciality gets in the way of designers approaching fashion as the art form and means of expression it once was” – Francisco Terra
When it comes to where the designer wants his brand to go in the future, he has an ambitious but understated response. “I found it really hard moving to Paris, not knowing anyone, and not having doors immediately open for me. It was a huge risk stepping away from these huge houses and starting out on my own, but Neith Nyer started paying for itself like two seasons ago which was an amazing moment,” he explains. “Next up I want to grow the team because there’s only three of us working out of my studio in the 18th arrondissement – it’s been hard because I don’t want to take on interns if I can’t pay them.”
On the other hand, when discussing the fame and fortune that being at the helm of a successful brand can bring, Terra is dismissive. “Those things are so abstract,” he says. “I guess they’ll come if they come. But most important to me is that myself and the people around me are happy and fulfilled. Everyone keeps telling me I’m too nice. Working in fashion is often perceived as being ‘glamorous’, but the most glamorous things in the world to me are love and kindness. They’re all too often overlooked in favour of ambition and getting ahead, and it’s about time that changed. Cheesy, right? But it’s true,” he laughs.