Nardos Imam is shy when talking about herself — but not about the couture gowns she creates. In 1997, at 17, she moved from Eritrea to Dallas to pursue a medical degree. She was homesick and cried most of the first year. Imam dropped out of college, started college again then gambled on a fashion career before visiting home for the first time in 2002. Since then, she has only visited her birth country once. Now she travels mostly for work. The mother of a 9-year-old girl and 4-year-old boy, Iman operates a salon and atelier in Preston Hollow and a production house in New York City.
When did you decide to be a fashion designer?
My mom made outfits for all of us when we were young. I used to get in trouble for cutting the wrong stuff. I just love what my mom did.
Where did you go to school?
I went to El Centro. I couldn’t invest in a big school because I didn’t get approval from my family. I was about to transfer to New York, and then I just happened to get a job. Then I got caught up in Dallas.
What was you first fashion job in Dallas?
I went to work at the fabric store Richard Brooks. I started selling fabrics, and then I started making little things for people. I used to make all my dresses and people asked me where to get them. After working there for a year, I applied to Stanley Korshak. I wasn’t qualified to be their in-house designer because I didn’t have clientéle or connections. I asked if there was a job in tailoring. They said, “You’re young.” But I brought a dress I had made and said, “I can do this.” I told my husband that I just needed to get my foot in there, and then I’ll show them what I can do. Eventually, I ran the alterations department. Then I became their in-house designer. I ended up being the number one vendor for Stanley Korshak.
Describe your dresses. My dresses are uniquely one of a kind. I touch each dress. We don’t just ship a design somewhere to be made. I love texture. I love color. I love natural fibers.
What’s the favorite dress you’ve made?
That’s like asking, “Who’s your favorite child?” There is always tomorrow’s new dress. I haven’t got there yet.
Why couture and wedding dresses rather than ready to wear?
I believe that more is better. I had wanted to design for movies, so this is my connection to the theatrical. I do a little bit of ready to wear, but even then it’s still a little bit elaborated.
Who is the woman that wears your dress?
My clients are confident. They’re not settling for less. There are the brides, and there are over-40 women that can afford our gowns who know what they want. Even though it’s classy, it has to be architectural or have some twist that you don’t see every day.
How many times does a woman wear her dress?
We tell our clients how to take care of it so they can wear it again. I had a client who has a closet full of my dresses. She writes the dates when she wore the gown and files it so she doesn’t wear it to the same event. Hopefully, the next generation will take the dresses and wear them.
When clients come in, do you help them pick the right head-to-toe look? Oh, yes. Shoes can kill the dress or make the dress, so we try to help them— even with the undergarment. We work a lot with Jimmy Choo and the Dior girls in Highland Park. We don’t have accessories here; we got caught up in the gown industry. In two years, we’ll have accessories.
When you wake up in the morning, what gets you out of bed?
Oh, I get excited. My husband says that if I didn’t have kids, I would not come home. The Lord drives me. You have to have faith in whatever you do. It’s, “How I can I make that client happy?” or “I cannot wait to touch that fabric or drape it.”
I want to have a collection that is for a woman who is inspiring because of the work she’s doing every day.
Where’s your favorite place to source fabric?
I have vendors in Italy, France or India, and I’ve been doing business with them for 10 years so they bring me what’s new. If I want custom, I draw it and they make what I want. The fabric has to dance for me to buy it. I have to feel it to fall in love with it.
Where do you see Nardos in five years?
I want to dress women who work long hours — nurses and doctors. I want the girl who saved to have a wedding have access to our gowns. I want to have a collection that is for a woman who is inspiring because of the work she’s doing every day.
On a Saturday afternoon, is this what you’re doing?
Yes. I work six days a week.
What about on a Sunday afternoon?
Oh, you would think I’m crazy. I’m sitting at the computer looking at fashion.