A prolific artist and graphic designer with a decade-long career, Marjan Kargar always had fashion at the back of her mind. And no wonder. Not only did her career evolve in the creative realm, but her heritage was steeped in physical proximity to fabric and material...
Making a name for herself in graphic design and illustration, founder Marjan Kargar relocated to Canada in 2013. With a stellar academic record and attention-to-detail, she had professionally ‘arrived.’ Parallel to these pursuits however, her practice of photography and visual art grew unrestrained. As her work developed in passion and maturity, Marjan discovered a clarified sense of purpose. She broke free from her bread-and-butter job and dedicated herself wholeheartedly to pure creation.
With exhibitions around the world, her singular illustrations are now known for transcending boundaries and captivating the viewer. While researching them, I’m struck by their beauty. It’s conveyed in the natural and sensual depiction of the human form, in an avant-garde context. They evoke a sincere sense of intimacy and candor, playing with the grotesque and imperfect in a way that speaks love.
Narvan marks a personal renaissance in returning to fashion; her no-longer-pipe-dream grounded in family history. Her childhood excursions to fabric stores, tailors, and watching her mother and grandmother dream up personalized designs has given her an intrinsic sensibility and eye for material.
I met with Marjan at the inaugural photo shoot for Narvan’s first and signature collection. It was a classically overcast Vancouver day with clouded light filtering into the white, clear spaces of the studio. She took some time to speak with me about her artistic background and the label, which illuminates her uniquely creative vision with twin passions; fabric and sustainability...
What brought you to a creative career? How did you come to work in graphic and visual art?
Art has always been the great love and solace in my life. Growing up, I felt different from others and didn’t fit in. When I discovered art and creativity, it was like the doors opened and the light flooded in. I found a sense of meaning in being different, and an intuitive outlet for all of the grey I’d been feeling. I studied graphic design, from high school through MA. The field of visual arts is staggering in its breadth of choice, but I think graphic design is one of the best choices for young artists. You’re exposed to a wide range of skills, and you can then later decide which you would like to master or specialize in.
This is a project which has clearly been in the works for some time. What does Narvan mean to you?
Narvan is my unique vision of sustainable clothing production. The manifestation of what I hope to become a complete fusion of art, vision and community. We all know that our responsibilities have grown beyond carefree to conscientious living. This is my part in contributing to that. In creating a line of ethical and beautiful pieces, I can bring this hope for a new way of living to a larger audience.
What is the symbolism of the name?
Narvan means ‘elm tree’ in Farsi. The symbolism is rich; elm trees signify the cycle of life, death and rebirth. We’re part of the new wave in bringing up-to-date meaning to the life cycle of fashion.
What was the genesis of Narvan?
Creating and running a fashion brand has always been my wildest dream. After years of working in a corporate environment, I came to a turning point. I reflected on what I really wanted to contribute, who I wanted to become and what I wanted my work to mean. After much self-reflection, I took the leap of faith on a self-determined path. And despite the challenges I’ve faced, I don’t look back.
After having such a positive response to my art, this clear ambition of embedding what I love to create into everyday experience came through. I was enthralled by this idea of making our streets museums where every wearable piece has intention and meaning. I loathed the mass production of empty items – for more reasons than one. And I know what an impact a beautifully designed garment can have in elevating the wearer. Clothes that tell stories and amplify the aesthetic of space and time... that’s what I’m really interested in making.
I understand too that your family had an impact on your aspirations?
It was definitely in my DNA. My mother and grandmother are obsessed with buying fabric, and they used to take me with them. Growing up going to different fabric stores, I learned about texture and color through their eyes, and saw alterations happen right in front of me. I had a sense of autonomy in what I wore and how I wore it. Later, when I was an art student hungry to create, I would design dresses and buy different fabrics, convincing tailors to conjure up my whimsical designs. This ‘education’, per se, always stuck with me. When I found my passion reignited, it went hand in hand with wanting to honor the feminine, delicate designs I remember my family loving.
What were your greatest challenges in building a line that is sustainable, but also utile and fashionable?
I would say patience, finance and self-advocacy. Plastic is so facile and ubiquitous that it’s normal to be offered, at every step, the cheaper and ‘easier’ option. I had to work to do research and lean into communicating about every finer detail to make sure the process aligned with my ethical vision. It’s taken some time, it’s taken some investment. The other thing I’ve learned is how important it is to ask directly for what you want and treat every conversation as a collaboration. ‘No’ means ‘no’, but if I was being offered a non-sustainable shortcut because it seemed easier, I’ve learned to push for what I’m really trying to do. I think my artistic background has allowed me to create a recognizable and beautifully aesthetic line. I’m grateful for that inspiration, which has come from years of work in creativity.
You had an understanding of form from your family; but as a visual artist, did working with form feel restrictive, or were those limits inspiring?
The aspect of function for sure was a challenge; you are not as free in fashion design as you are with a sketch, for instance. The experience I had through my family provided a solid foundation, but for sure there was also problem solving. However, every limitation or restriction as you mentioned, sparked more creativity. When you’re under pressure, you have to get innovative to find the best, and in Narvan’s case, most beautiful solution. It was interesting too to find that sometimes, coming from a connected but different experience such as visual art, that I could ideate and imagine solutions and points-of-view beyond what I was sometimes presented.
What are you most excited for in Narvan’s future and your artistic future?
I’m excited for all of the possibilities that lie ahead. Continuing to create designs that people can fall in love with. On the production front, our manufacturing currently takes place overseas. Resources here in Canada have been employed in producing PPE as a result of the pandemic. But as soon as is feasible, want to transition to work with local artisans and producers. Most importantly, giving back to our community through employment opportunities and spotlighting local artists. Long-term we hope to open a gallery alongside our flagship store, to give creatives a haven and a platform to showcase their talent. I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds.