It might sound highly unlikely that a 13-year-old brand based out of Budapest would transform from a local Hungarian business into a powerful force in the global fashion industry in just a matter of months, but this is the story of Nanushka. I first heard of the brand in October 2017 when a chestnut-colored vegan leather padded jacket suddenly became a firm fixture on my Instagram feed—even that sounds like an unlikely start to a major retail success. 10 months later, I see Nanushka's croc-stamped belt bags, polka-dot dresses, and tie-waist jeans at least once a day on Instagram.
Nanushka is part of a new breed of contemporary brands, which, thanks to their sharp pricing and distinctive designs, are proving big business for the likes of Net-a-Porter and MyTheresa.com. Independent labels can now reach an international audience within seconds, but it's not merely down to a fluke of scrolling that women from Copenhagen to Atlanta are all wearing Nanushka. Building an Instagram brand is more than just thinking of a memorable hashtag, as I quickly realized when talking with founder Sandra Sandor at her shop in Budapest. "Even though we're a local brand from Eastern Europe, Instagram gives us the opportunity to become an international brand," says Sandra. "Ten or 15 years ago it was so much more difficult to get recognition or get to people, and so it really helps brands all bounce up from the same level."
A strong social media strategy isn't an afterthought at Nanushka: The design team also curates the feed and decides who they want to see wearing the clothes they have created. "We don't just contact people with a huge follower base," says Sandra. "That was never our strategy. Our strategy was to contact or work with influencers who are really small, but their style reflects our aesthetic. I like to see the clothes on women who reflect the brand." Sandra might be the founder of this now-international brand, but to this day, she still oversees every single picture that gets posted on the account: "It is part of the creative process."
Nanushka is indeed what you could call a "viral" label, but it creates elevated staples rather than gimmicks, and those will last a lifetime. "One of the brand values is form follows function, and even from the beginning, I felt that function, practicality, and comfort are essential. For me as a person, and when I design, it's a very important value," says Sandra. The two cult Nanushka pieces are the vegan leather puffer jacket and the croc-embossed belt bag. "I never know, when I design, whether something will be a hit or not—for example, the puffer, there are so many puffer jackets around. But I think it's the washable vegan leather is popular because it's super soft and it's not a nylon."
Lisa Aiken wearing a Nanushka polka-dot dress.
Tiffany Hsu wearing a Nanushka polka-dot blouse.
Tiffany Hsu wearing a Nanushka vegan leather dress.
So what makes the brand so alluring to international buyers? "I think it comes down to their unique and contemporary designs, which really push the boundaries of modern, wearable fashion. Nanushka provide their customers with discovery and newness, and when you combine this with their alluring price point, you have the magic formula behind their success," says Net-a-Porter's fashion director Lisa Aiken. "Nanushka's fabrics astonish me due to their high quality and finish. Not only do they appear striking and chic, but they also feel light, buttery and soft to wear. I particularly love their amazing vegan leathers that are machine washable at 30 degrees. It's great there's a practical element there, meaning you can easily invest in a vegan leather shirt, dress, or pants, and they're easy to maintain."
Sat on a mustard leather '70s sofa with an iced coffee in hand, surrounded by cactuses, rails of lavender satin clothes, marble-top tables and lots of exposed brick, I could be in Stoke Newington or West Hollywood, rather than Budapest. Nanushka is the first Hungarian brand to ever be stocked on Net-a-Porter, however, it's hard to actually place the clothes. Sandra credits the brand's "cosmopolitan view" to her studies at London College of Fashion. "There are some special Hungarian techniques that we use, but they look very similar to other international designs, such as smocking, which we use on waistbands and is a very ancient Hungarian technique," Sandra explains. Her clothes might slot into the wardrobes of women anywhere in the world, but she will be selling a rail of vintage clothes from Hungary to Romania and Transylvania at the store, as a nod to local Eastern European fashion.
A Copenhagen Fashion Week attendee wears a Nanushka lavender dress.
Sandra of 5 Inch and Up wears a Nanushka top and trousers.