Naf Naf was my gateway drug into designer (and more specifically French) fashion. Compared to normal high street brands, it wasn’t cheap or easily available, so it had that exclusive air that made me crave it even more.*
My Naf Naf obsession was probably the first time I consciously allied myself with a particular brand. It represented a breakaway from parental control over what I wore. Not that I’m dissing my mum’s taste, far from it – I would happily wear the Laura Ashley dungarees and corduroy pinafore dresses that she put me in as a child today. Left to my own devices, my childish taste was decidedly questionable – a cherished turquoise velour tracksuit and neon pink shell suit spring to mind… *shudders*
The star piece in my Naf Naf collection was a red and white polka dotted oversized tee with the logo embroidered in multicoloured letters across the chest. Other highlights as I progressed through my teenage years included an embroidered black satin cheongsam dress and a beautiful leather satchel that transformed my school uniform with its preppy, Left Bank chic.
The Naf Naf store on Oxford Street was almost too much for 14 year old me to cope with – like staring directly at the sun. I was used to unearthing small pockets of it in unlikely places – a few notebooks in a French hypermarche, a rail of t-shirts in a Cornish surf shop.
But the one Naf Naf piece that still makes my heart beat a little faster, both because it was so beautiful and because of the memories it so powerfully evokes, is The One That Got Away. It was a miniature backpack (before they became a ‘thing’ in the early ’90s) that I saw in the window of a boutique in the village of Castelnaudary in the south of France. I was 13, on holiday with my family and had amassed a healthy collection of Naf Naf stickers, erasers and keyrings along the way. But this gorgeous, embroidered backpack inspired an acquisitive desire in me, the likes of which I’d never experienced before
I whined, pleaded and sulked, but it was too expensive to justify buying, even with a year’s worth of pocket money. Then on the last day of the holiday my parents relented and we went back to the shop to buy it. The shop was closed, and I returned to England, heartbroken. I still occasionally type ‘Naf Naf backpack’ into eBay in the vague hope of finding this lost love, but I don’t think I’d really want it now – it’s too late. “Let it go, let it gooooo…”
The funny thing is, I didn’t know anything about the history of the brand when I first encountered it, I just instinctively loved it. Similarly, I have no idea what Naf Naf is like these days and don’t really have any desire to find out. The brand represents a very specific period in my life and I don’t want to mess with that. It’s a bit like the bands you were into in that very small window in your early/mid teens – they brand you to the core, even though objectively as an adult you might realise the music really wasn’t that great (sorry, Shed Seven).
Through Naf Naf I first learned how intoxicating the thrill of the chase can be, that feeling of triumph when you hunt down a rare (to a twelve year old) ‘piece’, and how the fashion label you ally yourself with can help you understand, define and shape your identity – the person you present to the world.
These days Naf Naf has been supplanted by APC and Carven in my wardrobe – that appreciation of cooler-than-cool French design that was ignited by a pencil case never died. I still wear the polka dot t-shirt from time to time though.
*Dishonourable mention must go to the puny British upstart ‘Naf Co.’ Ugh, so anaemic, so try-hard… Pity the hapless parent who naively presented their obnoxo-tween with a Naf Co. cagoule they sourced godknowswhere, only to have their colossal error pointed out to them in disgust. The repellent garment would then only be resentfully worn, with an air of long-suffering martyrdom, on family holidays where there was minimal risk of being seen by anyone cool.
Co-founder and co-editor of Pamflet. Bookworm, bluestocking, Brown Owl. Loves Garconnes style, reading, writing, ranting and raving. Gin snob.