Nina Hamnett was born in the small seaside town of Tenby, Wales. She studied at the Pelham Art School and then at the London School of Art. In 1912, she went to Paris to study at the Académie Vassilieff, a private art school in Montparnasse.
She split most of her time for the next 20 years between Paris and London. She worked as both an artist and a mode, and became friends with the avant-garde of both cities, including Olivia Shakespear, Ezra Pound, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Serge Diaghilev, Jean Cocteau, and Roger Fry. In Montparnasse, she met her future husband, Roald Kristian, a Norwegian artist, whom she married in 1914.
She was vivacious and flamboyant and was nicknamed "the Queen of Bohemia." In London for a time, she made or decorated fabrics, clothes, murals, furniture, and rugs at the Omega Workshops, directed by Fry, Vanessa Bell, and Duncan Grant. During World War I, her creations were widely exhibited, including at the Royal Academy.
In 1932, she published Laughing Torso, a memoir of her unusual life, which became a bestseller in the UK and USA. Twenty-three years later, she published a follow-up book, Is She a Lady? By this time, she was living in poverty, spending her time drinking in pubs in London’s Fitzrovia district. In 1956, she fell or jumped from from a window and died shortly thereafter.