Thirty-six years after the revolution and the spirit of Vida Zahedi’s chic Tehrani boutique still echoes through the streets of Tehran. Today, a new kind of revolution is taking place on the streets of Iran. There are no displays of political banners, thrusting of fists in the air or chanting of slogans; only minimal headscarves exposing hair, colourful fabrics and the fancy ‘manteau’. It is a phenomenon testament to fashion’s ability to democratise and influence change.
With the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, Iranian women, who up until then had been able to choose their clothes to suit their taste, saw their sartorial freedom drastically narrowed down by a regime that only saw two pieces of clothing appropriate: the chador, or “Burka” and the manteau, an overcoat that is supposed to conceal a woman’s body. Time stood still and religious restrictions and fashion restrictions became synonymous. Not surprisingly, most women opted for the manteau, which can be considered the lesser of two evils when it comes to looks and comfort.
There have been two sides to fashion in Iran since the establishment of the Islamic Republic. One is the everyday by law mandatory garments for public appearances (whose boundaries are constantly challenged by women) and the other is what is worn at home or at private parties. Now a massive shift is taking place in what women wear in public. Where the chador, dark colours and shapeless sacks were obligatory 20 years ago, the new generation prefers form-fitting tunics and dresses in bright colours. Iranian officials are aware but appear to have given up trying to dictate exactly what sort of hijab, or Islamic covering, women must wear.
Increasingly, Iranian women can be seen in leggings instead of pants and headscarves so minimal that they expose most of a woman’s hair. The manteau and the headscarf have become the most important garments in Iranian fashion, to express ones individuality outside the private corridors of the home. Where we have the It-bag, in Iran a new term has risen, the It-Manteau. Girls and women know how to twist the garment and transform it in to something cool and fashionable. And that’s exactly what Iranian designers have come to understand very well.
Just recently Iran held its first ever Fashion Week. The event took place this February at the Sam Center in north Tehran, where young Iranian designers presented a variety of up-to-date styles for men and women. Six of the seven designers who participated were women — among them Neda Sadeghi, a menswear designer, who is a big fan of legendary late designer Alexander McQueen and Balmain Paris. She started designing five years ago and has been in business for three- and although her annual sales are tiny for Western standards, her business is quickly expanding to neighbouring states. Other designers who participated were Pooneh Askarian, Orchid Ganji, Naghmeh Sadeghi, Monir Davaei, Nasim Akhavan and Arshia Deylami, all design clothes for women. Most of them have studied abroad at prestigious European and American fashion institutes and chose Iran as their base, over the glamorous fashion scene’s of Paris and Milan. The models for Tehran Fashion Week came from Iran’s first(!) modeling agency, Behpooshi– now official partner of Fashion Week- established in 2008 by Sharif Razavi.
Evident to Persian design and fashion brands is their profound attachment to Persian culture and traditions, which shows in all the collections. Young Iranian designers are mixing traditional codes and trends to create a product that is close to their Iranian identity, in what seems to be the success factor within the challenging Iranian fashion market. And whether it’s the exquisite street style of the Iranian women pushing the boundaries of the system, or the courageous designers turning restrictions to innovation- it is intriguing to see how fashion is attributing to a massive change in Iranian society from the inside out.
Images Sondos Design