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Paria Farzaneh AW18Photography Crowns & Owls

Designer Paria Farzaneh is translating her Iranian heritage into menswear

Following her AW18 presentation, we catch up with the emerging designer

Paria Farzaneh was the name on the lips of more than a few people last summer, as Frank Ocean chose to wear one of the emerging designer’s printed t-shirts for his headline set at London’s Lovebox festival. The Yorkshire-born, London-residing Iranian designer, who launched her third collection yesterday at London Fashion Week Men’s, has a quieter goal than getting her garments on to such high-profile artists, however. 

Marrying Iranian workwear and fabrics with silhouettes she sees in London, Farzaneh’s designs are centred on normalising cultural signifiers that are so often demonised in a Western society that misrepresents and misunderstands so much about the Middle East. “The western world is an echo chamber, and its perception of the Middle East, and Iran in particular, is definitely skewed,” she says. Her resulting collections comprise understated tailoring bearing traditional Iranian prints, casual tracksuit-inspired jackets and cargo pants featuring embroidered detailing, in addition to utility-style vests layered over long cotton shirts. 

With its revolutionary history still in living memory for many, and the country's current political unrest following ongoing national protests decrying the current government and its economic failings, Farzaneh’s designs look to expand the visual associations people often have of Iran. “Even if I can alter a select few people’s understanding of something as small as the aesthetic,” she explains, “that feels good.”

We caught up with Farzaneh after her AW18 presentation – which took place in an Iranian restaurant – to discuss changing perceptions, what masculinity means to her, and how she merges Iranian and British influences.

How do you express the marriage between your surroundings and your heritage in your design?

Paria Farzaneh: I like putting things together from different places. I’ve been to Iran every year since I was two years old. Life is very different there, people express themselves in a different way. I like to use fabric, traditional silhouettes, and styling from Iran to show my heritage, whereas other silhouettes and techniques come from my surroundings here in London. In any other case, the two cultures would clash or even contradict each other, but my aim is to tie the two together using my own aesthetic. I try to look at a broad spectrum of the people there and compare this with what I see when I’m back in London. The theme is always constant out there; the old men wear the suits, the workers wear the uniforms, and the kids are always trying to impress each other. Although it’s very different terms of expression in Iran, the kids there are still trying to win each other over with their style choices and, in many ways, that couldn’t be closer to London. 

Can you talk a little about your family history?

Paria Farzaneh: My grandad was a tailor, he made suits – without using patterns – and the skills he had were unreal. My grandma learnt from him – not everyone was in a position learn pattern cutting, they used to just cut into fabric and make clothes. Fast fashion didn’t exist, and not everyone was buying couture. Most people, if they could, just made their clothes. I guess my mum then just learnt from them – she made clothes for me as a child, and here I am now. 

“The message isn’t so much political, it’s more to simply inform people about the culture and let people know that the Middle East isn’t what most people believe it to be” – Paria Farzaneh

Did you study fashion?

Paria Farzaneh: I studied Fashion Menswear Design at Ravensbourne. Me and Eden (Loweth, Art School) were in the same class – we helped each other out. We knew this is what we wanted to do from the beginning. I can’t imagine not studying fashion, you really need to know everything – it’s not just about designing. You use every skill and you really have to be on it… we all know that this industry is not forgiving.

What specific messages do you want to communicate through your garments?

Paria Farzaneh: The message isn’t so much political, it’s more to simply inform people about the culture – through the patterns, the prints, and colours – and let people know that the Middle East isn’t what most people believe it to be.

How do you achieve this? Through the garments, casting, imagery?

Paria Farzaneh: I look at clothing in Iran, from the present day right back sometimes as far as 40 years. I like to look at the professions of the people there, and how that affects the way they dress. I try to combine that with influences from my day to day life in London and hopefully the end result is a cultured and contemporary piece. The idea changes constantly – I originally start with what I think something is going to look like, but the end product is often something completely different. I feel like there should be no limitations: I'm looking to constantly push the boundaries of what I can introduce to people, what they don’t know about, what they’ve never seen before, and how can I share this with them. Casting is really important, for me. It’s really not about how somebody looks. I like to know about people’s backgrounds, what they do for work, what their interests are. I build the looks on people’s characters and personalities, and I like asking their opinion on the garments I put them in. I’m always listening, always learning. 

You’ve talked about misrepresentation of the Middle East and Middle Eastern culture in the British media – what do you think are specific misrepresentations that you would like to offer an informed perspective on?

Paria Farzaneh: I think in the west we’re often lead to believe that the Middle East is an unsafe, chaotic corner of the world – a sort of modern day Wild West in some ways. Of course, there are areas where this is the case, but it doesn’t speak for the majority. I like focusing on workwear as it says society, structure and normality. It subverts what we see on the news every night. 

What does your AW18 collection look at? Where are the influences from?

Paria Farzaneh: These twelve looks represent my memories of Iranian workwear over the past 20 years. The military man, the office worker and so on; they have resonated as first-hand experiences for me. I’ve seen family members put on these uniforms and do ‘life’. I’ve pulled a lot of inspiration from certain job roles or professions and characters of men in Iran. The collection really offers my take on the characters I’ve experienced.

What do you think masculinity is today? How does this inform your designs?

Paria Farzaneh: I feel like masculinity is at a tipping point, especially in the west. The route of the problem within masculinity starts and ends with fragility and openness. Sometimes men hide behind their jobs, their responsibilities… I’m trying to celebrate the beauty of individuality in character, in an attempt to encourage an openness in the person who chooses to wear it.