How did the Iranian fashion scene and The Tehran Times evolve since it was first found?
When The Tehran Times first started out it intended to focus on local Iranian fashion. We didn’t want to be a fashion blog merely focusing on western fashion. We aimed to go beyond and help create and evolve a fashion industry in Iran. But back then only a few local designers knew where to look to if they wanted to give their designs a Persian touch. So The Tehran Times set out to establish a resource for design inspiration specifically with a look on Iranian arts, culture, history, literature, and architecture.
To do this we turned to Iranian painters who easily play around with Iranian culture in their works. Putting works like these next to street style photos instigated the idea that similar experimentation can be applied to fashion designs.
The thing is, Iran has always been progressive in fine arts and cinema but not so much in fashion.
Little by little the ideas which The Tehran Times had projected were found to be inspiring not only to fashion but also interior designers. So eventually we turned out to be a blog which is a rich source inspiring creative Iranians.
What are some of the difficulties of managing a team in Tehran?
Iran is a very complex society. I’d visit Iran once a year in the past and things were always different from my last visit. I couldn’t tell if it was me or the country and its people that were changing — I’m guessing it must have been both.
The first biggest challenge in such a dynamic setting is to find people who you can fully understand especially that the distance doesn’t make this any easier; there should be people who you know you can trust and count on no matter what.
Also you can’t easily find Iranians who have received an education in fashion abroad (whether its fashion journalism or any other sub-branch) and are living and willing to work inside Iran.
You have mentioned time and again that the limited number of Iranian fashion designs and accessories to work with make it difficult to execute an international-level fashion editorial; how have you dealt with this challenge?
In a city like Paris when a fashion media outlet decides to carry out an editorial they call for let’s say a red pump or a stiletto. What happens is that nearly 100 pairs of reds are submitted which fit the call and this is because all the different brands out there are producing a variety from which creative directors can have their pick pick.
In Iran what we do is that we focus on the new collections which are designed by locals mainly because all designers want to present their latest work. Once we’ve gathered all the designs then we start crafting a story.
When we collect items from 15 Iranian designers, each one has its own special story to tell. This might make it difficult to harmonize all designs because each designer has a totally unique vision that is completely different from any other and might stand out just as boldly as anything else.
With so many pieces craving attention and wanting to be in the spotlight what we do is that we take risks, we go to extremes, we dodge minimalism in favor of maximalism because we want to create an interesting styling experience. And to me you can’t be standing somewhere in between: you either got to be absolutely simple or to exaggerate full-on.
The editorials published by The Tehran Times are usually accompanied with an article that carries a central message. How does this work? Does the photography take direction from the article or vice versa? How important is the writing to communiating the messages which go with the editorial images and would you buy criticism suggesting that the writing is at times superfluous?
Sometimes you listen to a song and adore it but when you see the video clip it might put you off. The music video could in a way be the visual interpretation of an idea that goes on in the heads of lyricists or poets. So when you learn more about the thought behind creating the video you might come to appreciate it in a fuller potential. I believe that photography and writing in fashion do the same thing. They are in a way instruments which convey thought. The Tehran Times is more than a blog with commercial activity which is why I find it necessary to share the ideas behind each project that are all very valuable to myself.
What are some improvements that you look forward to implementing in future projects?
I don’t like talking about my ideas because I always like to surprise my audience. What I can say though, is that the further we progress the more difficult it gets and the more we learn the more we strive to be perfect and responsible.
With each editorial we get better at technicalities but for everything to improve I take on more challenges. I feel like it’s similar to physical exercise in the sense that if you are trying to break your limits and witness change you can’t stick to the same routine for an entire year, you are going to need new challenges.
So at The Tehran Times even when we repeat something like a street style or an editorial we also try to take things up a notch in one way or another in order to keep the heads turning.
Define what matters most to you in selecting a design that is featured in an editorial and let us know who some of your favorite Iranian designers are in the light of the reasons you put forth.
I always admire those who have enough of everything; enough vision, taste, intellect, and a sense of business. And I like those who do things in the best way possible even if what they are doing is low-key.
For instance I love the brand Gereh Socks, they make socks in Mashhad and it may seem quite straightforward but they have managed to pull off something simple in the best way possible and its perfection all around.
When it gets to designers who create a range of products, there’s always at least one piece or idea which I can appreciate. For instance I like the philosophy that the works of Foje carry, Salar Bil creates amazing scenery, and in Vaghar I see order, precision and refinement.
Why is it that your editorials often lean towards being visually maximalist or bombastic in concept?
I’ve always loved to do something in the entertainment business; I’ve always wanted to own a circus or something like Cirque du Soleil but with a Persian redo. The editorials are my opportunity to go beyond my limits and make something dreamy.
But the logical reason would be limitations in design; to remove this obstacle I like to blow things out of proportion. I think I’ll never get tired of nurturing creative ideas and incorporating different artistic aspects.
If you were to give us a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes before editorial images are uploaded and an article is published what things would you pinpoint?
I have a very French attitude towards fashion and I see it as the eighth form of art. It gives you the opportunity to bring together and appreciate different forms of art all at once. Clothes play a central role in all areas — be it music, performing arts, or cinema. So when I carry out these editorials I know that I can’t work with photographers who classify themselves as fashion photographers or the conventional models who are working in Iran because the artistic essence which I look to bring out just wouldn’t surface.
The conventional models usually stand in very cliché poses and imagine that it’s all about their physical beauty while the photographers believe that fashion photography is limited to taking photos of pretty girls with drop-dead figures.
I believe that a good fashion shoot should be fifty percent art and fifty percent commerce. We need to pay close attention to make sure the clothes are presented well, the poses shouldn’t be boring and repetitive. Therefore I work with art photographers to incorporate their artistic vision with my sense of fashion and this creates a well-rounded and exciting project. The recent editorial was even more exciting and fuller because we were working with two performing artists.
What is it that you look to achieve in executing these editorials?
I have said this before and I will say it again my biggest wish it to see that Iranian fashion is strong enough to be presented on an international level.
I try to take things to an international level. I see the success of one Iranian designer as something for a nation to be proud of. If one day internationally proclaimed designers add Iranian clothing to their collections, right where Saris and Kimonos have already gained firm ground, that’s when I’d say Iran has taken the first step in opening a way within the international fashion industry.
I have lived in three different continents and regretfully I can’t say that Iranian cuisine and fashion have gained considerable ground overseas especially compared to Lebanese, Chinese, Japanese or Indians.
I think it’s time we take a look at ourselves in order to figure out what we’re doing wrong and what impedes our progress. Given that our civilization and culture is replete with exciting ideas that can be used to project our heritage, then what is it that we have failed to do?
How do you feel about the reaction and the controversy that this recent editorial generated?
Like all public figures, I’ve had moments when my audience have been throwing roses at me, and others when they’ve been throwing eggs. After my latest editorial, I suppose I’m a quasi “rose-omelette.” But in general I’ll only be truly concerned when they’re not throwing anything at all.
Neda Monem is a Tehran-based journalist, photographer and social media advisor. She covers arts, culture, society, tech and startups.