This past January, during men’s fashion week in London, the designer Paria Farzaneh invited guests to an East London boys’ school for an Iranian wedding. A bride sat onstage in a traditional white lace gown before a banquet of Persian pastries and urns overflowing with pastel-colored roses and baby’s breath. The groom, seated next to her, wore a paisley-printed ski jacket, its high, mouth-covering neck pre-empting the protective masks of the pandemic. An older community leader in a black suit presided over the faux ceremony in Farsi, as the viewers sat divided by gender — men on one side of the aisle, women on the other, though the men outnumbered the women and ended up infringing on their section. This was a deliberate move on Farzaneh’s part intended to highlight the power imbalance she feels in her industry — where a woman truly at the helm of her own brand is still something of a rarity — and was typical of the subtle gestures toward the tensions of our present moment that are embedded in her line. At the end of the ceremony, the groom rose and strode down the aisle, followed by a procession of young men dressed in looks from the fall 2020 collection of Farzaneh’s namesake line, which combined the swagger and oversize silhouettes of streetwear with the understated, earthy palette of hand-printed Iranian textiles.
“For me, fashion is merely a platform for something much bigger,” says Farzaneh. Which is not to say she doesn’t delight in the design process, or that design isn’t a tool in and of itself. She may be one of the few Londoners who, a few months into the pandemic, decamped to Milan, where she spent several weeks working on her next collection and communicating more directly with the Italian mills where she researches and develops her fabrics. She’s particularly interested in fabric and handwork, and sources her signature patterned cotton textiles from Isfahan, Iran’s historic center of textile and rug production. They feature finely wrought florals, paisleys and other motifs created by hand according to the ancient tradition of Ghalamkar printing, in which intricately hand-carved wood blocks are used to stamp patterns onto a length of cloth one color at a time, with only the artisan’s eye as a guide. “All the dyes are plant-based, using saffron, turmeric and pomegranate, and the pieces are washed in the river and dried in the sun,” explains Farzaneh, who has an ability to transform these fabrics — which Iranians might recognize as the sort more typically used for blankets and bedspreads — into deeply modern and covetable garments. She has a similar knack for refreshing other elements that in different contexts might feel old-fashioned, such as flared pants or especially wide lapels. She’s put drawstrings at the ankles of Ghalamkar-printed trousers; made polo shirts from strips of acid-green, waterproof, nylon-blended cloth, overlapped to resemble the lattice of a pie crust; and created patchwork suiting from leftover scraps. Along the way, she’s caught the attention of the N.B.A. stars LeBron James and Nick “Swaggy P” Young; the apparel companies Gore-Tex and Converse, both of which she’s collaborated with; and the selection committee behind the LVMH Prize, for which she was shortlisted last year.
But contextualizing her clothes is almost as important to Farzaneh as the fabrics and silhouettes themselves. Since launching her label in 2017, she has staged an immersive fashion show each season: For spring 2019, models posed along a truck bed installed with seven detailed sets inspired by Nowruz, the Persian New Year, in a collection dedicated to her late uncle, whose presence could be felt in uniform-like khaki pieces. The following season, Farzaneh mailed out her invitations with plastic bags for each audience member to stash their phone in during the show; on the day of, few complied, and onstage, the models, some in tech-y fabrics, others in jackets that wrapped around the body in a suggestion of passive captivity, moved along a conveyor belt with their eyes glued to their own devices. For spring 2020, her models wore matching transparent Halloween masks with garish makeup, T-shirts puff-painted with Farsi script and, in one instance, an overcoat that looked as though it had been stamped by the British Border Force, which read like an eerie comment on the United Kingdom’s surveillance and immigration control policies. “I try to transport people to a place they’ve never been before,” Farzaneh says. “It’s important for me to put an audience in that position — it’s not just about pushing a product or a trend.”
Farzaneh credits her desire to bring people into her world to her experience growing up in what she describes as the “five percent minority” in a rural village in Yorkshire. Her parents, who emigrated from Iran before she was born, “were never in a position to make me feel like I was different,” Farzaneh says, “but as I got older, I started to see more of a disconnect. People didn’t understand.” Her family’s influence can be felt deeply in her work — faded photos of her relatives fill the label’s social feeds, and her father occasionally models for the brand’s look books. Also, Farzaneh’s grandfather was a tailor in Iran, and her mother made much of Farzaneh’s childhood clothing.
On the other hand, she appreciates the creative distance afforded by being a woman exploring masculinity, even if she usually wears men’s clothes herself. “In women’s wear, the details of practicality are compromised by garments being cropped, tight or short,” she says. In 2016, she earned her degree in fashion design from London’s Ravensbourne University. Since then, Farzaneh, now 26, has established herself among a wave of London-based female designers of men’s wear — including Grace Wales Bonner, Martine Rose, Priya Ahluwalia, Bianca Saunders and Mowalola Ogunlesi — who have reimagined the city’s men’s wear scene over the past half-decade. Each offers her own take, but they are alike in that, just by existing in the field, they push back against the elitist traditions of Savile Row tailoring firms — some of which still only dress male customers — and the traditionally fusty world of British craftsmanship. Some of these women, like Farzaneh, also offer artistic visions informed by the immigrant experience of their families.
“Eventually,” Farzaneh says, “people are going to listen, because they’re tired of seeing and smelling and tasting the same monotonous world.” By making clothes with care and imbuing them with meaning, she offers an antidote to the myriad soulless, throwaway options available on the market today, and advances the conversation about what, and who, is part of fashion. “Success for me is about being honest with myself and not compromising what I believe in,” she says. “It’s about authenticity and realness.”