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Iranian Designer Melody Ehsani on Imbuing Her Streetwear Aesthetic and Feminist Attitude into Her NYC Life

Iranian Designer Melody Ehsani on Imbuing Her Streetwear Aesthetic and Feminist Attitude into Her NYC Life

Melody Ehsani in a tracksuit from Noah NY and Union LA x Nike Jumpman sneakers. Photo: Supplied

Twelve years have passed since Melody Ehsani launched her namesake streetwear brand and opened the doors to her Fairfax Avenue shop. “It’s kind of like being Luke Skywalker. I never set out to be a Jedi but did what I had to do. I looked up 10 years later, and here I am, a Jedi,” says the Iranian designer about running her business. Now with a location in Soho, New York City, Ehsani’s streetwear aesthetic – influenced by sports, hip-hop, and feminism – are found at her two stores, inviting customers to explore her sweatsuits, graphic tees, accessories, and jewelry lines.
Rings by Melody Ehsani, and a gifted Nefertiti ring. Photo: Supplied

With short-lived plans to become a lawyer in women advocacy, Ehsani – a graduate of the University of California – decided to break from cultural expectations and enroll at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena instead. “I finally broke with that path realizing that it wasn’t a true calling,” she shares. “It helped shape my beliefs and principles, which are reflected in my work: being able to leave behind parts of the culture that don’t serve me and bringing forward the beautiful aspects that are timeless and true.” While her law school days are far behind her, she continues to promote female empowerment via her platform. “I enjoy fusing conscious thought with product and I started my brand being inspired by women and wanting to pay it forward.”
Ehsani in her designs. Photo: Supplied

A lesson in adapting
“It’s the year of pivoting,” Ehsani says about adapting her establishment to the onset of the pandemic. “With 90% of our production being done in Los Angeles, we had to navigate around the availability of our supply chain,” she says. “Someone once told me to aim for accomplishment as opposed to success. Success carries an emotion, it implies you’re validated, whereas accomplishment means you set out to do something, and you do it. It involves a continual ascent. Not you, standing at the peak of a mountain and looking up.” Ehsani feels encouraged to push forward in times when others press pause. When asked what customers are looking for post-pandemic, she shares, “I know personally, I’ve simplified significantly. I’m more interested in supporting local businesses than ever before – and wearing clothes that are well-made and comfortable.”
Ehsani in her designs. Photo: Supplied

Female power
“Style is an expression of who you are,” says Ehsani, dressed in a sweatsuit that she made and a pair of Nike Air Jordan Ones from her ever-growing collection. “I’m not sure how many Jordans I own, but there are a lot,” she laughs. Some of her favorite pairs include the Aleali May and Union Los Angeles collaborations, which sit alongside designs she did for the brand. A nod to self-expression, she leaves her mark on an Air Jordan One, customized with a removable gold watch from her eponymous jewelry brand and inscribed with a Julie Burns- Walker circling the sole: “If you knew what you had was rare, you would never waste it.” Her second and most recent partnership with the sneaker company is the first-ever collaboration on the Women’s Jordan OG, first introduced in 1998. Imagined in black, purple, and red with reflective piping, the design is accented with a cherry detail – which is associated with goddesses of fertility, abundance, and protection – expressing her message on women empowerment.
A vintage Rolex Stella watch. Photo: Supplied

Slow and steady
While some rely on a morning workout, a java boost, or catching up on news before rushing out the door, Ehsani takes a holistic approach to start her day. “I sit up in bed, say a little prayer, and do some breathing and meditation work before brushing my teeth,” she says. “I also drink a lot of matcha and rely on it heavily in my morning routine to set the tone for my day.” Her self-care routine starts skin deep.” My complexion is the most direct reflection of how my overall health is doing,” says the designer. “I feel better when I’m giving myself what I need, and it shows in my skin,” she says, adding, “Just remember to drink water, breath, stretch, and meditate.”
Ehsani’s sneaker collaboration with Nike in front of art by Aya Tiff Brown. Photo: Supplied

For the love of food
“Raffi’s Place is my favorite Persian restaurant in Los Angeles,” Ehsani says as she excitedly talks about the beef kabab barq at the Glendale courtyard locale lined with an umbrella of trees and twinkling lights. Just a stone’s throw away from her shop, Ehsani also frequently reserves a table at Jon and Vinny’s for its apple salad and spicy fusilli. Meanwile, Erewhon is her shopping ground. “It’s my favorite market. Its hot foods bar has all the healthy food I like and its smoothies are worth splurging on.”
Ehsani in her designs. Photo: Supplied

Read Next: Iranian Diva Googoosh on Auctioning Her Iconic Couture Kaftans for a Cause
Originally published in the March 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia

Iranian Diva Googoosh on Auctioning Her Iconic Couture Kaftans for a Cause

Iranian Diva Googoosh on Auctioning Her Iconic Couture Kaftans for a Cause

Googoosh wearing Rahmanian for her comeback tour in 2000. Photo: Supplied

For 21 years, Googoosh, the stage name of Iranian singer Faegheh Ahtashin, was silenced. An iconic pop star and actor who pinnacled to fame in the 1970s in Iran, and inspired women in the Middle Eastern nation with her short haircut and sophisticated fashion sense, Googoosh’s career ended nearly overnight with the Iranian Revolution in 1979. As public performances by women were banned by the conservative government, Googoosh receded into the shadows, before making a magnetic comeback in 2000 and embarking on a world tour that encompassed cities like Dubai, Toronto, and Los Angeles.
Today, a powder blue gown Googoosh wore while performing in front of 12,000 people in Toronto during her comeback tour is displayed for auction by Bonhams. The gown is one of several fashion items from the singer’s closet on sale to the highest bidder, accompanied by dresses, blazers, hats, skirts and blouses. The clothing in the auction includes both Googoosh’s personal attire and the iconic ensembles she has sported in concerts and music videos.

“In the absence of concerts due to coronavirus, I decided that these clothes should be put to good use as I don’t use them anymore,” Googoosh told Vogue Arabia. “There were a number of gowns that I had worn back from the years 2000 to 2019, which was when my last concert happened, and I hadn’t worn them again. I decided that these gowns should be added to this auction line.”
While the sales for the auction are digital on account of the pandemic, the outreach and operations for the event are happening in Los Angeles, home to a generational community of Iranian-Americans, which settled in the area after fleeing dictatorship and unrest in their country in the 1970s and 80s. Catherine Williams, the director of Fine Books and Manuscripts and Entertainment Memorabilia at Bonhams’ Los Angeles office, said that the auction is targeted towards music enthusiasts passionate about Googoosh, and the Persian community in Southern California in general.

The articles of clothing in the auction are drawn primarily from Googoosh’s wardrobe after she returned to the stage in 2000. The singer shares that the clothes which defined the first part of her career, and established her early reputation as a trendsetting force, were lost after she left Iran to tour in Canada, anticipating a return that never happened.
“[The clothes in the auction] are very special to Googoosh because they represent the time she was back and able to sing again, how she got her voice back, and when she became Googoosh again,” Neda Saeedi, Googoosh’s personal assistant, told Vogue Arabia. “And through her fashion, she tried to show another side [of herself] if there had been no revolution from 2000 till present.”
The range of designs in the collection is eclectic, capturing Googoosh’s regal fashion style and the larger-than-life diva she has embodied onstage. Outfits include embroidered velvet blue pant-and-shirt coordinates by Tory Burch, a gray lace gown by Iranian designer Rahmanian, a royal blue Marchesa dress clasped with a golden rhinestone belt, and an assortment of flowing kaftans. However, Googoosh isn’t invested in brand names, but instead prioritizes comfort, elegance, beauty, and modesty in curating her wardrobe, and she has purchased most of the clothing herself on a personal budget when venturing out on shopping sprees.
“If something catches my eye, I suddenly go for it,” Googoosh said. “I don’t look at designers’ labels when I’m purchasing an outfit. There have been times when I coincidentally noticed that I’m wearing the same designer, maybe because I like their design, but I don’t go for Escada and pick out their gowns because it’s Escada. For me, wearing something that I feel comfortable in is the key aspect.”
Even so, the clothing in the auction deftly blends an Eastern silhouette with a more Western and modern style of fashion. Iranian designers like Rahmanian and Bahareh Memarian, and Indian designer Naeem Khan recur throughout the collection, and kaftans the singer has donned in music videos and concerts are also up for auction.
Googoosh wearing Mario Dice. Photo: Supplied

“For kaftans, they go back from before the revolution, when I used to travel to Tunis and other Arabic[-speaking] countries,” Googoosh explained. “Kaftans enable me to perform on stage freely without any kind of tangles. I feel I can let go and perform [in them] without thinking about how I look. Because I know I look good in them.”
A selection of the proceeds from the auction will go to the Iranian-American Women’s Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports the education of Iranian women in the US, particularly immigrants looking for better opportunities abroad. “Most of these students come from Iran to study. And because it’s so hard for their parents to support them, they have to go back to Iran and not pursue the career that they have chosen,” Googoosh said.
Googoosh possesses experience as a working woman herself, who struggled to forge a career as a singer coming from an impoverished background and then endeavored to sing again under the watchful eye of a conservative government. And even as Googoosh’s clothing from pre-revolutionary Iran remains physically inaccessible, the more recent fashion in the auction line provides a snapshot of femininity and elegance, still inspiring Middle Eastern women to look beautiful regardless of cultural or political norms restricting their dress codes.
“Googoosh is saying, you are women, you are beautiful, and you should be dressing amazingly,” Neda Saeedi said. “If you want to be glamorous, then be glamorous. And if you can’t be glamorous outside of your home, then you can do that in your small gatherings, with your family and friends, and however else you are allowed to be.”
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