Shahla Yaribakht left the Iran in 1978 to complete her studies in France. After getting a degree in 1979, she began her creative and professional career as fashion designer in the fashion capital of the world Paris – together with her brother and other family members.
Yaribakht has returned to Iran as representative of Mod’Art International, which has college branches in 14 countries. In an interview with Honar Online, she tells us how she wants to bring world class fashion education to Iranian students and professionals, and help them showcase their collections across the globe.
You have your own brands in France. Are you planning to offer students high-quality training in sync with the needs of the fashion industry and womenswear in Iran?
My family has been in this business for decades. Just like my mother and grandmother, I came to like fashion design for womenswear from an early age. I used to have a name for myself before going to France. For the same reason, I come back two or three times a year because I don’t want to lose that special relationship. I work for different brands in France and most of them have Iranian names. I have never tried to hide my Iranian identity. I’m proud of my Iranian background.
You pay special attention to Islamic Hijab for women. What was your intention or challenges for this?
Many Muslims in Europe are now more than ever willing to reveal their Islamic background and identity. I knew families that didn’t want to wear Hijab but now they are all doing just that. Foreigners make up 10 percent of the French society, of which 20 percent are Muslim women wearing Hijab.
I’ve been working on Hijab for almost two decades now. I have been designing dresses and accessories for women that pretty much go well with their Islamic tradition and culture. They have the right to wear what they like in a secular country like France, and even play sports. My duty is to help them do just that by making functional dresses and commercial accessories.
Is it possible to express your views and opinions in France, especially through fashion design?
It is hard to work in a place where there is too much bias towards Islam. There are many political parties there. I am for peace and respect the law. I never ask for trouble. All women Muslims can practice their rights in France and I am helping them.
We are yet to have international schools for fashion design in Iran. Some universities are trying to encourage students to take such courses. However, social sciences, sociology, psychology, and cultural factors are also part of the scheme. How important are these courses for you and how do you get them together in your works?
I was invited by the Iranian government to do a research on fashion design for Muslim women. I have worked closely with several universities. I teach students the scientific aspects of the industry, with special attention to psychology, psycho-analysis, sociology, and the textile industry. Sometimes, I have even changed the curriculum to make sure my fashion students are on the cutting edge of style. They should learn about each stage involved in the fashion design process, from initial concept to the realization of a final work.
I also represent the University of Mod’Art International. It’s a creative and business environment. Many foreign designers and students come to work and study there. Today the fashion business is a fully fledged industry with its own rules, standards and language. It is therefore essential to create professional programs adapted to the international outlook both in fashion design and management for Iranian students. A professional approach is needed to train students for passionate careers. Mod’Art International prepare their students with faculty from the profession. A fashion design or sketch that is not based on psychology, sociology or research should never be allowed to go mainstream.
Unlike France, there are no notable fashion magazines in Iran. How could we also break news about the industry, designers, celebrity trend setters, and extensive coverage of fashion events?
France is lucky because it is made up of different cultures. The same could be said about Iran as it has different peoples with different cultures and traditions. The French see diversity of religions, traditions and cultures as an asset. Politicians encourage diversity because they believe it helps the country to develop. Unlike France we have different languages and dialogues in Iran that we need to make optimum use of. Everything begins with language, tradition and religion. If we accept and respect different cultures and religions, we can help our country to develop too.
We should never let go of our diverse cultures and traditions. We could use the Turkish language to develop relations with Turkey. The same is true about the Arabic language. We should be proud of our country’s rich cultural background and tradition.
What are your academic programs during your stay in Iran? How can people take part in your classes?
I have agreed to spend 80 percent of my schedule over here. I couldn’t do it before because of family issues and kids’ education. Things have changed now. I plan to teach everything about the fashion industry in Iran. It will be a course that covers the art of designing beautiful clothing and fashion accessories. It will teach students the basics of fashion designing. Working with the industry alone is not going to get you anywhere. It has to include professional courses as well. My courses will include basic instruction on clothing construction, such as draping and drafting. Learners can study the psychology of clothing and practice rendering skills through lectures, readings and projects. I have already held talks with cultural and fashion design officials and they have given me the go-ahead.
Things are a bit different here though. I have to blend in and meet the special requirements of the industry and officials. The officials have agreed to allow me to teach in my own way. I will add new curriculum if I have to. For instance, I have included the history of fashion and clothing that starts from the late 19th century Iran. I have also agreed to offer courses in traditional dress-making methods and techniques that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing.
However, my ultimate goal is to see Iranian fashion weeks being held in other parts of the world, wherein our fashion designers, brands or houses display their latest collections in runway shows to buyers and the media. These events can and should influence trends for the current and upcoming seasons. We can and should organize fashion weeks with Iranian signature looks. This way our international clients can enjoy our couture items and their exclusive Iranian content. I want to make sure those who attend my courses will have the same view that our collections and couture items should be with Iranian signature looks. I hope this cooperation works, because it’s a great opportunity for all of us.
Translation by Bobby Naderi