Effortless sophistication, surrealism and Iranian aesthetics legacy
She writes, directs, produces and presents. She appears on screen, in prints and on the web. She curates exhibitions of contemporary art. And expresses her vision on all supports from films and documentaries to essays, articles, reviews and poetry. Her style is modern and casual and yet, always very chic with a hint of retro elegance.
She, is Tara Aghdashloo, Iranian-born Londoner and one of the earliest friends of Les Belles Heures. Today, she sits with us for a style talk addressing effortless sophistication, surrealism and Iranian aesthetics legacy.
Thanks a lot for taking the time Tara, we really appreciate it.
First of all we must confess, we are big fans of your style. How would you describe it ?
I think you described it pretty well, and I would just add, to be weird and wonderful. Generally speaking, I like the feeling of freedom in what I do and what I wear.
When I was in my early 20s in Toronto, I cherished inconsistency as an aesthetic, so I’d wear 1920s hats with vintage Cheongsams or a silk sleepwear for an evening out. I mixed together bright colors and anachronistic compositions. As I got older the sharp edges of my style softened in some ways and I became attracted to consistency and muted colors, while in other ways I became more daring. Soon after I moved to London, I went through 3 months of a “black phase” and wore cat ears for a few weeks simply because I was feeling pressured at work and at home. Then I went through a “blue phase” and dyed my hair blue, then a few weeks of red. Point is, the way I dress and the way I wear my hair has always been an extension of my mood, focus, and ambitions.
These days I like simplicity, nice fabrics, unique brands (such as yours), architectural compositions, and intelligent design. I like finding items that speak to me and I love wearing them until they are completely ruined! I invest in wonderful pieces but also hunt for bargains, and find clothing or accessories that have a story behind them.
In a way, my style has emerged on its own, arriving at a certain identity and congruity: I don’t follow trends and never dress “up” or “down” - I dress. I can wear a white t-shirt to a glamorous party and wear the same shirt to sit behind my desk in the morning. I have the same attitude with my professional and personal life too: I am in my entirety, and exactly the way I wish to be, in every scenario or setting.
You’re born in Iran, a country with an exceptional aesthetic heritage. What are the most vibrant memories you keep from your childhood there ?
Iranians love to dress up, and Iranian women in particular dedicate a lot of time and attention to their clothing and beauty routines; make-up, grooming, hair-style and color, tanning, nails, etc. It’s a more-is-more culture, though I think increasingly people of my generation are discovering the elegance of minimalism.
Minimalism is not new in Iranian heritage though, if you look at old Sassanid architecture you’ll see beautiful angular shapes, columns, and lines that are strong and purposeful yet unobtrusive. My mother is an architect and my father is an artist and he collects artefacts and historic pieces, so I grew up around masterful paintings, old columns used as bases of glass tables, beautiful carpets, and an environment that blended Western, Middle Eastern, and Asian influences.
As for my memories in general, I spent a lot of time reading as a child, which means I spent a lot of time in my own imagination and in the imagination of other Iranian, Russian, European, and Latin American authors.
I was a good student but otherwise a rebel – played basketball, met boys while skiing, and occasionally skipped school. Though my best memories are of traveling around Iran: the lush forests by the Caspian sea, the ancient sites in Isfahan and Shiraz, and camping by the lakes of Lar.
Persian art is a huge source of inspiration for us in terms of color. What’s your relation to it ?
As I mentioned, it’s practically etched in my psyche. I work as a curator as well and for me art gazing is like tasting food: I know exactly what to look for and how I feel about it. I love the color turquoise and in my mind it is the color of Iran; especially when next to gold. What I like the most about Iranian art is how vast and eclectic it is.
From the abstract and minimal works of Farideh Lashai, Manoucher Yektai, and Mohammad Ehsai, to the intricately detailed compositions of my own father Aydin Aghdashloo, Bahman Mohasses, or Monir Farmanfarmaian, to the photography of Kaveh Golestan and cinema of Abbas Kiarostami; and these are just some of the modernist masters, not the contemporaries.
Iranians and especially those in the arts are well-travelled and well-read and have had the opportunity in a country that has had close contact with the Turkish, Chinese, Arabic, Indian, British, French, and Eastern European cultures and a medley of other historic empires - so they are diverse and open-minded, and in this way my aesthetic reserve and palette is also multifarious and receptive.
How does it translate into your work ?
I’ve lived in Tehran, Toronto, and London. Three big cities with very different identities but similar behaviours. I decided long time ago to forego any sense of nationalism and unnecessary attachment to a specific culture, ideology or geographical border, and instead live truly as a human of the world.
My passion for Iran and Tehran is embedded deep within me. It’s made me a dissident, a negotiator, a woman looking for justice and a person with many interests and perspectives. All of this can be traced within my work. In both my approach that is feminist, sensual, and politically aware, and the result which is intended for a global audience and not just a specific group of people.
Speaking of work, yours seems to have moved from mainstream media to something more personal. How do you see yourself evolving as an artist in the coming years ? Any new forms of expression you would like to experiment ?
Exactly! It’s been an existential leap and one that’s been brewing for many years. As a young girl, and one whose family name brought a certain expectation at least in Iran, I felt like I had to prove myself, my work ethic, politics, and intelligence to the world. Unknowingly, I ended up neglecting my artistic sensibilities in order to be “taken seriously” as an author, journalist, or academic. I also felt indebted to the world, to “my people,” to help and represent the voices of the marginalised.
I’ve now come to the realisation that there are many ways to do that, and - at least for my own sanity - I’m exploring my artistic practice and expressing myself in more creative ways than say, journalism or reportage. Making films has given me an entire new visual lexicon that I’m having fun with and learning more about. Writing is mostly a solitary experience but filmmaking is collaborative and needs a lot of foresight, technical knowledge and also the ability to attract people to your project. At core I will always be a writer, which really means being a story-teller, something I have done and will continue to do in various iterations. Whether in curation (telling stories with artworks), or filmmaking, or short stories and essays. I’m working on a feature-length documentary at the moment and look forward to make short films and feature films one day.
You write, amongst other things, about Iranian contemporary art. What does it mean to be an artist today in Iran ?
It’s a wonderful time to be an artist in Iran today. There’s so much going on, so many young daring galleries and gallerists and a budding discourse on Iranian art. The market is robust, but of course that has it’s downsides as well. There is a lot of artists who feel like they are not able to penetrate the market because they haven’t packaged themselves well or they’re not very savvy online or simply because their style of painting or artwork is not “in demand.” And there are specific demands of Iranian artists, unfortunately, because the region brings with it an inherently politicised rhetoric which is not what all artist are always concerned with. This is frustrating for those who want to break from the mold of buzz-words and cliched issues (‘the veil’ a very obvious one which seems to never go away!).
However, there are more and more local and Iranian buyers who are taking risks with new artists and supporting the scene as collecting has become very fashionable among young Iranians. This coupled with the region’s general embrace of art fairs, biennales, foundations, workshops, and grants, means that the next decade of Iranian art will be full of surprises.
Any specific artist you would recommend from this emerging scene ?
Oh there’s so many, I wrote about a few ones in recent articles, but take a look at Farrokh Mahdavi, Nazar Mousavinia, Melodie Hojjatsaber, Newsha Tavakolian and Rokni Haerizadeh.
Does your working in the art field influences the way you approach fashion ?
Fashion is art. So once you begin to formulate your taste in art it’s really hard not to apply it to everything else you do, including what you wear.
Sometimes when I see artists or designers who are really poorly dressed I find it puzzling. And by poorly dressed I mean a bad sense of fashion, I don’t mean those who completely reject fashion (the unwashed decade-old black shirt and jeans, par example) which in itself is a statement and aesthetic; one that I actually like. Overall, I’m attracted to self-awareness in disposition.
What’s your definition of effortless chic ?
It means subtraction: put on only 2 out of 5 of your makeup. Wear comfortable clothes that are also sexy. Leave behind a magnetic trail of scent. It is buoyant elegance.
What’s your all-time style icons ?
Anna Karina, Forough Farrokhzad, Jean Seberg, Joan Didion, Rihanna, Oriana Fallaci, Farah Diba and Sade. Anything with a a touch of silver screen, melancholia, and I-don’t-give-a-fuck.
Iranian figures we should know about ?
Sadeq Hedayat was the Kafka of Iran though I hate these rudimentary comparisons, Googoosh of course our timeless diva, you should follow Aassttiin to browse some amazing contemporary Iranian designers in the country and elsewhere, and the wonderful Golshifteh Farahani. I’ve already mentioned poet and filmmaker Forough Farrokhzad who died in 1967 but is never dead.
Do you have an everyday go-to look, some kind of uniform ?
Every time I think I have a uniform it ends up changing, though the jeans and t-shirt have lasted for a while now. Red lipstick has been my thing for more than 10 years (I wear YSL 202 day and night). I’m liking my Adidas by Stella McCartney trainers which take me through long days: morning workout, work from a table somewhere (Shoreditch House is the current spot), meetings, more meetings, occasional early evening beer-meetings, and then dinner with my husband at home or somewhere out.
Gênes has been by my side ever since I got it - the rich red and blue are classics and I will never grow tired of them. It must be hard to design a scarf and resist embellishing it like it’s the map of the world (à la Hermes), which is also beautiful and has a place in my heart and around my neck. But with a concentrated design like Santa Margherita, I feel empowered.
What do you like the most about our Maison ?
I like your attitude, the fact that each item has a particular melody but that the collection has a whole is harmonious. Your campaign was what I want my summers to look like and I love that you are starting small, with a strong speciality.
We’ve been very impressed by the many different ways you were styling your LBH scarves. Any tip for those who are maybe less comfortable with it ?
I have an inherent attraction to scarves because in Iran women have to wear one in public, so we know how to accessorise them creatively. I wear scarves around my wrist, neck, head, or as a belt. Bigger ones are my winter essentials, they keep me warm and also shield my frizz-prone hair from London rain. They’re such an easy and instant boost, so I suggest trying them in variation and with confidence. I used to dive into my grandmother’s scarf drawer and marvel; I’d imagine her as a 30-year-old driving with white gloves (she still wears them to protect her hands from the sun), big sunglasses, and her hair loosely enveloped with a silk scarf tied under her chin. In a way my whole life is an homage to that image.
Do you have some kind of daily accessory you take everywhere you go no matter how you dress ?
I have momentary obsessions. I might wear the same pair of small earrings everyday for 3 weeks and then switch to a set of bracelets I love for another 2 weeks and it goes like that with new and old pieces in intervals. I have an engagement ring that I find too bright for everyday use, but I love my very simple gold band that matches my husband’s and I wear that every day. Recently, I’ve added another gold ring which was supposed to be our wedding gift but my dad ordered the wrong size in Iran and it only fits my pinky. So I wear both!
When you travel for work, what do you always pack in your suitcase ?
Flats and heels, jeans, white/grey t-shirts, dress, and a scarf ;)
Thank you so much for this Tara, it’s been lovely.
Thank you Sylvain!