When you hear the phrase ‘fashion capital’, you might immediately think of Milan, London, Paris, or New York. After all, some of the most iconic fashion designers of recent times – Coco Chanel, Tommy Hilfiger, Alexander McQueen, and Gianni Versace, to name a few – have emerged from or are strongly affiliated with these cities. 

But there are two cities that are strikingly fashion forward, yet rarely recognized for being so: Tehran and Istanbul. Seemingly different, yet similar, these two cities have one pursuit in common: the breaking of stereotypes through self-expression. 

[Image description: A woman wears a red headscarf and stares into the camera.] Via Milad Shams on Unsplash.
When I traveled to Tehran for the first time, my trip gave me a brand new perspective on what the words ‘fashion statement’ really meant. In Iran, what you wear is more than just the brand name. Your style is a gateway of self-expression and individuality, an attitude that allowed me to embrace my truest self through my wardrobe.

Islamic dress code has in many ways inspired Iranians to create newer, more intricate ideas that fit into this framework for women and men alike. Iranians have mastered the idea of turning a simple look into a unique, chic style tailored to one’s individual personality. Many shop owners travel abroad to different countries, finding the newest, most fashion-forward trends to bring back home. In some cases, sellers open boutiques, called mezon or maison, in their own homes, where they sell only the latest trends. Here, you will find styles that are not yet on the market in many countries, but have been introduced only in cities like Paris or Milan.

Iran has its own set of designers and taste-makers that are redefining street style and Islamic or modest fashion.  For modest, yet fashion-forward styles, designers like Naghmeh Kiumarsi are setting the standards. Breaking free of the traditional black or blue chador, Naghmeh incorporates rich colors, like deep maroons and emerald greens, to pull off a sophisticated look. 

Another designer, Shadi Parand, ensures that her customers have a one-of-a-kind outfit, as she never makes the same design twice. Shadi incorporates traditional Iranian prints and integrates them into more modern styles. She also designs looks that are to be worn both indoors and outdoors.

Recently, Tehran has revamped the tried-and-true trend of pleated skirts paired with traditional loose coats by adding patterned head scarves with just the right pop of color that are tied or arranged in a number of different styles. It should be noted that these styles are complementary for both Muslims and non-Muslims, such as myself, and allow us to access the fashion world and the latest trends on our own terms.

[Image description: Two women in pink and blue coats and sparkling heels walk along a street in Istanbul.] Via negativespace.
Istanbul is equally unique, but for a different reason. Istanbul is on the cusp of the Middle East and Europe. Because of this, it has become noted for its unique take on fashion that is influenced by both East and West. 

In 2018, one of the more prominent fashion shows, MAGIC, held its annual show in Las Vegas, where Istanbul was named as a fashion capital for the first time. There, prominent Turkish designers showcased their newest designs for the American public. Designers from the most notable fashion capitals, like Milan, London, and Paris, have implemented Turkish designs and ideas into their own collections.

Designers like Zeynep Guntas moved to Milan to pursue her fashion line. Zeynep hand-paints all of her clothing, which has grown in popularity in Milan, especially as streetwear. Turkish designer Bora Aksu has grown rapidly popular in London, where he incorporates designs tailored to a more European style. Another Turkish designer, ERDEM, is based in Canada. He creates chic evening wear that is elegant and unique with intricate patterns.

[Image description: A girl in a red sweater and black headscarf is seated on a bench with her back to the camera.] Via Erfan Amiri on Unsplash.
As of late, Istanbul has shifted from mostly purely European styles to integrating more modest looks that incorporate Islamic values and Turkish culture. One notable modest fashion line is  Modanisa, which aims to produce more modest interpretations of the latest fashion trends. 

These designs not only have an ‘East meets West’ element, but also recapture a global discourse that has historically been dominated by the Western world. In a day and age when there are many misconceptions about the Middle East and Islam, designers in both Tehran and Istanbul have been working to break free of stereotypes. They also give new meaning to what it means to be fashionable or on-trend.

Not only are both cities fashion forward, the designs they produce appeal to a large, previously uncatered-to audience. This has allowed them to practice self-expression without compromising their values or preferences. This open-mindedness, creativity and innovation make both cities worthy of being the future fashion capitals of the world.


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Bernadette Lazar

By Bernadette Lazar

Editorial Fellow