Iran is home to a rich design tradition not often seen outside the region, but Tehran-based label LANGARDI is moving to change that. Helmed by Kathy Fassihi and Lina Yasmin Drexler, creative director and managing director of the brand respectively, the brand aims to reinvigorate Iranian design and, in the process, bringing their unique take on local design to wearers across Europe and beyond.
While both Fassihi and Drexler had family ties to the country, it was only after a hectic trip to Tehran that the duo decided to build LANGARDI into the label it is today. As LANGARDI expands to bring its locally-manufactured works to customers around the world, Schön! spoke with the team to learn about their history and what LANGARDI has planned for the future.
You met after a very delayed trip to Tehran. When and why did you decide to build this brand together?
We met over a decade ago at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, where we were stuck for three days en-route to Tehran due to an airline strike. The very strenuous experience created a strong bond and we’ve been friends ever since.
Kathy Fassihi: I founded LANGARDI in Tehran in 2011, creating the first professional ready-to-wear production in the country. I had always envisioned taking the brand internationally at some point but was unsure how to approach the process.
Lina Yasmin Drexler: I handed in my notice for my consulting job mid-2018 and was contemplating my next step. I had always loved Kathy’s work and, while on a train, the idea of growing her brand together came to me. I spontaneously wrote her if she would be interested in internationalising, and she quickly replied that it’s something she had always wanted to do. By the time I got off the train, we had decided to give it a shot. As soon as my job was done I flew to Tehran and we worked out the details.
Our aim in bringing LANGARDI to the international market is not only to bring our beautiful creations to a broader audience but to also contribute an alternative view of modern day Iran to the contentious dialogue that is currently present.
Kathy, you spent time taking fashion classes in Iran before attending Parsons in Paris. How did the experience in those two learning environments differ, and how does that influence the brand today?
K.F.: I started taking fashion classes in Iran with my application to Parsons already in mind. I, therefore, tried to acquire a broad set of skills that would strengthen my portfolio. In consequence, I not only learned different sewing and knitting skills but also Persian embroidery design and traditional fabric creation. Traditional Iranian design, in general, is very delicate and detailed, and it requires a flawless technique.
Having already acquired a good foundation of manual skills gave me a head start when attending Parsons. In Paris, I was educated about concept, which enabled me to apply my creativity to the skills I had learned in order to create something of my own. I also enthusiastically learned about fabric creation – making my own patterns and felting my own fabric for my final thesis.
LANGARDI is very much influenced by the detail-oriented craftsmanship that I learned in Iran, whereas the conceptualisation of my designs and the strong focus I lay on the interplay of shape and fabric are a product of my education in Paris.
Lina, you come from more of a business background. When you took your sabbatical to Iran, what was it about the country that told you it was the right time to leave your consulting job?
L.Y.D.: Having grown up between Germany and the U.S., I had never had the opportunity to truly get to know my mother’s country of origin. My occasional family visits had always shown me that something about the country really resonated with me, so when I decided to take some time away from everything, spending it with my grandparents in Iran seemed only natural. I used the opportunity to slow everything down, take time for conversations and become accustomed to the environment. I highly appreciated the different speed of life, the focus on family and the cultivated rituals of everyday life. Having moved frequently in my youth, I studied business and politics right out of school and had received my Master’s from HEC Paris Business School at 24, after which I started consulting. Needless to say, life had always been very quick-paced and productivity-driven. Though I certainly also enjoyed this phase in my life, having seen many parts of the world and learned very much, my time in Iran made me realise that I wanted to continue on a more nuanced and multidimensional path. I vowed to spend more time in the country and work on something that had personal meaning to me. Growing LANGARDI with Kathy has given me the opportunity to do both.
Given your histories, what insight do you think you each individually bring to the brand?
We have a very classic work division between design and business, though we do make sure to get each other’s respective input. The cultural influences we share have led to us having a very similar aesthetic that defines the brand.
You both have some history in Iran. Where do you see that Iranian influence manifested in LANGARDI?
Our designs gather inspiration from the silhouettes of traditional Iranian clothing, architecture and the colour schemes of the country’s impressive landscapes.
A central work in your designs is the Manteau. What does this style of dress mean to you?
K.F.: When I launched LANGARDI in 2011, women in Iran had few fashionable options to turn to when it came to choosing their public apparel. I aimed to create designs meeting the standards of modesty required in public spaces, whilst being fashionable and elegant – thus laying a strong focus on Manteau design. This strategy not only proved successful for me, but it inspired a line of domestic designers to do the same, creating a flourishing industry that vastly improved the ability of Iranian women to express their individual sense of style in everyday life. The Manteau represents the development of Iranian public style over the past decades, a playful defiance of constraints resulting in a uniquely chic statement piece.
Regarding the shoot, you’ve set this first series in the salt mines of Semnan Province. What message were you looking to send by doing this?
The salt mines of Semnan Province, located ca. 100km southeast of Tehran, are at the heart of the former Silk Road. Impressive in their sheer vastness, rugged natural beauty, and intricate stone formations, these mines have been one of Iran’s main sources of salt since pre-Islamic times. By referencing this beautiful place of historic connectivity and plentitude, we aim to rekindle the globally admired Persian aesthetic and artistic craftsmanship with its physical place of origin, mending the disconnection present in today’s common perception.
While your atelier is based in Tehran, you’ve recently opened a company in Germany. Why is it important to you that your production stays in Tehran?
First and foremost, because it is fundamental for us to support the local economy that is suffering direly from the political climate and the consequential internal and external constraints. We are grateful to be able to offer employment opportunities in a fair, positive and supportive working environment within a country that is in strong need of such opportunities for its youth.
Beyond that, the unique constitution of the city is a paramount source of inspiration for us – shaped by a rich cultural heritage, a history of abundant global trade, political fluctuations, religious tensions and, in recent years, limitation and isolation. Its predominantly young, well-educated population yearns for liberties, opportunities, and cosmopolitanism while having a strong cultural identity and appreciation for tradition. As a result, Tehran has developed a vibrant creative community.
Besides modesty law considerations, how does your approach to design change when designing for Iranians as opposed to your international offerings?
Not at all. Iranians are very fashionable and love to stand out by wearing something that’s a bit out of the ordinary. The only difference is the significance the Manteau holds in an Iranian women’s closet since this is the item with which she shows herself in public.
From your perspective, what is the current state of design in Tehran?
The past few years have seen a rise of local designers and artists in the areas of fashion, interior, jewellery, painting, photography, etc. Iranians have developed an appreciation and enthusiasm for local design, whereas previously mainly “international” products were considered attractive. We’re convinced that the quality and appeal of the cities creative scene would take many people by surprise.
What can we expect for the future of LANGARDI?
We would like the brand to develop a strong foothold in the international market. We’d especially like to see the Manteau gain traction– we believe it’s a particularly sophisticated, versatile and unique piece for both modest and non-modest dressers.