Paria Farzaneh Fall 2021 Menswear Collection

Paria Farzaneh has never called herself a Situationist, but the edgy way she marshals her abilities to jog her audience out of existential complacency is fully in that radical tradition. Her presentations persistently confront street surveillance, social media addiction, and conditioning, and ask how much our humanity loses by seeing the world through our narrow cultural lenses.

This season, she organized “Country of the Blind,” a social experiment videoed in what looks like a sports hall. A formation of 25 young people wearing her fall collection are seen being instructed to dance in self-selected repetitive movements by a suited man who speaks in Farsi, the Iranian language of Farzaneh’s heritage. Their task—translated in English subtitles—is to look around and copy anyone who seems to be doing better than them. The experiment ends when everyone is eventually dancing in unison, repeating the same moves.

As you follow what happens, it’s obvious that they all end up following a young woman to the left of the front row, who’s wearing a pink headscarf, a dark padded jacket, and matching trousers. Having no one in front of her, she was only looking forward and following her own instinct. Farzaneh is adamant that wasn’t some sort of symbolic set-up. “Nobody knew what they were going to be asked when they walked in.” The maestro overseeing the proceedings, she adds, was “my uncle, who’s an English teacher.”

Whatever, Farzaneh aims to be a thought leader as much as a fashion leader. The results of her experiment work as metaphor upon metaphor, about Farzaneh’s position as a young woman designer whose work is entwined with her British-Iranian identity, about the influence of fashion as a whole, and about individualism vs. conformity. She’s the kind of person who’ll always counter a question with a question rather than giving linear replies to what her work is about: “What do you think?” she asks journalists and fans alike. But this time, she had a more direct comment on her social experiment: “It shows what even a small level of influence on others can do.”

Thereby hangs the issue of how Farzaneh can consciously use her own influence, as someone who’s grown up between two countries and cultures, as a woman in the still male-dominated streetwear field, and as a ’90s-born kid who reckons that people her age are “the last generation that had a childhood without being on phones and social media.” She finds that scary. “How far can the power of that influence go?”

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