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For Iranian-born Designer, Fashion Is Ticket to American Dream

Behnaz Sarafpour makes waves with her modern creations

Washington -- When Iranian-born fashion designer Behnaz Sarafpour launched her own line of clothing in 2001, industry insiders predicted that her sophisticated dresses, separates and eveningwear would attract the kind of publicity that quickly translates into big sales. Six years later, Sarafpour has established herself as a success in the fashion world with designs that favor sleek silhouettes paired with couture-inspired dressmaker details such as discreet touches of lace and ribbons.

Behnaz Sarafpour

A native of Tehran, Sarafpour was 13 when her family left Iran, moving first to England and then to Philadelphia.  During her childhood and adolescence, she was interested in “all things visually creative,” she said in a recent e-mail interview with USINFO.  “My mother had been an art student, and her work was my first influence.”

Sarafpour enrolled in New York City’s renowned Parsons School of Design and won a coveted position as an intern at the Anne Klein fashion house even before she completed her degree.  Her internship provided her with practical experience in the fashion industry and also sharpened her design skills.  Along the way, Sarafpour found herself working with other gifted young designers, notably Narciso Rodriguez, Louis Dell’Olio and Richard Tyler.  Before long, she caught the eye of designer Isaac Mizrahi, who hired her and nurtured her professional development.  Sarafpour credits Mizrahi with being her mentor.

Sarafpour then was hired to design clothes for the Barneys New York collection, a private label of one of Manhattan’s most elite department stores.  Her designs won an enthusiastic endorsement from the fashion press, with Vogue magazine Editor in Chief Anna Wintour among Sarafpour’s most vocal supporters.  She was able to debut her own label in 2001, sending clothes down the runway that confirmed her arrival as one of the industry’s New Guard designers.

In addition to her primary label, sold at high-end emporiums, Sarafpour recently created a secondary line of clothes for Target, a mass-market discount chain.  After her old friend Mizrahi joined forces with Target in 2006, Sarafpour followed suit, producing a series of reasonably priced dresses and separates with the clean lines and crisp black-and-white accents for which she is known.

Thanks to the exposure Target provides, the Sarafpour brand no longer is solely for the fashion elite.  There is even some anecdotal evidence that her growing fame is recognized, and applauded, by women in her native Iran.  In November 2006, an Iranian woman visiting the United States photographed a window display at a Target store and then submitted the photo (bearing the slogan “I Love Behnaz”) to the Web site, which covers cultural and political topics from an Iranian viewpoint.  Sarafpour also was featured on the site as its “Iranian of the Day” on November 10, 2006.

Asked about her ties to Iran, Sarafpour said she still speaks her native language of Farsi, although no longer with complete fluency.  She added that she returned to her homeland in 2006 for a vacation and visited several historic sites.

The designer maintains that she constantly is inspired by cultural and historical events.  For example, her fall 2007 collection is partly inspired by the 1967 movie Camelot, which features actors in medieval costume.  Reinterpreting medieval design motifs with modern fabrics and streamlined cuts, Sarafpour indicated that she strives to capture the romance of a distant era in clothes that accommodate the needs of contemporary women.

Although she said she does not draw on her Middle Eastern heritage consciously in her design work, Sarafpour included a Persian lamb jacket in her Winter Holiday 2006 collection for Target.

Even though her success has opened many doors, Sarafpour insists that it has not altered her life fundamentally.  “The only change is that once more people know your name, it makes it a bit easier to approach them for new collaborations,” she said.

Sarafpour’s designs are now wardrobe staples for many high-profile clients, including film actresses Cate Blanchett, Mandy Moore, Selma Blair and Chloe Sevigny.  Although her clothing line will remain the anchor of her company, Sarafpour is expected to make her mark in high-end accessories, as well.

“There are always future projects, opportunities and challenges on my mind,” she said.  “I love designing products for women.  I hope I can do something in the realm of beauty products, and more accessories” such as shoes and handbags.

More information about Sarafpour and her work is available on the designer’s Web site.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:


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