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Iran Holds Landmark Fashion Show

The Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Wearing brightly colored dresses of silk and cotton, two dozen teen-age models have been strutting the catwalk this week in Iran - the first fashion show in this country since the Islamic revolution more than two decades ago. Photos here

In a nation where powerful clerics dictate what women can wear in public, the dresses on display come in a variety of colors, predominantly bright red, blue, bright green and khaki. They are both long- and short-sleeved, and some even reveal cleavage.

The show, held as part of a youth fair and open only to women, has drawn more than 16,000 people to a north Tehran exhibition hall.

Designer Mahla Zamani said she is trying to ``revive Iran's colorful clothing heritage.''

``For more than two decades, the head-to-toe black chador has symbolized the restrictions imposed on women by the religious establishment,'' Zamani told The Associated Press on Sunday. ``The time has come now for women to choose the dress they like while respecting Islamic requirements.''

``Black represents sadness in our culture,'' she said. ``We are displaying bright dresses, a mixture of modern and traditional designs, to remind visitors of Iran's rich dress designs and also offer freshness amid so many social restrictions.''

Zamani, who also designs lingerie, says her more revealing dresses could be worn underneath the chador in public while some of her more conservative dresses could even replace the chador.

Before the 1979 revolution that brought conservative clerics to power, women in Iran faced no restrictions on what they could wear. A dress code enacted afterward required them to cover themselves from head to toe even at the height of summer. The unwieldy chador - which literally means tent - covers all but the hands and face.

The restrictions have relaxed somewhat since the election of reformist President Mohammad Khatami in 1997. Many women have replaced the chador with a gown, known as a manteau dress, and a head scarf, which meet the Islamic modesty requirements. Some even slide their head scarves back to show hair.

Zamani's daughter, 17-year-old Labkhand Rastgou, grew up watching her mother create dresses and dreamt of getting on the catwalk to display them. What was unthinkable just a few years ago is now a reality. For the past week, she and 24 other teens have been the stars of the fashion show.

``My dreams have now come true,'' said Rastgou, wearing a bright red shirt and clapping her hands with enthusiasm.

She would be even happier, she said, if the shows were televised - although she realizes it's unlikely even with the reforms that have come about under Khatami and the huge strides women have made in many fields.

Not everyone was pleased by what they saw.

``It's not Islamic for young women appearing half-naked in public, even if only before female audience,'' said Tahereh Housseinpour, in her 30s. ``Unfortunately, we can see some symbols of western corruption finding their way into our society.''

But the show drew applause from many.

``This exhibition is a novel idea and a new exercise by women to enjoy their legal freedoms undermined by extremist interpretations of Islamic law. I really enjoyed the designs and colors and will try to buy some of them,'' said Haideh Qarehdaqi, 37.

Leila Mousiqidan, 19, said she could not believe she watched fashion models in the Islamic republic.

``It was fantastic. It gave me a sense of freedom and freshness,'' she said.


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