Becoming a fashion model in Iran takes more than good looks. A few months ago Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance launched a so-called “qualification license,” which models are required to obtain to work legally in the fashion model industry.
However, since the new qualification requirement was introduced, no licenses have been issued, although the first set was planned for September 15.
Iranian fashion modeling was born underground, but after making its way into social media, it has become legally recognized, though closely regulated by the Iranian authorities.
Today, four fashion agencies operate in Iran’s capital Tehran: Violet, Behpoushi, Negah and Modino. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance grants the agencies licenses, and supervises their operations.
Likewise, the ministry is responsible for approving the models’ qualifications. To receive their license, Iranian models – men and women alike – must undergo a 65-hour course and pass several exams. After passing these tests, the aspiring models’ so-called “moral” and “legal” qualifications must be approved by the ministry. Only then are they legally permitted to work as a model in Iran, including taking part in live fashion shows, photography sessions and TV commercials.
Homayra, a 28-year-old microbiology PhD student, passed all her tests through the modeling agency Violet.
“They told us to walk and pose in 10 different ways for taking pictures,” she told IranWire. “They examine the face, height and weight. Some girls have pretty faces but are short. They were accepted as models for photography. In the end we had to pass tests for posing for photos, walking on the runway, and other practical things. If you pass all these tests you are qualified,” she said.
However, Homayra has not yet received her qualification license. “The agency told us that the Culture Ministry’s inauguration ceremonies had been delayed and that they would let us know later,” she said.
A Booming Fashion Industry
For decades, the Iranian fashion world has been forced to work underground. Regardless of this, as the industry boomed, many young Iranians joined it. Modeling fever spread, and so did the well-groomed pictures on social media sites inside and outside Iran. Many highly educated young Iranian women left their fields to start a career in fashion.
After years of working in the shadows, the fashion industry was legally recognized after Hassan Rouhani was elected as president in 2013. Iran’s first official fashion show (after the 1979 Islamic Revolution) took place on March 16, 2014. Although criticized by parliament members, Iran’s Culture Minister Ali Jannati and other government officials attended the show, together with reporters from foreign and domestic media. With classical Iranian music playing in the background, the models appeared on stage individually or in twos, though there was no catwalk.
The models participating were all from Behpoushi, a fashion agency reputed to have close relations with the Culture Ministry. For this reason it has a bad reputation among models in general, who believe the Behpoushi models are either under too much control from the government or enjoy special privileges.
The new “qualification license” requirement has been welcomed by fashion designers as well as models. Proponents believe it gives them more exposure because it allows them to participate in any clothing or fashion show. The license, they say, will motivate and educate aspiring models and designers, who can now present their work with the blessing and approval of the Islamic Republic.
Pushing Against the System
However, most models who consider themselves “classy,” especially women, have not applied for a qualification license. While some believe they would simply never get a license if they applied, others say they do not consider approval by the ministry to be important. Some believe getting involved with the Culture Ministry and the government is problematic, claiming it could destroy underground modeling and modeling at home, especially because legal designs must carry the “Islamic” label.
While the Iranian government brands the new qualification license as a triumph, many criticize the license as “discriminatory”, calling it a tool to exploit women. As with many other parts of Iranian law, women are subjected to a number of restrictions. Women are prohibited to pose in various ways or walk on the catwalk, their clothing must cover their bodies completely, and the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance must approve all designs. In the ministry’s view, women parading on a catwalk, posing in particular ways and wearing heavy makeup are considered “shameless flaunting” — whereas men, with fashionable hairdos, encounter no obstacles when it comes to how they can pose or walk.
According to one male model, who spoke to IranWire on the condition of anonymity, the ministry’s restrictions on women make it possible for it to conduct moral and legal background checks on female models. Among the worst infractions that could disqualify a model are taking illegal drugs or participating in mixed parties. For instance, two years ago a famous model from the Hakoupian agency was arrested in Dubai on drug charges, giving the Hakoupian brand a bad reputation.
“Giving Order to Fashion and Dress”
The qualification license for models, if and when it’s implemented, will most likely be included in the “Giving Order to Fashion and Dress” law, which was passed by parliament in 2006. But the law, aiming to regulate the fashion and clothing industry, still hasn’t been implemented properly.
The law demands that the government support the production and sale of “Iranian-Islamic” clothing and textile, while preventing the promotion or support of any items that are contrary to this standard.
The bill was introduced in 2004 following a meeting between Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and university students and professors. At the meeting, Khamenei said that he during his presidency (1981-1989) he had put forward a plan for a “national dress code” to the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council. He added that he had nothing against “modernism and fashion,” as long as they did not become “extreme.” But, he emphasized that, “the role model must not be the West. It is bad...You must design it yourself and you must make it yourself.”
It took until 2008 for government institutions such as the Education Ministry and the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting to be notified about the new law. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance is responsible for enforcing it and supervising its implementation, and has created a working group for this purpose. But the group has failed to achieve most of the goals set out in its original brief.
Now, after almost a decade, President Rouhani and his government have tasked themselves with the implementation of the law under the supervision of the Culture Ministry. Until now not much has happened.
Read more on fashion in the Islamic Republic on IranWire:
Related articles: The Trials and Tribulations of an Iranian Fashion Model, Shima Shahrabi, June 2015
Catwalks, Iranian Style, July 2014.
Halal Fashion on the Catwalk, Photo Blog, June 2014
The Islamic Catwalk, Shima Shahrabi, April 2014
The Metamorphosis of a Cloak, July 2013
Leggings and Their Discontents in Iran, Parvaneh Masoumi, August 2013