Daphne Mohajer-Va-Pesaran makes clothes for imaginary Middle Eastern nightclubs in the 70s.
I have very little knowledge of what Iran was like pre-revolution, but if I believe the stories my friend's Iranian dad has told me rather than doing any actual research, it was exactly San Francisco in every single imaginable respect (besides the minor detail of it being in the Middle East, obviously), you wouldn't be arrested for performing music not in line with traditional Persian structure, women were allowed to sing alone, rather than in a choir, as is compulsory nowadays, and people wore fun, crazy clothes to cheesy, choreographed disco nights.
Iranian-Canadian fashion designer, Daphne Mohajer-Va-Pesaran, obviously has the same kind of ideas, because the last collection for her De Face label was inspired by stories she'd heard of pre-revolution Iran, having never been there herself because she was born after 1979 and that would be physically impossible. Daphne recently moved from Canada to Japan, which is where I live, so I went and hung out at her house, shot some photos of her wearing her own designs and spoke to her about fantasy lands and hermit shacks in the Japanese woods.
VICE: Hey Daphne. So what made you leave Canada for Tokyo?
Daphne Mohajer-Va-Pesaran: I moved to Tokyo to experience a culture shock. I wanted to be in a place where I knew no one and didn't understand anything as a way of breaking myself apart and building all the bits back together to see what it would turn out like. It was confusing and lonely for a while, but I learned the language, went to grad school and now I'm writing in my Koenji studio – my favourite place to be – and working on some projects that are very important to me.
What are those projects?
Well, I'm a designer by trade. I make patterns and fabrics and clothes. I've always got different clothing-making plans and schemes going on. I can't really talk too much about it because I'd rather let the work speak for itself, you know?
I do. You mentioned you're writing, too. What are you writing about?
I work for FRUiTS magazine – I take photos for them – but I'm also researching and writing a book about Shoichi Aoki, the editor and founder of the magazine. Can I just talk about him quickly? He's way more interesting than me. He used to go to London in the 1980s and take people's pictures on the street. He basically made the first street fashion zine in Japan and distributed it himself. He's so cool.
Yeah, he's amazing. Anything else? You always seem to have 100 things on the go whenever I see you.
Oh yeah, I'm doing a neat collaboration with my friend Liza. She's studying textiles and met this man who, through a series of strange events, has come into possession of a 100-year-old Japanese home and some 70-year-old cast-iron knitting machines – the kind that are taller than a man and weigh 50,000 tonnes. This man also happens to be a master craftsman. He's my hero. Anyway, we're going to start a little studio-cum-factory and make socks and knits and hold workshops. It'll be kind of a communal space for people to use. It's called Aikoan, which means 'old, indigo-coloured hermit's shack in the woods'. Seriously.
Nice. The last time I saw you DJ, you played some pre-revolution Iranian disco – what was that about?
Well, I get the feeling that Iran is getting a bad rep in the media and here in Japan, so – besides the fact that it sounds cool and I love it – I want to show that there was something recognisable, fun and ridiculous pre-revolution. They had pop music – silly, silly, disco pop music.
And a lot of your designs are inspired by the same kind of era, right?
Yeah, besides kickass, funky disco, Iran is also a country that has a high sense of aesthetics and a beautiful tradition of craft. I like to make clothing that looks like it's from a time and place that doesn't really exist. I try not to reference anything too literally, but your mind kind of automatically relates and creates a story and context, even if it's just a fantasy.
Did you go to Iran to research your collection?
No, both my parents left just before the revolution and I've been told since I was a kid that we can't go because our last name would be recognised – I think we're the only family with the name, or something. And it means 'Immigrant and Sons', by the way. All I really know of Iran is from family stories, films, music and posters – it's all second-hand information – so I have this idea of going there, eating kebabs and going to all the rivers and mountains, but the Iran my parents told me about doesn't really exist anymore, so it's expanded and morphed into this almost fantasy place in my mind.
And that's the fantasy place that you design for?
Yeah. I'm really culturally confused – a Canadian-born Iranian girl who lives in Tokyo. I mean, I know who I am, but I can't say my culture is defined, so I create fantasies for myself, and the collection was designed with my fantasy idea of pre-revolution Iran in mind.
Photography: Monika Mogi
All clothes and accessories: De Face