Who is Gelareh? If you’ve seen her out and about in City or spotted her darkly exotic, sculptural gowns at a local fashion event, chances are, her eye-catching style didn’t go unnoticed. Her unconventional look and unique story as a woman and designer making the transition from life in Iran to the West Coast was enough to land her a spot on the next episode of Red Carpet Bay Area, airing this Sunday, Jan. 23 at 6:30 pm on KRON4.
With her TV appearance on the horizon, we caught up with the artist-slash-model-slash-designer to chat about creative freedom, sustainability in fashion and how Lady Gaga is the perfect canvas:
When did you first become interested in fashion? How did you get your start as a designer?
When I first arrived to San Francisco in 2001, from my motherland of Iran, I was a child psychology graduate and found myself navigating an entirely new terrain here in the states. Being a self-taught artist, I was drawn toward sculpture and painting as a way to express my appreciation for the delicacy and hardness of figure and form. My passions in these areas only flourished more in this new-found space, where my creativity was not suppressed and censored any longer. Knowing how much I was searching for every possible mode of creative expression, a dear friend one day, suggested I pursue art school. Not long after, I found myself in fashion school and in a place where I could still view fashion as sculpture, while meeting, with as much balance possible, the myriad of frustrations and exalting joys that come with creating wearable art from concept to completion in a formal, structured, commercial setting.
What inspires you most?
My primary sources of inspiration are the natural patterns in everyday life…from cloud formations, to cracks in sidewalks, light and shadows, history and fantasy worlds…as well as regions and tribes. I’m inspired by my own self-realization that I can bridge worlds, create these fantastic fusions of history and future that somehow, however exaggerated or extreme my garments seem to be, are comforting to those who wear them or are discovering me for the first time.
What are unconventional methods do you use as a designer. Can you give some examples?
Since I am so spiritually connected to and drawn to sculpture and mixed media arts, I’m always looking at different ways to drape on my canvas…the body. Manipulating, forming, stretching…and really just playing with fabric until I get some kind of balance that makes sense to me, that gives my eyes pleasure to look at, is really what I’m going for. Very often I start with one idea, and if I’m really in the flow, I’ll end up with something completely different.
There is a lot of emphasis on sustainability in fashion. Do you use renewable resources or eco-friendly materials and methods?
I really like to make things by re-purposing old or vintage clothing, and I use natural fabrics whenever possible. I’ve also been playing around with the idea of creating a line with all natural fabrics and am hoping things align for me to be able to do that in the near future. When I gained a heightened sense of awareness, through my many trips abroad, about unfair labor practices, it really made me want to contribute in a big way, to changing things. While I’m committed to paying fair wages to my production house, I can see the bigger picture now…that I’m voting for a change every time I buy a product that I can trace who benefits in the manufacture of it and what my purchase finances. Just walking around thinking like that, I started to find it hard to support other vendors who are decidedly unconcerned about these issues.
How would you describe your customer? Who do you picture wearing your designs?
Quite simply put, I think my customers are creative souls who want to be elegant while really taking a little risk in drawing attention to an erogenous zone. Most people want that, but mainstream fashion packages it ways we’ve all seen before. People who wear my pieces are, I think, aware of the bigger picture of fashion and want something extremely different.
If you could dress one celebrity, who would it be and why?
I’m at the stage in my career where I’m ready to sell direct to high profile artists and performers. Lady Gaga is on my mind these days, really, because she is walking art. Every one of her looks is so different, so shocking in most cases, that people are less concerned about if it’s really in-style and more just trying to take it all in. She’s that perfect canvas, right now, for my pieces. She also never underestimates the value of accessories – hats, hair, feathers, masks, and I see some parallels in how we both accessorize a piece. Even more reason to introduce her body to my garments.
What is your opinion of San Francisco style? Where do you see the SF fashion scene headed?
San Francisco has so much fresh talent, designers that create for the runway, for city comfort and those that build their entire brand identity around specific artist collectives and festivals. The open forum that San Francisco provides really allows for so many ways for designers to express themselves and get noticed. There is a ton of creativity in the San Francisco fashion scene, but there is so much room for industry structure and support. This city is not known for its fashion, but there are many excellent designers here who work so hard, have so much talent and who deserve recognition.
Top photo by Christophe Tomatis. Remaining images courtesy Gelareh Alam.