Nazanin Boniadi has long been driven by a desire to help others. She’s equally known for her acting credits—she’s appeared in How I Met Your Mother and Homeland and stars in the upcoming Amazon Lord of the Rings series—as she is for her activism. Boniadi is a U.K. ambassador for Amnesty International, a member of the think tank Council on Foreign Relations, and a former volunteer at the northern France refugee camp Care4Calais. Now, she’s turning her attention to the fashion world with a new collaboration with a fellow Iranian American, designer Amir Taghi, on a dress and a shirt with a powerful message.
Boniadi, who is British, Iranian, and American, wanted to design something with Taghi that spoke to the issues affecting Iranian women (the two had previously collaborated on a charity project). “I did a deep dive into the history of protest fashion, and how fashion can impact change,” she says. “I realized that through the civil rights movement and women’s suffrage, fashion was used as a way to put a visual on the messaging. I thought, ‘How can we do that for what I’m passionate about?’ which is women’s rights in Iran.” Boniadi was particularly inspired by the anti-compulsory hijab protests. “As we in the U.S. were fighting for #MeToo and our rights in the workplace, the brave women in Iran were taking to the streets and fighting against compulsory clothing regulation and the compulsory hijab at great personal risk,” she says.
The shirt and dress Taghi and Boniadi designed both feature a bright gold and white pattern—that somewhat resembles a scarf—against a deep blue silk backdrop. “It’s a bold light set against the dark,” Boniadi says of the print, designed by Haus of Milad. The dress is modest, with a boatneck, a tea-length hemline, and long bishop sleeves. The shirt is unisex but equally relaxed in design. Boniadi particularly wanted the dress to flow, representing freedom of movement. “There’s nothing constricted about it,” she says. “There was a lot of dancing happening when I wore the dress. It brings that out in you.” In the photos, she wears both the modest dress and the shirt as a minidress, a choice that represents her freedom as a woman to dress how she pleases. “I have always dreamed of a time when women in Iran could express themselves in any way that they wanted to,” Taghi says. “I remember visiting my aunts who would be scared to wear nail polish in fear of being taken to jail. The rights of women, LGBTQ+, and other disenfranchised groups are constantly violated and their lives are in danger. I can’t think of a better person to collaborate with on a project like this than Nazanin, who has been a leading voice for the Iranian people for over a decade.”
Both Boniadi and Taghi know that, in order for the clothes to truly do good, they have to do more than create a compelling image. The clothes are made in New York with “all the ethics in fashion that you can have,” according to Boniadi, and the profits go to three charities Boniadi is involved with: Amnesty International, the aforementioned Care4Calais, and the Iran-focused rights group Abdorrahman Boroumand Center, founded by two sisters whose father was allegedly assassinated by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Boniadi and Taghi also started the hashtag #FreedomFashion, to further drive home their vision. The dress and shirt are available now on Taghi’s website, priced at $650 for the dress and $475 for the shirt.
Boniadi hopes that the clothes, their charitable donation, and the #FreedomFashion movement will amplify the voices of Iranian women. “We talk about compulsory hijab, but all that means is we’re trying to give women the freedom to choose: Do they want to wear the hijab or not?” she says. “That’s not the biggest challenge women face, but it’s a symbol of far greater prejudices. They can’t become judges; they can’t become president. They can’t ride a bicycle or sing solo in public. Their rights are half of that of a man in the court of law. They can’t travel or divorce without permission of their husband. The anti-compulsory hijab movement has become symbolic of all these different divides that women face. We wanted the dress to symbolize freedom.”