By  on February 5, 2005

For those who don’t know, Behnaz Sarafpour is a woman.

It might have been irksome at first, but the designer now chuckles at the fact that people who haven’t met her or seen her picture often assume her exotic name corresponds to a male designer.

“A couple of years ago, I was passing by Barneys and my collection was in the Madison Avenue windows,” Sarafpour recalled. “I was just standing at the sidelines looking at the mannequins. There was a couple standing there looking at the windows. The man was telling the woman about my work, and he kept referring to me as he, which I was very amused by. I didn’t end up saying anything.”

She won’t have to anymore. Of New York’s rag pack that sprouted up in the past four years, Sarafpour, 35, stands out as the lone woman designer in the company of Zac Posen, Proenza Schouler, Jeffrey Chow and Derek Lam. She could use it to her advantage and carve out a woman-to-woman niche like Donna Karan did decades before her. Yet Sarafpour has no such agenda.

“That’s not where my thinking is coming from at all,” Sarafpour said. “I really don’t focus on women’s physical insecurities and imperfections. For me, that’s not what fashion is. Fashion is much more psychological than it is physical. The truth of it is, with the exception of a few top models, no one is physically perfect, and I don’t make that the focus of my designs.”

Since launching her first collection for fall 2001, Sarafpour has artfully tweaked classic sportswear with seasonal inspirations. Her spring collection, for instance, drew from a summer trip she took to Japan and featured waist-cinched dresses with full skirts, sequined tanks and geisha-print skirts, all presented on the legendary main floor of Tiffany & Co., her sponsor that season.

Sarafpour has come a long way since heading to Philadelphia from her native Iran as a teenager. She graduated from Parsons School of Design, did accessories for Anne Klein in her senior year there, became the senior designer of the women’s collection at Isaac Mizrahi in 1994 and stayed with him until Mizrahi closed his business in 1998. When Barneys New York asked her to become the designer of its women’s private label collection shortly thereafter, she gladly accepted.

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