THAT’S AN UNDERSTATEMENT

Byline: Robert Murphy

PARIS — Leaning into a makeshift table, designer Morteza Pashai scrupulously cuts a pattern for one of a handful of still-uncompleted gowns to be shown in his fast-approaching haute couture show here on Sunday.
Although the interview, held in his tiny seventh-floor, atelier-cum-apartment, has started, Pashai is consumed by his work, and hardly lifts his eyes from the table as he fields questions. He’s not trying to be rude. The slight, 39-year-old Iranian has fallen behind schedule because of the number of orders from his first couture collection last July. “It was a welcome surprise, of course, but so many people bought pieces from the first collection that I’m so late,” he explains. “I haven’t grown accustomed to the stress. I’m really obsessed with details, and I feel I’m working against the clock.”
Pashai’s debut collection sold almost 100 pieces, 15 of which were ordered by Rania, the Queen of Jordan. “Do you really have to mention that?” he asks. “It seems like a cheap publicity stunt. I’m interested in making women beautiful, not sensation.”
In fact, Pashai’s designs are as unassuming as the man himself, who worked as a freelance stylist before striking out on his own. His debut collection featured a monochromatic palette and pared-down shapes with sharp, architecturally inspired pleats. Judging from the pieces already completed for his second show, he will continue in this vein.
“I wanted to concentrate on warm, mineral-like colors,” he explains. “The style is sophisticated, but nothing is unwearable. It’s understated and not ostentatious. I like highly structured garments that come off as simple.” Pashai’s collection comes exclusively in gray, chocolate, azure and pale violet shades of silk crepe, suede and polyester. The last material, he admits, “isn’t usually considered couture-worthy, but I really like the way this polyester reflects light.” Prices range from about $750 for a simple silk top to $6,000 for a silk gown.
Meanwhile, the designer plans to continue with a ready-to-wear line that he introduced along with his couture collection in July. That line, which retails from about $270 for a simple top to $3,000 for a leather coat, was bought by U.S. stores such as Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s and Henri Bendel for spring 2001.
Still, Pashai said he believes couture remains the best way to get noticed. “There are so many designers during the ready-to-wear, while people have more time to look at the new blood during the couture,” he says.

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