Paasha Motamedi is a multi-tasker—he steamed his military jacket as I conducted our interview in his NoHo apartment. He also handles multiple personalities of sorts—the two people pictured above? They’re both him. Paasha studies a lot of subjects, too. History, anthropology, sociology, economics, and he interns at places like Details and Tom Ford. He knows his stuff, too. I asked him to analyze my outfit, and I’ve never heard something more on point, “You like vintage shopping, but you don’t hate J. Crew. You’re put together, but not over-thought.” But it goes much deeper than that for Paasha—he seeks to understand why I like grandma shoes and summer scarves, where that came from, and what it signifies. Did I mention he’s strait? For someone who likes to dress himself up, he’s quite a character himself, and if you check out his interview below, you might get to see a little more of what’s on the inside.
Annie Werner: Tell me about your concentration.
Paasha Motamedi: Basically I seek to understand the implications that historical functions such as class have on fashion. I’m want to go back about 1200 years—but I’ll probably get lazy towards the end and just do Victorian fashion. I mean to get at the core of what fashion has become by looking at fashion before the mid 20th century. I want to understand why blue jeans are important. Why the white t-shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots look is inherently American whereas white pants and a navy jacket with flamboyant ties are inherently Italian. 90% of men’s fashion is derived from the military, like the tuxedo, with the exception of sports, like the polo. So I want to understand why what’s on the runway today and what I wear everyday comes from, why it’s relevant, why it’s not relevant.
AW: Why is all of this important to you?
PM: To understand the context of Dior or Chanel, anything current, you must understand the concepts that preceded them. For instance, uou have to go back to the Victorian times to understand Chanel. At the time, the idea was that women were supposed to wear dresses and look beautiful all the time, but Chanel was a working woman. She wore suits, and people were like, “WTF is that? Why is she wearing a suit? She’s a woman.” She refused to acknowledge the way women were supposed to dress at the time and that’s why she’s important.
AW: So why is fashion socially important?
PM: Fashion is a very intimate part of our culture—we all own fashion. It’s an intimate bond with art, and we need to classify that art and understand what it means. I personally love to go outside and dress as somebody else. I like confusing people. It’s not trying to be mysterious, but I like the idea of a person seeing me and making assumptions about what I am based on what I’m wearing. The idea isn’t to confuse people, but to experiment with the idea that we are what we seem.
AW: Do you think fashion is always telling of who we are?
PM: It’s very telling. A person who has a Gucci purse is telling us that she is wealthy—though that’s proving less and less true. It really is about judging a book by its cover. But what I like to do, personally, is exploit the fact that we do make assumptions based on what people wear—that’s where the idea of costuming comes in. It’s important to me to acknowledge the fact that fashion and costume are made up of both art and life.
AW: But you don’t seek to change the stereotypes that fashion creates?
PM: No. I like the idea of fashion as costume. And that’s what fashion is anyway—even without knowing it.
AW: What are some of your favorite “costumes?”
PM: I like to make it as simple as “the middle aged dad going to Whole Foods to buy organic baby food.” But I also like to take it to the extremes—wearing an entire military jumpsuit, for example. In New York it’s great because you can get away with that without too big of an ass kicking.
AW: So where does all this costuming and fashion leave your sense of self?
PM: I’ve been a skateboarder; I’ve done rock climbing; I write; I’m a drummer; I’ve played football. I’ve been a lot of different people. Identity for me doesn’t need to be concrete. I’m ok with a fluid identity, and that’s why costuming works for me.
AW: What first got you interested in fashion/costuming?
PM: A girl. In high school I was this hopeless romantic punk-rocker looking type with long blonde hair, and I couldn’t get the girl I wanted. My brother was kind of a fashionista, and one day I borrowed his really nice, royal blue Wales corduroy pants. I rolled them up with white converse and a white t-shirt and went to school. The girl, the denier, came up to me and said, “Wow Paasha, you look really good.” And it clicked. I was like, “Wow, the clothes do make the man.” So I started digging in my brother’s closet, my dad’s closet. I got some hand-me-downs from uncles and I just started wearing suits all the time.
AW: So can we talk about the fact that you’re strait?
PM: I don’t understand how fashion has become stigmatized as a women’s or gay man’s world. Is art a woman’s or a gay man’s world? Is music a woman’s or a gay man’s world? No. So why fashion? In pre-Victorian France, you had guys wearing wigs and make-up. Today, you’d be like, “What a gay dude!” But back then it wasn’t, and up until the 20’s fashion wasn’t “gay.” So for some odd reason we’ve developed this concept of “gay” in fashion. I don’t understand it.
AW: Why do you think men are so afraid of fashion?
PM: There was an article in a recent Bergdorf Goodman catalogue about the dressed-downedness of men’s fashion today, and there was a great line that said, “The playful nature of Casual Fridays turned into sloppy whenever.” I think that’s so true. I mean in the 60’s, men wore heels! But somewhere in the 90’s this idea of a macho, sloppy t-shirt guy came into style. I think guys are just lazy.