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Designer Duds For Fashion-Starved Iran

Leily Lankarani is CBS News' producer in Tehran.
An iconic British department store is about to open the doors of its first location in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Founded in London in 1778, Debenhams now has 145 stores across Britain and Ireland and about 40 franchises in 16 countries worldwide, but opening up in North Tehran may present new challenges.

"It is one of the friendliest places I have been too. It is a really self-sufficient country — they have everything except fashion, so there is a real pent-up demand," said Debenhams international director Francis McAuley.

Since the Islamic Revolution and the introduction of a strict dress code, there have been many attempts to come up with a national uniform, of sorts, or to regulate the style to suite Islamic values.

But live fashion shows — either underground by invitation only, or sanctioned by the authorities — are common in Tehran. Iranian fashion designers use occasions such as the Iranian New Year to show their dresses, headscarves and outerwear for women.

(CBS/Leily Lankarani)
Masoumeh Kaboodvand, a 26-year-old textile and fashion designer from the northeastern province of Golestan, recently offered her line to the public at a four-day fashion show. She uses traditional fabrics and patterns in her designs.

Kaboodvand (pictured at left) designs to order, and it takes her two to three months to finish a garment as she starts from scratch, even making her own fabric. She has attended the last two major fashion exhibitions in Tehran, the biannual Fashion and Fabric Design show and the Women of my Land Festival.

Both are held to encourage Iranian designers to make clothes deemed suitable for Muslim women to wear in private and public, clothes which comply with the strict Islamic dress code and the national character. According to Islam, men and women should be modestly dressed and covered in public to avoid provocation of the opposite sex.

But innovation, the use of bold new colors and patterns, was welcomed by the organizers. Even new designs for the traditional chador, the garment which covers a woman's body from head to toe, and for headscarves were praised.

But despite innovations and fresh design, the rules remain strict. Last month, several people were arrested for wearing what the police chief in a northern Iranian city called "satanic and unsuitable clothes."

Iran's fashion designers will continue to be watched closely, and Debenhams' shelves in Tehran won't show off the same stock as their outlets in London.