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Welcome to Queer By Design, a monthly column by Jamie Windust. Here, Jamie profiles emerging designers about the intersections of style, identity and expression and how these factors inform their creative practice.

You could argue that having Carrie Bradshaw wear your work during peak Sex And The City hysteria is enough to warrant instant retirement. But Iranian-born designer Hushidar Mortezaie continues to elevate his work, proving that having a strong design ethos and message is only an accelerant to one’s progress, not a hindrance.

With over two decades worth of experience, Mortezaie has done it all – from creating the successful brand Michael & Hushi in the early 2000s alongside friend and mentor Michael Sears to being worn by Linda Evangelista, Brad Pitt and Beyoncé. Everything that he does evokes a reaction only fashion can provide – one that polarises, pushes the envelope and more importantly, wraps those who see it in the comforting yet radical embrace that representation provides.

Nearly 23 years on from his AW01 collection, his era-defining work is firmly in the public zeitgeist after Bella Hadid graced the red carpet at the recent Cannes Film Festival wearing the brand’s red Keffiyeh dress. Hadid ‘puncturing the media at Cannes’ with the Y2K dress, as Mortezaie shares with us, exemplified both a message of strength as well as solidarity for the ongoing Genocide and again reiterated the power that fashion has on the global stage.

Mortezaie’s understanding of his own challenges as a queer-Iranian as well as more widely being able to critique yet navigate the often tokenistic industry he exists within is what makes his story so human. 

GAY TIMES sat down with Hushadir Mortezaie as he travelled to Paris, to discuss how his viral moment at Cannes came about, what solidarity looks like through a creative lens and why the industry doesn’t need more reality TV stars, it needs more talent.


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A post shared by Hushidar Mortezaie (@hushi5)

You have been working in the industry for well over 20 years – as your work is so aligned to commentating on what’s happening politically, how has it been to navigate when what we’re living through has been progressively getting more conservative?

It is initially depressing and often lends itself to a sense of disillusionment when looking back at the past. But I try not to get too bogged down in the depression and remember how far many of us have come with much adversity and that we must continue to have a resolute yet very honest sense of hope and perseverance. 

I was in my elementary school and high school years during the AIDS crisis and realising I was gay coming from an Iranian Muslim immigrant family living in the Bay Area of Northern California, led to an overwhelming sense of fear and coming out was a taboo. 

I constantly heard the slurs against my dual sense of identity being a first-generation immigrant Iranian with a great sense of pride. Being gay was an unspeakable thing of untold monstrosity within Iran and also within the diaspora. My parents were very progressive and kind but you couldn’t expect them to be superheroes in the 1980s when they were just trying to survive and navigate a very alien and often angry world. Our family had to recreate their Iran within America and that was about community building and I learned that from them then.

I learned to build my own community and found strength in fashion and art through self-expression and I learned to live with truth and dignity. I have come a long way and so have all my communities. My late father always accepted me regardless and now my mum is my greatest cheerleader. She reminds me to look at how the people in Iran persevere and fight against corrupt regimes in power and so can we elsewhere.

Your keffiyeh dress was recently worn by Bella Hadid in Cannes. When was the moment you found out she was wearing it and what the keffiyeh design mean to you?

My friend, a photographer named Yasmine Diba, is friends with Bella Hadid and asked me about shooting her in the dress for a possible project, to create awareness along with love, support, and pride for Palestine. The idea of Bella wearing that dress was the best way in my mind to show that it isn’t only Palestinians who stand for Palestine, but an Iranian American also unwaveringly supports the people of Palestine during this time of genocide and apartheid. 

I woke up to a sea of videos and images of Bella working the dress with total grace, puncturing the media of Cannes fashion with a message of strength, love, and solidarity. She was joyous in embracing her identity. Instead of associating that fabric with war and misery, she was celebrating her culture with joy, showing hope and beauty. At a time of genocide and oppression, Bella is not afraid to show her roots and no one should be. She wields and works the media to share her voice and that is incredible. Hers is a message of love, survival and unity, and so is mine and that was the embodiment of this Michael and Hushi vintage dress. I did receive much online hate from many people including many within my own Iranian community. Many of them can’t understand that all people oppressed by these systems of control must unite together. People have the power if they come together and support each other, especially from divergent cultures.



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A post shared by Hushidar Mortezaie (@hushi5)


Have you always been able to feel confident in using fashion as a way of expressing yourself? Did it take time to become so unapologetically queer in your work or has it always been front and centre?

I found my strength through self expression, through costume, through armor, through playing with characters and building stories through fashion. In the end, everything is a look and we can change that to match our expression. When I was a child I felt so awkward and I was effeminate, but I would stare at Wonder Woman in her outfit, Charlie’s Angels with their strength and total late 70s glamour fighting the patriarchy, and Iranian icons of style like Googoosh who like Linda Evangelista was a chameleon and would change her look every minute beautifully just like Auntie Mame would. I was a teenager when I became immersed in nightclub culture and the drag queens, the ballroom culture, and the club kids both in San Francisco and then later on in NYC taught me how to live with pride, and that being queer was a very beautiful thing. 

Michael Sears, my closest friend who I created Michael and Hushi with, was my greatest mentor who guided me through this scary world and through that nightclub scene to unashamedly never waver in strength, and that self expression was oxygen. 


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A post shared by Hushidar Mortezaie (@hushi5)

If you could change one thing about the mainstream fashion industry, what would it be and why?

There is a strict sense of rules and bureaucracy, and that has always made the fashion industry feel unattainable. When I was designing Michael and Hushi with Michael we just did what we did, and stylists and press found us. But the press wasn’t very elegant and well versed in addressing different cultures. Now it “appears” to be but it often feels like tokenism. The idea that quotas are used for models and inclusivity feels even worse than before. For example, to have only that one non-binary voluptuous mixed race model come out at the end [of a show] seems a bit like they’re trying too hard.

But the kids are creating their own platforms and fighting the system. I know that representation matters – there was absolutely none back in the 90’s and 00s. That made many talented people give up. It’s so strange yet wonderful to see those peers of mine being found and celebrated slowly. There are many who changed the way people looked at things in their time but were never given the credit. 

I wish that identity could vanish and that the industry was more about talent, and have more nuance. People that are unafraid to look in different parts of the world to share new talent with the world. Less reality stars and more innovation to give more people a chance to showcase their work based on the merit of their work, not just what quota it would fill.

What legacy do you wish to leave on the fashion industry through your decades of work?

Oh my I am going to sound hokey but maybe that fashion can change culture and represent different ideas. It can represent different thoughts and people that are always associated with a specific narrative. Hopefully that beauty is universal and fashion can educate and bring us all together to engage, learn, and change – whilst still looking glamorous.