After being raised in repressive Iran, a country known for its severity, especially towards women, now-fashion designer Gelareh Alam found herself in an entirely different world upon arriving in San Francisco in 2001. Alam started out as a child psychology graduate student in the Bay Area, but being a self-taught artist and hosting a lifetime yearning for a creative career, she found herself drawn towards sculpture and painting more than ever in her newfound home. Here, in a city known for its imagination and innovation, was where she finally did not have to suppress her creativity or be censored.
“Becoming an artist wasn’t a viable choice for me when I was growing up in Iran. But when I relocated to San Francisco, I was faced with a culturally liberating environment that enabled me to become a designer,” she tells JustLuxe. “In my work, there are definite influences from both my heritage and my current home that I continuously explore thematically as the foundation of my designs.”
After a friend suggested that Alam attend art school, she found herself pursuing her dreams at last, where she discovered that she had a penchant for shaping forms and pulling elements together—instrumental skills for fashion design. But bridging her strict upbringing and newfound freedom was not an easy task. “I had to navigate the different perspectives of expressions and meaning,” she explains. “But it ultimately enriched my understanding, not just about cultural and social differences but also about myself.”
The young designer began to create limited-edition pieces in 2007, and after several years of change and growth, gradually evolved her passion projects into the Gelareh Alam brand of today. She has grown not only in her approach to design, but in how she executes each piece. “We’re now at a point where the brand’s visual signature is clear. But fashion is nothing if it doesn’t evolve, so I am constantly honing our style and making sure it continues to be relevant to what women need,” she says.
The customer who needs Gelareh Alam pieces to express herself in the fashion world is one who is not faint of heart. “The woman who wears my pieces has every confidence in herself. She’s not dressing for anybody else but herself. She knows what she wants from life and is empowered to work toward getting it.”
The lines of women and men’s clothing revel in both strength and sensuality, which is combined with a degree of fragility to represent each of our individual freedoms and empowered self-expression. It is a mix of tomorrow’s sculptural glamour and yesterday’s elegant confidence—statement pieces that unleash a provocative style for those willing to stand out from the crowd. “My line cannot ever be described as conventional. I always endeavor to create something distinct and special,” says Alam. “These are not meant for someone who wants to blend into the background. Therefore, it encourages the wearer to be bold and gives them the freedom to express themselves in however way they choose.” The brand, which she describes as confident, defiant of convention and edgy, is for creative souls who wish to be elegant while taking a little risk and drawing a bit of attention.
As far as celebrity customers go, Alam is drawn to iconic women who house a strong sense of their personal style, such as Lady Gaga, whom the designer considers to be walking art. Alam feels that the starlet and she share parallels in how they choose to accessorize with items such as hats, hair, feathers and masks.
Although Alam said that she doesn’t necessarily have any fashion idols, she does appreciate the work of fashion designers Cristobal Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen, as well as artists Wassilyevich Kandinsky and Mark Rothko. However, her inspirations for her designs come not from other famous faces but instead, from everything around her such as music, films, architecture, nature, everyday experience and historical moments. “These various influences that inform my work drive me to create more. Creativity begets creativity,” she explains. “The more I do what I do, the more challenges I have to face to make my collections, the better I am at my craft, the better I become at adapting to situations and being able to find workable ways to deal with a challenge.”
After discovering an inspiration and idea for a garment, she enjoys working with soft fabrics that drape well and tougher materials such as leather, to create a more structured look. She often juxtaposes the two to show how opposite concepts can exist within the same space. In her effort to find different ways to drape over the body, Alam says that she often starts with one idea and ends up with something completely different that creates a sense of balance and is pleasing to the eyes.
But it’s more than just what a piece looks or feels like—it’s also about sustainability. She uses natural fabrics as much as possible and also repurposes vintage clothing, going as far as to toy with the idea of creating a line with all natural fabrics. “I have always tried to source sustainable materials and work with people who respect the environment. I believe it is important to maintain a sense of responsibility in how we affect the world in which we live,” she adds.
San Francisco is Alam’s adopted home, but the designer loves everything about the City by the Bay, including its vibrant cultural presence which is translated in the residents’ sense of style. “It is both adventurous and intellectual without being too mannered,” she explains. “And beneath that is that laid-back West Coast attitude that makes it not only acceptable, but exemplary to dress in exactly the way you want to. My brand speaks to that very same idea of freedom in expressing who you are.”
Although San Francisco is not known for its fashion, Alam feels that there are many talented designers in the city who work hard and create quality pieces that deserve recognition and support from the industry. And while Alam knows she is one of those designers, she’s handling her success with humble grace. “It’s a long process from an idea to creating the piece. So when it is finally worn by someone, it presents you with the realization of your work.” She adds, “It is a very fulfilling experience that in itself can be called a success.”
Gelareh Alam is available online and is priced from $410-$3,300.
Written for JustLuxe.com