A sold-out crowd filled the seats of the Ackerman Grand Ballroom on Sunday night to see the latest of local Persian fashion.
Over 600 people gathered to watch cancer survivors, patients and UCLA students model some of the latest trends in Persian garments, all in an effort to raise funds for the Persian-American Cancer Institute. In association with the Iranian Student Group at UCLA, PACI put on the event, “An Evening of Fashion,” to draw awareness to Be The Match, the National Bone Marrow Registry which comprises a list of all possible bone marrow donors in an attempt to match them with current cancer patients seeking treatment. The show was hosted by Persian-American comedian Maz Jobrani, and featured a number of popular Persian entertainers including musicians Andy & Shani, Arash Avin and Persian pop music icon Kamyar.
Mahdi Rafati, a fourth-year computer science student and the president of ISG, said that while he was excited to display Iranian culture through fashion, he was also looking forward to the possibility of signing up potential bone marrow donors.
“You might be the person who gets matched with someone who needs bone marrow,” Rafati said prior to the show. “You can literally save a person’s life just donating your bone marrow to them.”
Rafati had only joined ISG when he began organizing the event about a year ago and immediately started coordinating with PACI and securing the fashion designers and guest speakers. Among these speakers was Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who advocated for the Affordable Care Act. Rafati said a fashion show was a great way of showing Persian culture to the local community while also drawing attendees to a fundraiser.
“As Persians, we like to dress up,” he said. “At Persian events, you can’t overdress.”
Dozens of models walked down the 50-foot runway that Rafati said was built especially for the event. In total, six different design collections, all made by local Persian designers, were featured at the show, displaying fashion ranging from the sporty athleisure wear of Hushi to the flowing bridal gowns of Simin Couture. One designer, Jila Saberi, said she designed 16 different pieces for the show, including formal evening wear, wedding dresses and bridesmaid dresses. Saberi calls it the “Green Collection” because she took inspiration from nature.
“I wanted to make it a little bit dreamy because (the show) is about people who have suffered from cancer and we want to give them hope,” Saberi said prior to the event.
Tara Yazdi, a fourth-year anthropology student, modeled one of Saberi’s evening gowns during the show. The long silk evening gown is bias cut, a form-fitting style that accentuates the lines and curves of the wearer, Saberi said. The gown is a light cream color and features layered fabric accents inspired by flowers and clouds, harkening back to Saberi’s natural inspiration. Yazdi said although she has minimal modeling experience, she and the other models were trained by a designer from Vasht, one of the brands featured, on how to walk down a runway.
“I felt like I was actually learning how to model from someone who knows how,” Yazdi said. “How you’re stepping with what pace, what expression, … it made me feel like a legit model.”
Brands Vasht and Geev presented collections alluding to and resembling elaborate Persian carpet design and architecture, as well as more traditional Persian attire, with multilayered flowing skirts in bright greens, yellows and reds. The final designer of the night, Simin Couture, displayed bridal and bridesmaid wear with silken materials in pastel tones of pink, beige and cream.
Additional guest speakers addressed the crowd in between runway displays. Dr. Robert Huizenga, known as Dr. H on the television show “The Biggest Loser,” discussed the threats posed by viral-caused cancers and Rikki Rockett, drummer for the rock band Poison, spoke about his own experiences suffering from an oral cancer after contracting HPV.
Though the event ran late into Sunday night, the sold-out crowd remained in their seats until otherwise beckoned by performers Andy or Kamyar to raise their hands and sing along to their songs. An in memoriam video showed pictures of Persian community members who lost their own battles with cancer in the last year.
This event was particularly impactful for Rafati, who lost his father to cancer a month ago. Rafati said the event generated over $10,000 to donate to cancer research, and he is hopeful that the awareness of the bone marrow registry and its life-saving potential are what attendees walk away remembering.
“That’s what basically motivated me the most for the event,” Rafati said. “I’ve got to make sure we do everything we can in order to maybe save a person’s life.”