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Iranian Iconoclasts Bring Glitz to D.C.’s Persian New Year Scene

Iranians both at home and abroad have been reveling since mid-March in the weekslong Persian New Year celebrations, which wrap up Tuesday in outdoor festivities known as sizdah bedar, or 13 days after New Year.

Though the majority Shi’a Muslim population demonstrates an affinity for black clothing and its mourning connotations, the New Year celebrations tend to be colorful, literally and figuratively. While that’s true in Iran as well as elsewhere, celebrations in the nation’s capital this year didn’t just push the envelope; they flew in a West Coast Persian diva who stars in Bravo’s reality-television show “Shahs of Sunset” to squeeze that envelope into a skimpy little two-piece.

In fact, just about the only thing not affronting conservative Iranian traditions at the recent Persian New Year bikini fashion show in downtown D.C. was the color of most of the swimsuits on display: black, that is.

Somewhere around seven bikini models graced the catwalk on the ground floor at the Park at Fourteenth, a downtown club, on March 23, the Saturday following the new year. The same number of objects forms the traditional haft sin, a table spread whose symbolic relevance dates back to Zoroastrian times, well before black was in.

The models, spindly, tenuous-looking things from their stilettos to their acrylics, showed off a line of luxury swimwear known as swimgerie, a combination of swimwear and lingerie.

It’s all designed by Neelufar Seyed Ghalichi, better known as Lilly, a recent addition to the cast of Los Angeles Persians profiled in “Shahs of Sunset.”

Gauging by the cheers, the Park at Fourteenth crowd’s favorite was a skimpy, halter-style one-piece — black, of course — that is currently sold out on Ghalichi’s and her business partner’s retail website.

In addition to the aesthetics, the designers are guided toward the swimwear-lingerie hybrid by another consideration.

“You’re basically naked, you know, out there by the pool, so we want you to feel sexy because when you feel sexy you feel confident and you can rule the world,” Ghalichi told CQ Roll Call.

Ghalichi grew up in a strict conservative Persian household and never models the bikinis, she said, out of consideration for her father.

“My father doesn’t think his children should be in the spotlight, especially his girls,” she said. “So to have me designing sexy bikinis was really hard for him.”

And in fact, event organizer Iman Huschmand said none of the models at the March 23 fashion show were Persian.

“That’s because of the conservatism,” he said, employing disdainful quotes around the word.

Huschmand is the owner of Exclusively Entertainment, an entertainment company that serves the Iranian community in the Washington area. After “Shahs” personalities Mercedes “MJ” Javid and Mike Shouhed, Ghalichi is the third Persian reality star Huschmand has brought to the Park.

While at least one partygoer had also been to the club for Javid’s and Shouhed’s appearances and went to the fashion show to round out his “Shahs” sightings, many others were Iranian immigrants out to celebrate the New Year.

Milad Ghasemi, a student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s medical school, said he has been in the United States for four years now. Though the New Year party was a couple of days late, he was having a good time, he told CQ Roll Call.

Huschmand, the organizer, had stipulated that the DJs in the outdoor dance area play only Persian and World dance music. They stuck to that, with the notable exceptions of Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” and, perhaps necessitated by the times, Baauer’s “Harlem Shake.”

“It’s cool,” Ghasemi said of the party. “I love it.”

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