Oscars: Shohreh Aghdashloo, Designer Break Down Dress Honoring Iranian Women Fighting for Freedom (Exclusive)
When Shohreh Aghdashloo received her invitation to attend the 2023 Oscars, she quickly realized this high-wattage moment could be an opportunity to highlight an issue close to her heart. “I was so happy to be invited, but what crossed my mind is that this was a chance to take the case of the Iranian freedom fighters to the ultimate platform of arts and sciences,” the actress, who was nominated in 2004 for her supporting role in House of Sand and Fog, tells The Hollywood Reporter exclusively before walking the carpet at the ceremony. “I knew I wanted to wear something that would include the slogan of Iran’s freedom fighters — ‘Women, Life, Freedom’ — as they continue what’s one of the biggest human-rights efforts in history.”
But with only three weeks between being invited and Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony at L.A.’s Dolby Theatre at Ovation Hollywood, who might agree to step in with a dress that would be stylish while conveying her desired message? Aghdashloo says she immediately thought of one designer who’s developed a reputation for blending elegant designs with inspirational backstories, notably inclusivity and diversity. “I immediately reached out to Christian Siriano, and I was very hopeful, even though I knew we didn’t have much time,” the actress remembers of the email she sent to the New York-based designer. “His response was so quick and very heartwarming. He said he’d be happy to do it for me. I couldn’t believe my eyes as I read his message.”
More from The Hollywood Reporter
Filmart: Founder of Sales Agent Rediance Talks Changes Afoot in China's Industry
“I love Shohreh; I’m such a fan of hers,” Siriano tells THR. “What occurred to me right away wasn’t even, how do we get this done so quickly? Instead I was thinking about how we could get the message across in the best way.”
A phone call quickly followed, not only to discuss what Aghdashloo would wear, but also Siriano says he wanted to be educated about Iran’s freedom fighters. “Women, Life, Freedom” has been a popular slogan in Iran for roughly a decade, but lately it’s been heard frequently and passionately as a rallying cry to protest the recent deaths and executions of Iranian women, specifically the September 2022 murders of three women engaged in protests: Mahsa Amini, 22; Hajar Abbasi, 70; and Nika Shakarami, 16.
“I just started asking Shohreh questions,” Siriano recalls. “I wanted to know the details of what’s been happening, also because I saw this as a way to start a conversation so the world would be more educated. As we chatted, it was clear Shohreh wanted the slogan ‘Women, Life, Freedom’ to be included and that it was an important message to get across.”
The resulting design is crafted of black and white silk and consists of a white floor-length sleeveless gown that features a black silk-taffeta drape that frames Aghdashloo’s shoulders, while a black silk-taffeta overskirt is embroidered with the “Women, Life, Freedom” slogan emblazoned on one side. But Siriano wanted to take the idea a step further, suggesting to Aghdashloo that they also include the names of the three September 2022 victims opposite the slogan on the overskirt.
“Christian suggested it when I went for the first fitting,” she explains. “It hadn’t occurred to me to do this, also because I didn’t think it would be possible. I became so emotional. Women have been hanged, they’ve suffered chemical attacks, and the world needs to be more aware. I never thought we could add names to the dress also. I just looked at him, my eyes wet, and said, ‘Can I hug you?'”
“‘Women, Life, Freedom’ feels very powerful on one side,” Siriano notes. “Then on the other side the names of the three women are embroidered in a beautiful cursive script, because I wanted it to feel like an old book that you might open and see these names. The text is in white on the black silk taffeta, so it’s very in-your-face while staggering down the skirt in an elegant way.”
Aghdashloo, who escaped Iran at the height of the country’s 1978 revolution, is thrilled with the resulting design, which also inspired in part by Audrey Hepburn. Says Aghdashloo, “He created a gown for me that not only tells a story, it’s also inspired by someone who was the epitome of grace, beauty and elegance. When I told Christian she’s a favorite of mine, he agreed, and that’s when I knew I was in such good hands.”
“My last collection had an Audrey Hepburn inspiration running through it, so I think that was just where my mind was,” Siriano adds. “I also think Shohreh is one of the most chic, elegant Hollywood actresses, so that’s what I wanted her to emulate with this gown.” Another challenge in the midst of the design process: a burst pipe in Siriano’s studio, which he shared on TikTok last Monday. “We had to fully remake Shohreh’s skirt, which was part of the damage,” he tells THR. “We had to remake a lot of things, and it’s been a lot of late nights, but I have an amazing team.”
To accessorize her Oscars red-carpet look, Aghdashloo is wearing jewelry by Annabella Chan, while her shoes are also by Siriano. “I’m really excited about this, because if it causes people to Google the names or the slogan to find out what they mean, then it will be a success,” Siriano says. “As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized my goal is not just to leave behind clothes; it’s more important to leave behind something about them, a story that needs to be told. That might be Billy Porter wearing a gown I designed for the 2019 Oscars, or being the designer who put the first curvy woman on the runway, or making this political statement for the women of Iran. These are all important stories.”
Following the Academy Awards ceremony Aghdashloo will change into a second custom gown, by designer Kevan Hall, to wear to the Vanity Fair Oscar party, a one-shoulder design that also conveys the message in support of the “Women, Life, Freedom” movement. Earrings by Matturi complete that look.
Ultimately, Aghdashloo hopes both gowns garner the attention she desires — not for herself, but to bring attention to a cause she believes deserves a global spotlight. “This is about women who are bare-handed fighting for basic human rights,” she says. “By taking this message to the ultimate red carpet, it will be seen by billions of people around the globe, and I’m so excited to make that happen. I think I’m more excited about this night than the night I was nominated.”