Underground boutiques for ‘secret shoppers’ flourish in Iran

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Is it a café, is it a women-only party, or is it a “maison”?

Glamorous haute-couture dresses are aplenty in Iranian private retail spaces, fondly known as “maisons.”

The maisons provide an opportunity to remove headscarves and sip cardamom tea while browsing popular fashion items in peace, without being cautioned for public indecency in the conservative public arena.

Tucked away behind closed doors, often in the comfort of the proprietor’s home, the boutiques cater to a middle and upper class clientele.

At the same time, these home-based shops afford Iranian women the chance to run their own businesses in a society where women, for the most part, are discouraged from working.

“They start with a few garments. They sell them to their friends and family from home and gradually their business grows. It's a new revelation for Iranian women – making an income and being a bit more independent,” said once such Iranian woman in an interview with UK-based the Guardian.

“Iran is an Islamic country, so women have to kind of suffer in heat to have hijab all the while when they are out,” she added.

“The best part of working at home is you and your costumers are free.”

The owner of “Ferdows Collection,” one such popular maison, appreciates the benefit of selling from home.

“The house has no problems,” she says. “In Iran, people really like to socialize. When you go to a store, you have to buy something and leave and you can't socialize. When you go to a home, you can drink tea, eat your pastry, and talk to your friend. It's cooler in temperature. They can take off their headscarf, look at the clothes, buy some clothes, and it's very fun.”

Arguments over how to define and enforce Islamic laws on women’s dress code have persisted since the birth of the Islamic Republic in 1979. As a result, women are particularly careful about the products they purchase and what they wear in public.

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