The Instagram sensation Pari Ehsan aka @paridust matches high-end couture with artworks from around the world. By combining these visual wonderlands, she opens new windows to make art and fashion accessible to a wide audience.
In New York, the rarefied worlds of fashion and contemporary art have many occasions to blend, and when they do, Pari Ehsan is almost always at the epicenter. As the face of the beloved art-meets-fashion blog Pari Dust, Ehsan seamlessly weaves the city’s most talked-about exhibitions (most recently, Daniel Buren’s at Bortolami Gallery and the artist-designed jewelry curated by Celia Forner at Hauser & Wirth) together with pieces picked from the runways of major houses like Chanel and Missoni as well as from up-and-coming designers like Marques’Almeida, Dorateymur, and ALYX. The results are fashion mag-worthy shoots that serve as inspiration for both outfits and afternoons spent gallery-hopping.
All this may make Ehsan sound rather intimidating, but, in reality, she’s anything but. Our meeting at Ludlow House, to which Ehsan wore an oversized white button down and slim-leg trousers paired with a classic Chanel crossbody, involved drinking rosé out of red Solo cups and discussing her recent move to a new apartment, following a period of time spent reluctantly couch surfing. It takes about five minutes to realize that Ehsan isn’t in it for the fame or the clothes or even the massive (203k, to be exact) Instagram following. Instead, she views her platform as a way to champion the work of her many artist and designer friends, collaborate with people she looks up to, and, as cheesy as it may sound, inspire others to follow their passions and lead visually rich lives.
To start out, can you tell me a bit about Pari Dust, and how it got its start? What inspired you to want to make a website?
I’m glad you asked about the website, because that is truly where it all started. A lot of people, I guess, think of it more as an Instagram, but that’s where it started. The idea was to have, like, this diary of things I wanted to create over time. I had it in my mind that I was going to do this blog for a while, and at first it was going to be collages from old interior design magazines and contemporary fashion magazines and stuff, and I was collaging those images on top of each other, and I thought that was what I was going to put up on the website. And then I was taking a photo for my interior design website − which never came to be − and I was with my friend and photographer at the galleries in Chelsea, and I happened to be matching this painting. I was wearing a fur jacket and you know how the colors in Helen Frankenthaler’s pieces are so specific? It was this blush color and the texture of the fur kind of looked like the brush strokes in the painting. And so I was like, “wait, that’s the idea! I should perform these dialogues and photograph them, and that’s what I want to put out − something that’s more original.” I liked the idea of it being an exhibition that was current, that people could actually go and see themselves, because a part of a human interacting with an art piece, is people imagining themselves there.
So when you take these photos, do you go see the show first and then figure out the clothes, or how does all that work?
Usually, the art comes first. I see something and be like, ‘I want to shoot this,’ and then it’s about finding the perfect look or some collaboration that I want to do. So I think about it for a long time. Sometimes it’s more spontaneous, and it happens faster, and it’s nice to have those − the slow and thoughtful and then the more impulsive, ‘ohmygod, I need to shoot this before it ends’ ones − but, usually, the art is the inspiration point. Or a movement of art that I’m really interested in, like right now I’m really into Arte Povera. So I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and a couple of things have come up, like at Magazzino in Cold Spring [New York], it just opened in June, and it’s these two collectors [Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu] who have a house nearby in Hudson, and they’ve been conceptualizing a place for their Arte Povera collection for a while, and it’s just literally − ‘magazzino’ means warehouse in Italian − and the architecture of the space is just absolutely stunning. Since those are very experiential, it’s nice to have them in a space that was thought for that type of work.
When you’re being a character and you’re giving yourself to the art, it’s such a different thing. Stepping outside of myself helps me feel different. It’s a bit of a performance.
When I was thinking about you and this story, I was thinking about how I think styling is actually very similar to curating. Would you agree with that?
I’ve never thought about it that way, but it’s very true. Especially when you’re doing multiple looks − even in one look, there’s still that aspect − but when it’s a story, definitely. I just shot something for Editorialist magazine, and we did it at the Mystical Symbolism exhibit at the Guggenheim, and we had to shoot the looks separately, which I had never done before. So we shot the show, and we shot in the studio and collaged me into the images. And the styling was really specific − I’m really excited and happy with it. It’s a true curation of all these designers who I thought tied together. They’re all European designers.
In these shots, you’re basically modeling. Did you have experience doing that before? How did you get comfortable in front of the camera?
I looked at my friends in high school, and I felt like they had way more confidence [than I did]. I always felt not very confident in photos. But I always danced, so I felt like if I could not be myself, I could be more comfortable, and that’s kind of the same thing with this. Because it’s me stepping outside myself. I personally still feel very awkward being photographed in real life.
Yeah, definitely. This has helped. But when you’re being a character, and you’re giving yourself to the art or the show, it’s such a different thing. For me, it’s stepping outside of myself, and it helps me feel different. It’s a bit of a performance, you know?
What was the process of building your audience and finding your readership? Did it all happen very quickly?
It did! I think that for a while I was just doing it, and it was just my mom and some of my friends who thought it was cool [reading the website]. But I didn’t care, because I was really into it. I got obsessed with doing it because it felt very me and very much a confluence of all the things I had studied and all of my passions. It made me feel balanced, because I practiced architecture before [launching the site], which did not make me feel balanced. It felt very rigid, practicing architecture. There wasn’t enough of an expressive side, and I wasn’t happy. I think that when you do something you love, people notice. You have to work hard at it, and you have to think about it, and you have to do it well, but I think that in that sense, it all happened really fast.
You were also doing something that no one else had really thought of.
I think it was the right time. It wasn’t as oversaturated. I don’t like to compare myself to anyone; I like to exist in a vacuum, but I love to collaborate with people. I think that’s part of the joy. I love to learn about what other people are into and their art and their expertise. But yeah, I think I hit it at the right time. And the worlds are so merged now, and the idea of keeping someone out of an art gallery who isn’t interested in buying something, is really antiquated at this point. That’s not cool. It’s just not. Anyone should be able to see art. I think that it’s a beautiful thing. That’s been kind of broken down. And I understand both sides, there’s two sides to everything. [Art is] something the galleries are trying to protect and not make trivial, but it’s interesting how every different institution reacts when I ask them permission to shoot. It’s really all over the map.
Really? I would assume they would all be psyched, because it’s such good publicity for them.
Well, now it is more that. Now they’re usually really gracious and welcoming, but sometimes the artist doesn’t want it, or the institution is too busy to think about it. Or they’re nervous.
So that actually leads to my next question, which is about the convergence of art and fashion, and how art people can often be so weird about fashion. Because I feel like fashion people typically love art and the art world, while artists and art people can sometimes be really closed off to fashion. I’m wondering if you have any insight into why that is?
It’s weird. I think it’s about fear. It’s about putting things on a pedestal and having them land a certain price in front of a certain audience and there’s fear of pushing that off. Like, turning it into some kind of free-for-all or something. But I believe that fear is just about the worst thing. If you’re at least able to hear what the other person is saying − and a lot of people are able to do that, which is so nice − so if you can articulate an idea and a concept that is meaningful and compelling, even the hardest critic will hear you out. And sometimes it’s surprising. Someone you think will say no or someone who has said no in the past, if you go to them with a new idea, they’re sometimes going to say yes. And I think there’s this idea that the fashion world is vapid.
Which is funny, because in my experience, the fashion world is not all that different from the art world.
I agree. And some fashion designers, what they reference, if you really look at it, it’s really insane. It’s brilliant. I think this whole hierarchy − I don’t know how I feel about it, I go back and forth, because I am friends with a lot of artists, and I don’t know if you saw recently, the whole Brad Troemel thing [in which designer Vika Gazinskaya allegedly plagiarized Troemel’s work].
Oh yeah, I did.
Yeah, and that’s messed up. And Vika Gazinskaya, I like her stuff, I’ve shot her stuff before. I really liked her. But that is so not cool.
And I guess that happens a lot to artists.
Yeah. And a lot of times it’s probably not intentional. But it was fascinating to me to observe that whole dialogue [between Troemel and Gazinskaya on Instagram]. Because I don’t know what she was thinking. It just was strange. Because Brad is so smart and such a good artist, and he’s so critical and sharp and witty and all of these things. It’s the wrong person you could have picked to knock off.
Yeah, because he’s not just going to lay down, and take it. He’s going to come for you.
Yeah, and he’s funny. I think there are a lot of struggling artists − and a lot of struggling fashion designers, too − I think everyone’s just trying to make it, and do their best. And be able to work. New York is tough.
I’m curious about what’s happening with Pari Dust these days. I feel like it’s really turned into more than just a blog, and I love all these really in-depth interviews with artists that you’ve been doing. What’s next?
I’m glad you asked that because I have so much that I want to do but I’m only one person! I have someone who is helping me now and she’s amazing, but it was hard for me to bring someone else on to help me, because I’m so specific, but I realized that in order to expand and grow, you can’t if you’re physically just one person. So she’s helped me to be able to do a lot of things. And one of the things that I’m going to launch any day now is called The Board and it’s going to be a monthly curation of exhibitions to see all over the world. And I’m excited about it because I do feel strongly about these things that I see and I do get to travel a lot and I do see things that aren’t just art, but fashion or music, and I’ve been wanting a place to put it all up. For people in the art world, it’s easy to navigate the scene, but sometimes there’s just so much going on. You just need it curated for you. Or if you have a different type of job, and on a Saturday you just wanna go see some things, I want to be a resource for that. It’s a natural elevation. So for this month, I started with ten exhibits, and some of them are well-known, but some of them aren’t. And it’s nice to have a place for that without necessarily having to go shoot it, because I just couldn’t. Maybe someday I will be able to, and that’s how I envision this platform, for it to be like an online magazine.
Worlds are so merged now and the idea of keeping someone out of an art gallery who isn’t interested in buying something, is really antiquated at this point. That’s not cool. Anyone should be able to see art.
Has there been a moment when you realized that what you’re doing with the site is really making an impact on people?
That definitely is a goal; the whole idea of being able to expose someone to art, especially in a part of the world where maybe their parents can’t take them to an art museum, and maybe they see someone, and they wanna research their work and maybe they become an artist, maybe they become a curator. Maybe it just sparks something in them. That’s the goal − being inspired. Isn’t that what everyone always is searching for? I think so, too, my dad is from Iran and my mom is American, I’ve always had all these cultures coming together, and I loved growing up like that with so many different perspectives. It’s caused me to be a very open-minded person. But I think that since we are such a global world − with social media and the ability to connect with anybody in a moment, from wherever − it’s a beautiful resource that should be used. It can be such a great tool, and I want to use that.
How would you describe your personal style?
Minimalistic and architectural. I always tend to be really pared-down. I don’t like lots of stuff. It’s hard for me to wear jewelry − I love it, but it’s hard for me to wear it in real life. I’m very minimal. I love silhouettes and cuts. I’ve always been obsessed with cuts that are sculptural.
What advice do you have for young women who are on a career track they don’t love and want to quit it and go into something creative like you did?
I have a lot of strong thoughts on that. First of all, you only live once, so if you’re living with a lot of fear, you have to find something to help with that. For me, I started meditating right before I started my website and it really helped me break down a lot of fear. And I think it helped me tap into what was already there that I wanted to create, but for some reason felt so hard. And then it felt so easy and so natural. So I think finding a meditative practice that resonates with you is the first step. And then, I think, after that, once you break through what your expectations are and the pressures you feel surrounding you − and those will always be there − but once you get over them and tap into what it is that you want to create, social media is amazing. You can do anything. The possibilities are endless. It would have taken me years to grow [the website without social media], but it grew so quickly because of this tool. But you have to exist in a vacuum. You can’t look at other people. Like I really just didn’t look at other blogs, I really just thought about what I wanted to say. For me, it’s about what value you’re giving. What are you seeking that you can’t find? Be a source of value. Because there’s a lot of noise and being noise isn’t sustainable. So finding a valuable idea or concept or service − it could be anything − that you want to share with others, I think that’s a good place to start. Just think about adding value.
This Feature Got Published in TheArtGorgeous Magazine#3 to Download e-version click here
Writer CAIT MUNRO
Photographs by Tylor Hóu, Kelly Elaine Smith