Creative Spotlight: A Q&A With Pari Ehsan
Pari Ehsan certainly has a penchant for visuals.
Portraying art and fashion’s relationship as creative siblings, the 32 year-old architect-cum-interior designer-cum-Instagram sensation has made a living off pairing gallery pieces with catwalk ensembles on her thriving blog, Pari Dust, which she founded in 2013.
After studying architecture at the University of South Carolina Pari switched to interior design, gaining a Master’s degree in interior architecture from UCLA and opening her own design company. However, her career transitioned once again after a lightbulb moment at a Helen Frankenthaler exhibition in New York’s Gagosian Gallery when she noticed her jacket accidently matched a painting and a flux of possible styling opportunities began. The simple concept – taking a photograph of herself in bold designer clothing next to revered artworks of similar style, complete with a seductive caption that is equal parts educational and editorial – has gained her over 205,000 Instagram followers as well as a nomination for the CFDA’s first ever ‘Fashion Instagrammer of the Year’ award in 2014. Just three years on from her first post and Paris is hot property with a list of collaborators ranging from Tate to NARS decorating her CV.
Her photo journal empowers the senses with high-octane colour, sculptural shapes and an ever-changing myriad of texture. Despite the frequency of fashion among her shoots, art takes precedence; some posts remain completely Pari-free, reflecting solely on the standout canvases that she admires. Through her glamorisation of culture, it can be argued that Ms Ehsan has opened up art and its niche galleries to a new generation - millennial magpies attracted to assaults of colour and clothing - and that is no small feat in this online age of selfies and memes.
An undeniable example of how social media has impacted the art industry, Pari took a break from the small screen to talk to us about her work, her inspiration, her favourite creative havens and what she plans on doing in the future.
TA: Pari, what comes first for inspiration - the fashion or the art?
PD: Most often, the art comes first. I surround myself with as many artists as I can and see as much as possible then whatever captures me at that point in time is the work that I am compelled to explore further. Of course sometimes the fashion comes first - if I am doing a collaboration or am dying to wear a certain piece, this can be an interesting point of departure.
TA: How do you pick which artworks will feature on your feed?
PD: The process is intuitive and fluid; I am drawn to works which elicit an emotion or feeling in me, that contain a mystery sometimes as to how they are made. My architectural eye is often drawn to sculpture and materiality, pieces that unfold over time and are layered in meaning.
‘I am drawn to works which elicit an emotion or feeling in me, that contain a mystery sometimes as to how they are made.’
TA: Do you have a favourite museum and/or artist?
PD: Dia:Beacon in upstate New York is a haven for art, space and light, an embodiment of my perfect aesthetic.
TA: What is your must-see exhibition of the moment?
PD: I recently spent quite a bit of time in Berlin and was blown away by the recently opened Feuerle Collection which juxtaposes contemporary art with Imperial Chinese furniture and Southeast Asian sculpture. The unexpected harmony of the pairings in the context of a John Pawson designed former telecommunications bunker... I can’t stop thinking about it.
TA: At a guess, how many museums have you visited?
PD: In my life, 103 sounds like a good number.
TA: There are rarely other people in your photos - how do you get access into museums when nobody is there?
PD: I’m very fortunate to have covered a lot of ground at this point and developed relationships with gallerists and curators. Otherwise it’s just about patience - if there are other visitors around then we wait so as not to disturb them and to capture a composition that is pure.
‘Dia:Beacon in upstate New York is a haven for art, space and light, an embodiment of my perfect aesthetic.’
TA: How do artists feel about you featuring their work? Do you speak to any of the artists you feature?
PD: Many are supportive, some less so. I respect that creation is personal. Yes, many of my friends are artists whose work I greatly admire and endeavour to support in any way that I can. I also collaborate directly with artists for my column in Cultured Magazine which has been a dream project for me.
TA: What other collaborators do you work with and what kind of projects do you do with them?
PD: The beautiful thing about cross pollinating realms is the range of people and projects that I have engaged with. Recently I have worked with Architectural Digest on a story, wearing sculptural jewellery at The Barnes Foundation. I also collaborated with beauty brand NARS - I wore different shades of NARS lipstick alongside the works of Tom Wesselmann, the American artist known for his exploration of the female form. Other projects have seen me create a video for the Calvin Klein #mycalvins campaign at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC, and I have also partnered with Tate to create content for their The World Goes Pop exhibition.
TA: Has your knowledge of art developed as your blog has grown?
PD: Absolutely it has, not only my knowledge but my eye has become more sensitive to subtleties - this development I’ve enjoyed very much. I see life as an endless process of learning and discovery.
‘I was blown away by the recently opened Feuerle Collection in Berlin. I can’t stop thinking about it.’
TA: What has been your favourite artwork to feature and style yourself next to?
PD: It’s nearly impossible for me to choose a favourite, each experience is unique unto itself. Sterling Ruby’s work comes to mind right now, off hand, it feels free and explosive.
TA: Moving on to your blog, how has it evolved over the years?
PD: I am constantly trying to create time and space to explore my ideas and to expand. Collaborating with artists directly, more immersive writings, artist interviews and features are the ways it has evolved thus far.
TA: What moment of your career are you most proud of?
PD: Any moment in which an artist is pleased or excited is very fulfilling to me. I am proud to have been nominated for a CFDA award and to have the privilege of collaborating with Chanel and shooting in Couture, a lifelong fantasy.
TA: How many days a week do you devote to your blog and how many shots do you get through in a day? Looks like it could be a lot of costume changes!
PD: Often six sometimes seven, there is much time that goes into the planning and research. The amount of shots depends on the context of what we are creating. It can be up to three looks or just one, hundreds of images or far less.
‘It’s impossible to pick a favourite piece of art but Sterling Ruby’s work is free and explosive.’
TA: How many people do you work with? It must be a long process: finding artworks, sourcing clothes, perfecting the look with hair and makeup and of course photographing.
PD: I have a core team of incredible talents all of whom are my dear friends, Tylor Hóu my photographer, Cosma De Marinis my hair stylist and Samantha Dametta my makeup fairy. Their collaboration is a gift I treasure very much; working with them is like a dance.
TA: Your fashion on camera can be bold, striking and arguably atypical. What is your day-to-day, off-camera style?
PD: Architectural, minimal and experimental.
TA: What’s next for Pari Dust? Would you ever consider becoming a designer?
PD: Yes, I think at a moment in time that would feel quite natural for me, but at the moment I’m working on a lecture series about the cross between art and architecture. I am also exploring and organising ways to bring art to children in parts of the world where going to a museum is not accessible.
Main image: 'Melting into #annveronicajanssens glittering lake of emotions in the city of light - cerulean in @maisonrabihkayrouz'
Images: Courtesy of Paris Ehsan
Captions taken from @paridust