A local guide to Iran
Mehrdad Mzadeh is Creative Director and Co-Founder of Studio Shizaru, the Tehran and Los Angeles-based design firm behind some of Tehran’s hippest spaces, incorporating the ancient aesthetic of Iran in a fresh and contemporary way.
This interview is part of The world is local, a worldwide collaboration between the seven international editions of Condé Nast Traveler in which 100 people in 100 countries tell us why their territory should be your next destination.
How would you describe Tehran?
Tehran has a masculine soul, like New York – it’s hard to explain without experiencing it, but Tehran’s harshness, bustle, noise, brutal architecture and mountain ranges strike me as ‘masculine’. Tehran smells of smoke; at the same time it smells like tea and saffron, if you are a romantic! As I walk past the old houses, I imagine typical, loving and traditional Iranian moms making tea for their families after a long and busy day on the streets of Tehran, calming them down with delicious hot food.
Tell us about your connection to Tehran. How does what you do at Studio Shizaru fit into the current narrative of Iran?
Shizaru is a small design studio, and our relationship with our cities, Tehran and Los Angeles, is like that of an adventurous chef: we source local ingredients in our cities and present them as contemporary dishes. We love to be connected to the world and speak in an international language that everyone understands, but we don’t hide our accent.
If a friend was visiting Tehran and only had 24 hours there, what would you tell them to do?
Tehran is big and I wouldn’t recommend spending 24 hours there, mainly because you would be stuck in traffic for much of those 24 hours! But if you’re really pressed for time …
Check into the Hanna Boutique Hotel, then start exploring downtown Tehran on foot after breakfast. Start at 30 Tir Street, lose yourself in the old alleys, and take a peek at homes that could have left their doors open. There is a museum and a few heritage houses in the area that date back around 200 years. At lunchtime, head to Gol-e Rezaeieh or Café Naderi, two old restaurants in the area. I don’t promise Michelin-starred meals, but I can guarantee you a trip down memory lane: they’ll give you an idea of what things looked like for those intellectual groups of friends and political activists who ate and hung out in these places . If you want to feel like walking around ancient Iran, dine at Boomi Restaurant. It’s an experience right out of the gate Shahnameh [The Book of Kings] and serves modern fusion Iranian cuisine.
What to see beyond the usual tourist spots?
Shahr-e-Rey [City of Rey], an hour south of Tehran, is one of the oldest cities in the world and even Tehran doesn’t know much about it. It is full of historical sites and gives you the opportunity to see the architecture of old Tehran. Stroll through a city that has been through so much in the past 8,000 years!
What are you passionate about in Tehran at the moment?
The most exciting thing about Tehran for me is seeing the “new” Tehran being built by the young people of the city. Without any support, this generation is building great experiences for international visitors. From cafes to craft shops to boutique hotels, unique places are popping up all over the city. It gives me the impression that Tehran is going through a revolution, driven by its young creative generation, and it allows me to continue.
Where do you go again and again?
I spend hours wandering around downtown Tehran, visiting stores and talking to traders who haven’t changed in 70 years! I pretend as a customer and really love the experience. I immerse myself and get lost in the alleys, and observe the contrast between the old and the new. It is a source of inspiration for me and helps me in the creative projects that I realize or plan to carry out. I also go to the mountains of northern Tehran. It’s therapeutic and the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Follow Mehrdad Mzadeh on Instagram @mehrdadmzadeh
Originally appeared on Condé Nast Traveler