Published in Iran in September 1977, this short, seemingly inconsequential interview of a business owner took place well before the Shah of Iran’s exile in January 1979 and the bloody emergence of the Islamic Republic. While not touching on any political or religious aspects of that era, it does offer a fleeting glimpse into a much different society than the heavily repressed one of today.
Under the Shah’s Constitutional Monarchy, it was not mandatory for women to wear the “chador” (the full-length, black veil). They owned their own businesses and were encouraged to hold positions of prominence. In today’s Iran, “a wife cannot leave the home without her husband’s permission,” and “her husband may ban his wife from any technical profession that conflicts with family life or her character.” (link)
Lean owned a beauty shop. She was a short, pleasant Danish woman who was married to an Iranian man. She had placed an advertisement in The American Women’s Club of Tehran (TAWC ) publication for Lean of Copenhagen that reflected the international flavor of Tehran in the late 1970s: “Danish, English, German and Farsi speaking staff.”
In today’s Iran, hair salons for both men and women are routinely closed down if styles are too “western.” Offenders are sometimes jailed.
(To read about my visit to Lean’s home, scroll down after the article.)
The cover to The American Women’s Club of Tehran “booklet” from September 1977. It depicts a “village scene near Tehran by Sumbat Kiureghian.”
“She makes most of her own cosmetics. This intriguing information prompted an interview with the owner of Lean’s Beauty Shop, Saltanatabad, who has some stimulating ideas in the field of natural skin care.
Lean, who hails from Denmark, is blessed with a rich background in this area. Her father at one time owned his own beauty shop and not only took care of hair but skin as well. It was in the 1920s that he bought some recipes from an old Russian-Hungarian immigrant who had been a skilled doctor-chemist. These recipes include not only prescriptions for salves that can heal canker sores and burns, they also enter into the cosmetic field. Yet the recipes are more accurately classified as medical rather than cosmetic — the powders and lipsticks impart color while nourishing the skin as well.
This is in direct contrast to cosmetics sold in the U.S. today. American women have a great need for better skin care, but we have not furthered this cause. We seem to be at our most vulnerable when purchasing cosmetics. Blindly grabbing something off of a shelf, or gullibly believing miraculous promises on bottles, we apply creams and mascaras and lipsticks that, in the long run, do us more harm than good.
Now that we are in an age where women have recognized their strengths, “it’s time we started evaluating our weaknesses.” The field of cosmetics is one of them.
a. Hormone creams can be a boon to aging skin, but only if you are in your fifties and nothing else seems to help. Using these creams at an earlier age is not advisable; they do cause side effects.
b. When using moisturizing cream, apply sparingly. After 20 minutes, blot under the eyes with a tissue. (This area absorbs like a sponge; it swells with the cream, stretching the skin. Over-applying to this area will cause it to sag later.)
Lack of sleep can make your eyes itchy and irritated. Peel a potato, slice it and cover the swollen area. Lay down for 20 minutes. Then moisten cotton with water and pat the area, being careful not to remove all the potato residue.
Do not buy from a store that does not have a large turn-over. Old mascara can cause irritation and itching. This is because the necessary oils have disappeared with time and only the pigmentation is left. Recommended mascaras are by Stendahl and Germaine Monteil, sold at Exir on Pahlavi.
Be sure to watch for future issues of TAWC — two of Lean’s recipes will appear!”
(This interview was published in September 1977 by “The American Women’s Club” under C.E. Chambers’ married surname.)
Visiting Lean one day at her house, she accompanied me to my taxi when it was time to leave. Her blond hair curling softly around her face, she remarked ruefully that the Iranian relative she had introduced me to had been a guest in her home for some months. He had come for a “short visit” and now refused to leave. According to traditional Iranian etiquette, she and her husband were obliged to allow him to stay as long as he liked.
Before I moved back to the U.S. in April 1978, Lean invited me to an outdoor party that was to be held at her home. She mentioned the name of a man related to her husband who was expected to attend. I didn’t know that he was a well-known figure in Iranian politics at the time. Approximately one year later he assumed a major political role under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini. Living again in the U.S., I was surprised to hear his name featured prominently and almost daily in television news programs. Some time later, he fell seriously out of favor with Khomeini. He, who had been a staunch defender of the Imam and had, in fact, accompanied him on his flight back to Iran from exile in France in February 1979, feared for his own life.
I regret that I didn’t attend Lean’s party. I’ve wondered what impressions Lean’s relative would have made on me. Would I have had any inkling that the well-mannered man sitting next to me, wearing the obligatory dark suit and button-down shirt while eating “kebab” and “chelo,” would one day capture the attention of not just a struggling ancient nation but an entire world?