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Beauty Trumps Bombs -- Let's Get Back to Real Cultural Exchange With Iran

Why not return to the days of real cultural exchange with Iran and other countries of the region, a time when beauty trumped bombs?
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[April 1976, Royal Tehran Hilton, Suzan Mazur on runway wearing Giorgio Sant' Angelo with Madame Farideh Diba, the empress's mother (far right) and Mrs. Richard Helms (third from right)]

Whatever happened to real cultural diplomacy with Iran? In April 1976, as part of a celebration of the bicentennial of America, I was officially invited to Tehran along with several other runway fashion models to present the collections of 16 of America's top designers, among them Giorgio Sant' Angelo, Arnold Scassi, Halston, Bill Blass, Mary McFadden, Pauline Trigère. We did shows on Iranian television and at the Royal Tehran Hilton (which three years later became headquarters for the Iranian revolution).

[Suzan Mazur, Tehran Hilton, wearing Koos Van Den Akker ]

America fashion at the time was about elegant, beautiful clothes. Our fashion production was accompanied by executives from Estèe Lauder, Hanna their make-up artist, a million dollars in jewels from David Webb, and Angela guarding the jewels for David Webb.

Richard Helms, the former director of the CIA was then US ambassador to Tehran (George HW Bush was CIA Director). Mr. and Mrs. Helms attended the gala fashion show and dinner in the Darya-I-Nur grand ballroom. And so did Farideh Diba, the mother of the empress. The event was organized in cooperation with the International Women's Club to benefit Tehran's Children's Convalescent Home.

On the menu was Virginia wild duckling and woodcock terrine marinated in port and brandy; "Great West" beef broth with marrow and sourdough dumplings; New England poached salmon; classic San Francisco chicken with mushrooms and wild rice; New Orleans cherries jubilee with bourbon ice cream; Pennsylvania Dutch miniature shoofly pie -- plus a selection of wines from Napa Valley. Dancing followed.

[US Ambassador Richard Helms at the Tehran Hilton fashion gala]

We did shows in Kuwait as well -- at the American Embassy and at the Equestrian Club, which became headquarters briefly for the US Joint Information Bureau during the Gulf War, a war I covered for Newsday's editorial pages and The Economist. I revisited the Equestrian Club the day of the last battle for Kuwait, the club had been trashed by the Iraq army.

[In Bill Blass, Kuwait Equestrian Club, 1976]

Why not return to the days of real cultural exchange with Iran and other countries of the region, a time when beauty trumped bombs?