Since a change of government in 2013, Iran has softened its approach to the West and has seen its tourism industry rise from the ashes as a result.
It was thanks to the impeccable timing of Ramita Navai’s 2014 book City of Lies, which offers a portrait of Tehran today, that I arrived ready for its monuments of modern culture: the upscale shopping malls filled with Western brands, the hypermarkets, the £400 tablet computers brought in through Turkey and Dubai, the fancy cars and the twentysomething Iranian girls of north Tehran, pushing boundaries with their painted fingernails, heavy make-up and leggings.
Navai’s central character is Vali Asr Street, and Tehranis feel passionately about it. ‘When I am travelling for too long, the one thing I miss is Vali Asr Street,’ explained a city-dweller. One of the longest roads in the world, Vali Asr divides the east and west of the city. As it snakes south to north, winding up in the Alborz mountains, the street charts the changing personalities of Tehran.
The south is home to the more religious and traditional working and middle classes, the north to Tehran’s elite and its successful business owners. This manifests sartorially: the affordable dress shops with their conservative styles of the southern stretch turn further north into boutiques which would give pause to any seasoned traveller. You might almost mistake it for Paris.