See Unexpected Photos of Central Asian Style

Nilofar, 26, wears a traditional embroidered Tajik dress. Photo: Narisa Ladak

What does fashion look like in Central Asia and the Middle East? It’s a question rooted in many identities, with growing Western influences in the Middle East: Dolce & Gabbana recently released its first-ever hijab and abaya line, while fashion houses like DKNY and Oscar de la Renta entered the market with special Ramadan collections last summer.

In her portfolio “Pamiri Girl,” photographer-artist Narisa Ladak captures traditional clothing worn by women of Pamir, Tajikistan. The women in these portraits immigrated to New York and Toronto, where Ladak photographed them wearing traditional Pamiri and Tajik clothing: kurta dresses in brilliant reds and whites, pechak hairpieces braided into their hair, and sifc beaded necklaces. All of the clothing is handmade, embroidered, and patterned in vibrant colors, and much of the fabric is silky or velvet.

Tajikistan’s Pamiri ethnic group lives in the Pamir Mountains that border Afghanistan, where Ladak met many Tajik women while working in telecommunications there for two years. Ladak was drawn to the women for their grace but also personally: Like most Pamiris and her “Pamiri Girl” subjects, Ladak is part of the Shia Ismaili sect of Islam. Pamiri women are known to have more freedom than Tajik women: They eschew veiled clothing and often participate in public gatherings as men would.

“I was intrigued by how modern these women were, and how their culture and customs were so heavily influenced by the historical rule of their country by the Soviet Union until 1991,” Ladak, who is from Toronto, says. “I wondered how their culture interacted with Islam in a place so physically close to a conservative country like Afghanistan, yet a place so far away in terms of ideologies and customs.”

Click ahead to see the portraits and hear from each woman, who told Ladak the stories behind their clothing.

This article has been updated to show that Tajikistan is located in Central Asia, not the Middle East.