A giant, racy-red motorised stiletto is not what you expect to see cruising down the avenues of Iran’s capital but it certainly attracts attention, and business, for intrepid shoe-shine man “Aliwaxima”.
In conservative Tehran, where Islamic morality police still mount patrols, 42-year-old Aliwaxima proudly plies his trade unhindered, in his coquettish scooter.
“I am the only shoe shine man in the country who works from his vehicle,” says Mohammad Ali Hassan Khani, his real name, who could pass for a bespoke tailor on Savile Row with his immaculate shirt, sober tie and — of course –spick-and-span loafers.
He even has fans in this city of near 13 million residents little used to public flights of fancy like his motorised high-heel.
Be they on foot, car or motorcycle, people stop in awe and clamour for selfies both in and outside the three-wheeled fibreglass stiletto.
“Eight years ago, I decided to create a vehicle from which to propose my services as a shoe shiner,” he explained, in language as elegant as his dress.
His business moniker merges his name and the English word “wax” tweaked into an Iranian superlative to give “Aliwaxima”, the man who gives the best shine.
In sync with digital times, Ali has customer service 2.0 down pat. He carries a mobile phone, of course, for client calls but also has an Internet site, an Instagram account and a Facebook page — with scores and scores of friends — featuring his red high heel as the cover photo.
Daringly, he has displayed these addresses on his vehicle, notably the one for Facebook, a site officially blocked in Iran — though residents bypass the ban by downloading VPNs, networks that can transfer information via secure servers in other countries.
And on the driver’s side is the understated slogan: “The first shoe shape car in Iran”.
“It’s wonderful,” raved an onlooker spotting Aliwaxima for the first time while another asked if it was an ad for a brand of shoes.
After working the streets of central Tehran for 18 years, Ali is, however, known to many.
– Women clients now –
“At first, I had a simple, three-wheel motorised scooter. Then I gave it the form of a man’s loafer. Three months ago I decided to change this to a red high heel,” he says.
“And I have a lot more clients since. More than 1,500 people follow me on Instagram.
“Before, I had mainly men clients but now I also have women clients encouraging me.”
The idea came from abroad after Ali saw pictures of giant shoes used to advertise shoeshine stands. “But they were not motorised,” he notes with a mischievous glance behind his dark glasses.
It took him two-and-a-half months to build the red stiletto shape and “people adore my vehicle. They love to sit in it and take photos.”
It also turned into a wise — and lucrative — business move.
“I have all sorts of new requests. I’ve already been asked to five marriages. The newlyweds have their pictures taken in my car.
“For weddings, I get paid five million rials,” a handy sum at $140 (120 euros) compared to what Ali says is his usual take of “700,000 rials ($20 ) a day” — still more than the usual worker’s average daily pay of $15.
When asked if police have ever bothered him or tried to prevent him from working, Ali lets out a big laugh.
“The police, they’re the first ones to want to have their picture taken in my car!” he says.
And his next plan?
Though he doesn’t speak a word of French, his big dream is to work in France, to drive his red stiletto down the Champs-Elysees in Paris where — even in the city of no holds barred — he would likely attract attention also.