With their waxed moustaches, precision-clipped beards and dapper clothes, members of the Mr. Erbil gentleman’s club look like the smarter residents of Brooklyn or Shoreditch.
But rather than the hipster neighborhoods of New York or London, this is Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region—just 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the grim battle to drive Islamic State fighters from their last bastion in the country.
Although an oasis of calm in a country torn apart by war since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, Erbil has been unable to provide its young people with the opportunities they crave, say the men who set up their club last year to change that.
“When we started we were in a bad situation, economic crisis and then an expected war against ISIS (Islamic State),” said Goran Pshtiwan, 26, wearing a three-piece suit and custom-made moccasins decorated with the club’s logo – without socks, naturally.
“There was no business activity so we started with the idea to gather and make something different and unique and change the look of the people and the way that they are thinking.”
As well as regular meetings where they dress in different styles, from smart casual to black tie and traditional Ottoman-time attire, the club aims to support local tailors and craftsmen who help make their outfits.
Accessorized with purple-trimmed handkerchiefs, pocket watch chains and selfie-sticks, the men, in their 20s and 30s, hold photoshoots at local beauty spots, posting the results on Instagram where they have more than 60,000 followers.
The buzz has surprised co-founder Omer Nihad, a 28-year-old former stock trader, who said Star Trek actor George Takei, who has more than 2 million Twitter followers, had mentioned the club.
A recent video they shot received 5 million views, he said.
While a boy’s only club, Mr. Erbil uses its internet platform to promote women who are working to improve rights and opportunities for girls.
The group has about 40 members and is receiving so many requests that the founders are considering toughening the admission requirements which already set demanding standards for fashion taste.
Nihad said the club aimed to launch its own clothing brand, set up a shop and collaborate with fashion houses. And he would love to see Mr. Erbil featured in a high fashion magazine.
“Of course, we don’t want to be on the front page,” he said. “It is okay if we were in the middle!”