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This year, Yigal Azrouël is celebrating the 20th anniversary of his eponymous clothing label. Since his first collection was presented in 1998, the designer has cultivated a dedicated following for his collections that are largely inspired by art, architecture, and travel.
Over the past two decades, the designer has also seen many changes in the industry, like the shift in preferences and what our culture is paying more attention to. The biggest change, he said, was the way consumers are shopping. “It’s about looking for a special item to add to your wardrobe—something with a unique story behind it that you can connect to,” said Azrouël.
One thing, however, has stayed the same, and that is the Yigal Azrouël-wearing woman. “She is confident and has appreciation for design and the arts, though not necessarily follows the trend,” he added. “She likes to look good in an effortless way with an edge.”
In celebration of the milestone, Whitewall spoke with Azrouël about the past 20 years, working with artists, and the brand’s new Fall/Winter 2018 collection.
WHITEWALL: How did you get your start in fashion?
YIGAL AZROUEL: I arrived in New York in the late 1990s and wanted to study architecture. While I was looking for a job, I started experimenting on my sister’s sewing machine and taught myself how to sew. I went to a local fabric shop where I found a very simple black knit fabric—jersey. I started to drape and then sketch, and ended up creating ten pieces. I also went to flea markets to shop and to get inspired by old vintage clothing. I would deconstruct them to see how they were made before reconstructing them.
A friend introduced me to a multi brand showroom in 1998, and as a result, my first customer was Barneys and my first runway show was in Fall 2000.
WW: Can you tell us a bit about that first collection?
YA: My first collection launched in the late 1990s and was inspired by rock and roll, especially the style of David Bowie.
I was very focused on creating a collection that would attract the eye with interesting fabrications and silhouettes that were feminine and had a minimalistic feel with edge.
WW: Do you have a favorite collection?
YA: Every collection becomes my favorite, as I always take what I have created and learned from the past and deconstruct it. It’s a constant evolution.
I’m always looking back and using elements to use the DNA to move forward, which is what I did even on a larger scale this season to celebrate the anniversary using luxe fabrications such as cashmere, fille coupe, leather, fur, silk charmeuse, and jersey with top stitching and mixed metal hardware.
WW: What is, or has been, a constant inspiration to you?
YA: I get inspired by many things in my day and my life. I enjoy going to flea markets and finding vintage pieces that I take apart and then put back together. This always inspires me for my collections, especially the Fall/Winter 2018 collection. Both the process of deconstruction and drapery always inspires me and plays fundamental roles in my design aesthetic.
WW: What is an average day in the studio like for you?
YA: It changes every day. Not one day is the same for me. One day, I could be focused on experimenting with fabrics and another day could be sketching ideas for my next collection or researching inspirations. It’s a process that is always evolving and my mind has to think in the present, the past, and the future simultaneously. Once we finish one collection, we begin the next while the current collection is hitting the stores.
WW: Tell us a bit about collaborating with artists. What is that process like?
YA: I always collaborate with the world of art and architecture. Besides collaborating with the Guggenheim, I have partnered with a variety of artists and photographers from different backgrounds and techniques. A few of the artists I have partnered with on previous collections are Robbie Fimmano and Dror Benshitrit (who I worked with for my Spring 2018 Collection) and Yelena Yemchuk (who is both an artist and a photographer).
WW: Tell us a bit about your most recent collection, Fall/Winter 2018. What was your inspiration behind it? What are some special notes?
YA: It will kick off the 20th anniversary in that it is inspired by many of my iconic pieces from over the years. I researched my own archives and modernized pieces that I love. I also created a limited-edition capsule collection for the anniversary which will have a special logo and hangtag.
WW: Do you have a modern-day muse?
YA: I don’t have one particular person, although Francoise Hardy has been my muse from the beginning. Francoise, a musician, and exudes confidence, elegance, and style. My muse is the confident woman who is free to be true to herself and express herself. Women are versatile, and my modern-day muse is in touch with all sides of her character, whether it’s feminine or masculine, soft or strong, wild or conservative.
WW: Looking back, what are some of your favorite moments from the past 20 years?
YA: It’s hard to say which were my favorite moments as it is the work in progress to create a collection that I love. I’ve been fortunate to collaborate with the Guggenheim and ballet dancers, creating a unique outfit with the DNA of my brand. I’ve brought my collection to life with incredible photographers, stylists, models, and actors such as Naomi Campbell, Maria Carla, and Alek Wek.
WW: What advice would you have for young designers?
YA: Follow your dream, listen to your heart and passion, and be disciplined. It’s important to be open and make your own decisions, though also important to choose one direction and master it. I design clothes for women not necessarily by what the trend dictates. While it can inspire, create your own path.
You can’t be everything to everyone.
WW: What do you hope to accomplish over the next five years?
YA: I would like to continue what I am doing and also mentor the new generation. In the past, I have worked closely with SCAD, as well as the Academy of Arts in San Francisco. I am currently working with FIT, as well, to help students. This has become a passion and there will be more collaborations with emerging designers as a part of the anniversary year, as well.