For Yigal Azrouël, reaching the American dream was a quick journey whose first step was following his passion.
A French-Moroccan designer from Israel, Azrouël launched his women’s line in New York in 1998, showed at New York Fashion Week two years later and was inducted into the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2004.
Not bad for someone who's self-taught.
Quietly developing a large following, Azrouël produces 70 percent of his pieces in New York, and his collections now include small lines of menswear and accessories—particularly scarves, which he’s often seen wearing. His designs are sold at all local Saks Fifth Avenue stores.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Very modern. The idea of masculine and feminine always takes place in my design process. I like a look that is sexy but not necessarily revealing. It’s about wearing less. I barely show any jewelry, ever. It’s very clean.
How does your spring collection differ from your past work?
It is more modern, a little more laid back—very “California ’hood” inspired. The models had flat shoes on. Maybe it wasn’t commercial, but I was looking at me as a designer, what I’m attracted to.
You used interesting prints and textures, like knits and crochets. One that stands out is a python print. Can you tell us about it?
It’s actually a python jacquard. I took pictures of a python, and then I created a jacquard. I tried to create this beautiful texture. It was laser-cut and is kind of a motorcycle look done on a python skin.
What was your inspiration for the collection?
When I do my board for inspiration, I collect some images from my travels. [But] it’s a combination of a lot of things. It’s a work in progress. When I start to work on a collection, I don’t know what I’m doing. I start to evolve, and then I try to be very consistent and make the story. I’m creating my own inspiration when I’m working on a collection.
Who is the Yigal Azrouël woman?
She’s modern, she’s fashion-forward. She’s not somebody looking at the trends; she’s somebody who looks at herself and feels good. She’s confident.
One of my biggest muses ever is Francoise Hardy. She’s a French singer from the ’60s. She was there when she needed to be there, not just putting herself out there. I like that. You live the real thing. You’re not there to show and impress others. It’s not what I do. Some people don’t even know what I look like. [Clients tell me,] “Oh, I thought you were a girl.”
I think the most important thing is that the woman who wears the clothes has to feel that’s what she wants to look like. It’s not because there’s a brand behind it.
Tell us about your design process.
I think about the woman. I really inject the energy. I’m not just making a beautiful dress. I’m thinking about how she can feel good when she wears it. I’ve been told, “Wow, it feels so good inside and out,” which is nice to hear. ...
We do unique pieces because of the way I create it. I’m not just sitting there pulling some drawing to a manufacturer. We create most of it in New York City. I think the energy of New York is there.
I’d love to get to know more of my customers. When you get to meet them, to me, it makes a big difference. I do believe in the energy. It’s like buying a painting and knowing who painted it.
Tell us about your interest in scarves.
It’s something I personally wear. You can do so much with it. All our scarves are limited-edition; we sign and date them. I like that when you look at the print, you don’t even know what it is. [Some are personal photos] of friends, or surfing.
You’ve been surfing since you were 6. How do you inject your passion for surfing into your work?
When I go surfing, I’m meditating and getting the energy to start a new collection. Actually 10 days ago, I was in Costa Rica surfing for over a week. It inspires me. I sort of cleanse myself and start fresh and new.
Your success came very quickly. What’s it like to look back on where you are now?
I don’t really think about it as much. I’m very fortunate to do what I love, and I want to do so much more. The collection’s doing good, and I have a really great following. [But] I want to change. It’s part of life.
What’s next for you?
I want to create more lifestyle looks. I’d like to collaborate with artists, because they inspire me. And continue to surf.