There have been a multitude of things for designers to panic about this fashion week — the weather, the unintentional photobombs, the prospect of their shows turning into platforms for Twitter trolls.
At least one man seems impervious to it all. A week before his New York Fashion Week show, Yigal Azrouel was the picture of zen. In his bamboo and slate adorned midtown Manhattan studio, he prepared models being photographed for his fall 2013 lookbook, patting down a pony hair blazer, pulling at the peplum of a form-fititng white shift, tucking hair behind ears and lifting it out of shirt backs.
Happy lounge music bounced off the walls. After adjusting a model to his liking, Azrouel, casually rumpled in slim jeans and a navy blue henley, would stride over to a trio of women from his marketing and sales team, who cooed over details like the flounce of an eggplant-colored dress and resumed chatting about their weekend plans when he ducked away to prep the next look.
The most stressed out people in the room appeared to be the photographers shooting the lookbook, and even they reigned in their anxiety to arched eyebrows and hard glares.
“That’s not my personality,” Azrouel said about pre-show anxiety. “If I’m not ready by now, I should’ve …” he laughed and shook his head. “It’s my life. I live this. I work this 24/7. And I have an amazing team that works with me.”
The “Project Runway” style of panic has never resonated with Azrouel, an Israeli-American designer who launched his first collection more than ten years ago with no formal training. His clothes have courted celebrities like Rihanna, Kristen Stewart, and Scarlett Johansson, along with a slew of women who are attracted not just to his clean lines and body-conscious silhouettes but also to his scruffy good looks and lilting French-Moroccan voice.
In 2009, he was rumored to have played a part in the breakup of Billy Joel and Katie Lee Joel. His admirers include a number of Manhattan socialites. If you’re wondering about his type, perhaps it’s the kind of woman he envisions in his clothes.
“She’s not trying very hard, she’s not a showy girl, she’s somebody who — she is who she is,” he said. “She wears the clothes and it elevates her, it gives her a platform to extend her personality.”
His latest collection was inspired by “the idea of mystery — something that you want to have but you can’t get.” Mystery manifests itself edge-of-indecent mesh panels, unexpected zippers and lots of leather. “Who don’t want to look like that, right?” he quipped, slipping a model into blazer with pony hair sleeves.
He told a story about an encounter with Gwyneth Paltrow. “I had lunch with Gwyneth last year because she’s a friend of a friend,” he said. “I went to see her casually and I introduced myself and she said, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe it, I have so many things of your stuff and I buy,’ and she turned red.”
Azrouel laughed again. “I really appreciate fashion. My woman can be anybody that has style. It’s not about a famous celebrity, but of course it helps.”
Bold-faced names descended on his Feb. 8 show at Chelsea’s Highline Stages despite the wind-swept flurries that were working their way into a full blown blizzard. Half an hour before showtime, Azrouel talked with the models backstage, smiling while he wrung his hands and ran them frequently through his hair. Uninvited, nerves had shown up anyway.
His team dressed the three dozen models fast and furiously. The scene was its own kind of performance art: Limbs twisting, bobby pins flying, cell phone flashes strobing. Azrouel stepped quickly around each woman, tamping down flyaways and flattening lapels. One model smiled as he smoothed her hair. (Hair, his own and others, is something his hands often find their way to.)
Azrouel stepped to the back as his army paraded out, directed by a woman with a headset and a man who urged the models to “walk strong.” He burst out for the finale, bounding down the runway to cheers from backstage, coming back to embrace everyone he could get his hands on.
“It worked out, everything was fine, the girls, the casting, the snow,” he said. In place of nerves shone a sheen of sweat (blame glee, or maybe the lights). “You do what you have to do. You have to trust. We did the best that we can.”