Alvaro Castejon and Arnauld Maillard of Azzaro are prepareing the fashion house’s first runway show in three decades.
Alvaro Castejon, one half of the freshly installed creative team at Azzaro, was at his atelier on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore in Paris, France, standing before a board plastered with photographs of big cats.
“The inspiration is the black panther,” he said, alluding to a new collection, designed with his partner, Arnaud Maillard, that is to be shown on Thursday at the Hotel Le Marois. “Symbolising the seduction that every woman has inside. It comes out especially at night, when she’s ready to hunt.”
But though long associated with glamorous nightlife, the brand has rather been facing a prolonged “morning after” period since its namesake founder, Loris Azzaro, died at 70 in 2003. The business was taken over by Vanessa Seward, one of his former assistants, who introduced a bridal collection (Azzaro had been known for dressing sybaritic pleasure-seekers of the 1960s and 1970s) and expanded the perfume portfolio, including one, in 2006, with the perhaps infelicitous name Jetlag (base notes of turbine fuel, perhaps?).
Yet another fragrance, two years later, was called simply Couture: a term with which Azzaro is not alone in having a complicated relationship. Azzaro was never a member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, which “looked upon him with something approaching condescension,” wrote Jeromine Savignon, the fashion historian, in a 2011 monograph published by Assouline.
But the Tunis-born and Italian-educated designer nonetheless memorably and meticulously custom-spangled some of the most elite members of society and show business, including Sophia Loren, Claudia Cardinale, Maria Callas, Raquel Welch and Liza Minnelli, who wore an Azzaro backless purple crepe dress to belt out the title number in Bob Fosse’s 1972 film Cabaret.
The new show, the first in 30 years for the fashion house, is not on this season’s official calendar. Yet the legacy of technique at Azzaro, owned since 2006 by the Reig Capital Group of Andorra, is evident both in the workrooms of the atelier, where veteran artisans were bent over tape measures, scissors and sewing machines; and the chrome, black-and-white showroom, where models were arriving one by one for double-cheek kisses and last-minute fittings and where garments, some shrouded in plastic bags, lay in wait.
A few of them featured the Elsa Schiaparelli-like touch of beaded paws over the shoulder or animalistic “tears” in the fabric. (Schiaparelli’s granddaughter, the actress Marisa Berenson, was an aficionado of Azzaro in his heyday.)
Another had a bodice decorated with heavy reflective chunks – alluding to the Lady of Shanghai-like profusion of looking glasses in the room, Castejon said. “Let’s break the mirrors and start again.” But isn’t that bad luck?
He grinned nervously and unsheathed long, narrow gowns – “always with cut-outs or mesh”; short leather jackets with abstracted animal prints; and pantsuits with so many pleated chiffon “tails” that they that could pass for dresses. This was fierce fashion, of the sort Angelina Jolie might wear to flash her long legs on the red carpet. “Hopefully!” a publicist said.
During Seward’s stewardship (she is now with A.P.C.), Nicole Kidman, Natalie Portman and Kate Winslet all wore the brand. But the new creative directors suggested that they were after a different breed of celebrity beast.
“The Azzaro woman, you’re kind of afraid of her, but at the same time you want to touch her,” Castejon said as the shyer Maillard hung back, flexing a dramatic metal belt in his hands. Both men have worked for Karl Lagerfeld, who perhaps better than anyone exemplifies how a fashion brand – in his case, Chanel – can be not only revived but burnished to an almost blinding degree.
But it is yet to be determined whether Azzaro has a hope of becoming a well-tended flame like Chanel, Dior and the once-declared-dead Lanvin; or whether it is doomed to sputter, turning on and off over the years, the way Schiaparelli has.
If anything is given to stretching out claws, after all, it is the fickle finger of fashion. — International New York Times