Dressed in a chic silver two-piece ensemble, her shoulder-length hair perfectly parted in the middle and styled to create a sleek look, Datin Azila Caramella welcomes us into her tastefully decorated home, playfully shooing one of her six adorable exotic cats into the kitchen.
During our shoot, the founder of Caramel Fashion Scarves poses like a pro at the foot of the staircase, a wall of photos on her left serving as a quaint backdrop.
Later, after a quick touchup by makeup artist Bosco and a change of attire into a beautiful Fiziwoo piece, we move outdoors for a few greenery-filled shots.
Azila, who is married to British businessman Datuk Marco Ronaldo Mario Caramella and with whom she has three kids, has always had a keen interest in fashion, and is often spotted at swanky events, impeccably dressed from head to toe with makeup done immaculately.
She put her passion for the industry to good three years ago when she founded her scarves brand, and has gone on to collaborate with Farah Khan founder Datuk Seri Farah Khan on a limited edition scarf series inspired by gardens of the world.
“I’ve worked in the hotel line in the past, and this gave me the experience of working with people which is an important part of managing your own business,” says Azila, who studied fashion design at Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM).
Like many businesses, the Covid-19 pandemic posed a challenge for the brand, but she has taken it in her stride and accepts it as a learning process.
“The main goal is to never give up. Yes, of course it affected our business since we are in retail, we have a boutique in a shopping mall and during the period of lock down we didn’t make any money from the boutique.
“But we kept going, doing the best we could through online marketing. We cut back on the quantity of printing and slowed down a bit on production side. We reduced scarf drops but still ensured we had a monthly drop of new designs and we used creative marketing methods, for example, using the title character from Emily In Paris as inspiration, pairing her modern style with our scarves,” explains Azila.
For the upcoming Raya season, the brand is releasing a collection inspired by the very city the character Emily resides.
“The brand’s Raya collection for 2022, Jardin de Caramel Raya 2.0, is inspired by the City of Love and is meant to evoke the feel of the Parisian Gardens with its blooming florals and beautiful creepy-crawlies,” explains Azila.
The collection depicts vibrant flora and fauna as well as some insects on soft and flowy chiffon voile, a material that is perfect for styling and comfortable to wear in very humid weather.
“The material is suitable for all face shapes. And chiffon voile is not the type that wrinkles easily,” she adds. “Exclusive designs that are created by our in-house designer draw inspiration from our very first collection, when the brand first started out, how we managed to make it modern and effortlessly stylish.”
The couple own the popular eatery La Boca Latino Bar in Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, and they are opening a new restaurant in Setia Eco park soon.
“I am passionate about cooking, I cook for the whole family, and my children keep asking me to open a restaurant,” says Azila. “The new restaurant will have a few types of cuisine like western, steamboat, Thai and Korean. The idea for the decor is what I like the most, it’ll be like a garden.”
Azila’s drive to stay motivated and passionate in her endeavours stems from a deep-rooted feeling of never wanting to be a burden to anyone.
“I have always wanted to be independent and of course, my husband also constantly motivates me. When I see success in my work, I feel even more inspired.
“It’s not easy to be successful as a woman, mother, wife and entrepreneur,” she adds. “I have to make the extra effort to learn, to always improve in both work and my personal life. The ups and down in business also make me stronger and more independent, and they allow me to better prepare for the future.”
Running her business, the household and caring for her three kids definitely take up the majority of her days, which is why Azila carves out time for herself to recharge and regroup.
“I love exercising and socialising with friends and getting to know people I meet. I find this to be a learning process for me, to see how others overcome challenges and become successful. It motivates me to become a strong and independent businesswoman.”
A time for family The Raya season has been pretty muted for most these past two years, due to measures taken to keep Covid-19 at bay, and Azila looks forward to gathering with her whole family this year.
The most recent Raya celebrations have been through Zoom calls, having gifts delivered to their parents and exchanging pictures.
“Hopefully we can all gather at my home town in Taiping, Perak. To me, Raya is about family, and celebrating in my hometown, the feeling is different and I feel blessed to be in a place I feel like I belong, ever since I was a kid.
“What I look forward to most is having long chit-chats with everyone, sharing about our lives and current goings-on.”
She also finds that her kids really appreciate and look forward to the balik kampung experience.
“Of course, it’s very different for them because they have lived their whole lives here, but they love to be in my hometown and experience the culture and people from the village,” relates Azila.
One of her most treasured Raya memories is a big celebration they hosted five years ago, when they decided to hold a big open house event with a live band.
“More than 3,000 people came! It was wonderful,” she recalls.
In the month leading up to Raya, Azila treasures the season of Ramadan.
“Of course, as Muslims we regard Ramadan as a holy month when we fast and then we get together to break fast. It’s a lovely time and I value the togetherness we experience as a family,” she quips.
Reflection is also a big part of the process, and Azila has much to think back on and to feel grateful for.
“Yes, things have changed a lot for me in the past few years. Three years ago, I was a full-time housewife, and when I started my business, everything changed and my time had to be divided.
This year, as the business recovers from the effects of the pandemic, Azila is looking ahead and putting together a strategy to improve things.
“I’m hopeful that things will work out. Let’s see how this year goes,” she says.