All photos by Erin Leydon.
It is said that Loris Azzaro wanted to "make dresses that women put on and that men take away from them". For me that sentence pretty much summarizes up the entire driving force behind the Azzaro aesthetic.
Azzaro is one of those vintage labels whose cost is high, and seems only to get higher with each passing year, and whose pieces are hard to find. Information on Azzaro is scant, perhaps because he remained small and exclusive, but I did manage to dig up a little information from the French version of Wikipedia. It gives us a small glimpse into his decadent world:
"In the 1970s, Loris Azzaro introduced his silk jerseys, his draped dresses. He opened a shop in Saint-Tropez, dressed Brigitte Bardot, and invented dresses in lurex mesh and chains for Tina Turner and Liza Minnelli (in the film Cabaret ). Ever pomp in his daily life: he arrives in a Rolls Royce convertible, has apartments in luxury unheard of, and spends his evenings entertaining the jet set. Marisa Berenson becomes his muse and poses for Vogue in her Hollywood apartment..."
In November 1970 Azzaro moved his couture house to 65 Rue du Fauborg-Saint Honore and soon the stars of the day were flocking to his atelier. Claudia Cardinale, Jane Birkin, Sophia Loren and Raquel Welch are all regular clients. By the late 1980s the house was largely forgotten but for a few loyal Hollywood stars and his designs continued to appear on the red carpet. In 2003 Mr Azzaro passed away at the age of 70, and the house has floundered somewhat since. However, just this very season the house celebrated its 50th year and the Azzaro SS17 Couture collection was a tribute to the house's most iconic dresses. It was presented under the eyes and direction of Italian fashion model, actress and socialite, Bianca Brandolini and Eugénie Niarchos who designs the jewellery line Venyx. What the future will hold for the house remains to be seen but with girls like this involved who are a part of the new jet set club, I have high hopes. Though I will never lose my love for the originals.
I love finding Loris Azzaro pieces despite the sad fact that I rarely do. I think they are the type of pieces that women really hold onto and treasure. Prying these out of their hands is like pulling teeth. I often will see one at a buying appointment and be told "no, not that one". Money offered makes no difference and neither does shameless begging. These are pieces not given up lightly. I have a few examples in the shop now including this brand new, just listed today, red pant and top set that I am wearing here. I swear these columns are good for my tendency to hoard vintage soul. Its like wearing them and playing dress up for the day allows me to actually let them go out and into the world instead of me becoming the exact woman I describe above and say "no, no, not that one" when I pull from my archives for the shop pages.
There is just something about Azzaro pieces. They are sexual but not overtly so. They are dramatic but not too much. They are incredible well made and cut. They make you feel glamorous and fabulous and sexy. You know you are going to get attention in one but not the wrong kind of attention. He designed for impact and the way he saw the world and woman was part and parcel of that. The proof comes from his own words. Just read these quotes I found from him and see if they don't tell you everything:
"I know how women secretly dream to dress"
"I have always said that eroticism in my dresses and I think, if a woman is beautiful, good for her, but if we can make her provocative, good for men"
"Fashion is closely linked to eroticism. Adornment has always served love"
Don't those and the quote I started with tell you everything about him and his clothing? He was a man who loved women and he would definitely not be politically correct in our modern world with the way he saw a woman, her body and how she should dress. He was hyper-sexual and his clothing perfectly defines that attitude and that era. The reasons a woman wants to dress this way may have changed but how good his clothes can make you look did not.
I dream about stumbling across a hidden hoard of them. It felt right to pair them with these insane Gucci sunglasses with their glittering frames. Drama with drama. Glitz with glitz.
When I headed outside for this shoot it was freezing and I ran back into my studio and grabbed this little Hanae Mori kimono that I also have just posted today. It ended up beside the Azzaro on the rack where I keep the items waiting for their turn to go up on the What's New page of the shop. It seemed a match made in heaven when I put them together. I have a few of these kimonos by her in my personal vintage closet and I wear them to death. It is rare if you don't see me with one sitting on my shoulders at an event. They have a beautiful flow and drape and are light and easy to throw over other pieces. The big kimono cut sleeves have room for the sleeve of the dress you are wearing underneath. Which means your dress or top sleeve is not squished, flattened and wrinkled before you even take off your coat. Or, if you have full sleeves on your dress, the kimono sleeve keeps your arms looking like you have stuffed fabric into your sleeves. Who after all wants ones arms to look like stuffed sausages under your evening coat? I have worn my Hanae kimonos to the beach, out at night, in the morning and out for the evening. They have traveled with me all over the world and have kept me warm on planes when I forget to bring a light blanket. I have belted them to wear and at other times have used a dramatic pin to keep them closed so they can double as a dress in fashion emergencies. The options are endless. I only list them when I find doubles of the ones I have or if the colors don't suit me. It's a must have item in my closet and once you find out just how versatile they are and what wear you will get out of it, they will be a must have for you as well.
I also loved the contrast between the two designers and their signature looks. Hanae is from Japan and she is the only Japanese woman to have presented her collections on the runways of Paris and New York. She was the first Asian woman to be admitted as an official Haute Couture design house by the "Fédération Française de la Couture in France. Her fashion house, which opened in Japan in 1951, grew to become a $500 million international business by the 1990s. (I have written about her extensively before - find that here). If I dream about finding a stash of Azzaro, in that same dream there would be a door at the end of the room where hundreds of Azzaro pieces hang and that door would open into a equally huge hoard of Hanae Mori pieces. I get obsessive about her work and for good reason. It is amazing.
Hanae could not be farther away from Azzaro in terms of her aesthetic. Where Azzaro was slinky jersey and sexy cut-outs, Hanae is feather light silk chiffon, east-meets-west kimonos and gowns and her signature butterflies. Which is exactly why I love the two together. The contrast is always where the interest lies for me. The common elements is the color and the weight of the fabrics. After that, everything gets a little more interesting when you start to mix and match and throw out the rules.
I have a few other amazing Azzaro pieces in the shop - explore that collection here including this red set. Of course I am always looking for Hanae pieces as well. The current pieces I have are available here. Check back often on both as I always look for amazing examples of their work