Two passions drive Yigal Azrouël—in late June he had just returned from indulging in one of them, and you could see his mood shift to instant relaxation in the middle of his New York studio as he discussed his latest adventure. “There’s this beautiful spot between Playa Avellana and Playa Negra in an area called Guanacaste, where the surf is absolutely beautiful, perfect beach breaks,” he says. “One of my closest friends built a house there about 10 years ago, and I fell in love with it.”
An avid shortboard surfer since the age of 6, Azrouël is currently building a home in this secluded section of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, situated along the Pacific coast and showcased in that ode to surfdom, The Endless Summer II. “I have visited a lot of beaches all over the world, but this is the only place that reminds me of my childhood and how I used to surf as a kid,” says this 36-year-old designer, who was raised by a French mother and Moroccan father in the Israeli port town of Ashdod, located south of Tel Aviv. “My parents still have their house on the beach there. I used to run away from school and go surfing.” He pauses and smiles: “I was a bad kid.”
Of course, it’s the second passion in Azrouël’s life that enables him to fuel the first. In recent seasons his women’s collection has vaulted to the top of everyone’s must-have list, largely for its accent on draping, which has become the self-trained designer’s signature. “I always start from draping because I like the surprise of it, the sense of the unexpected,” he says. “When you sit down and sketch you have an idea of where a design is going. But when you drape, every fabric reacts differently, it falls in its own unique way. Sometimes I’ll walk away from it, leave a design on the mannequin for a couple hours or maybe a couple of days. When I come back to it, I always see something I didn’t see before.”
There’s a stricter feel about Azrouël’s Fall 2009 collection, which he says was decidedly intentional. “I wanted something a bit more dark and romantic, a little bit more rock ’n’ roll or punk,” he explains. “She’s a little bit more edgy. For me it was this big picture of, How can I take a rock ’n’ roll girl and make her chic and luxurious at the same time?”
This idea is revealed in the simplicity of a wool-and-cashmere ivory sheath, devoid of drippy details but artful in its cut. Yet where Azrouël excels in this collection is in the balance of drape and structure, such as a grouping of Miami-friendly cocktail dresses, including a one-shoulder version in lustrous eggplant satin, subtly gathered at the sides both for shape and to create a devastatingly luxe effect when hit by light. A grouping of wraps—you can call them coats, but they’re really voluminous knit pieces, meant to envelop you in warmth and luxury—also are among the most successful looks, especially when paired over slim wool pants and silk-charmeuse blouses. Another standout in the collection is also its most textural, a leather skirt that upon closer inspection is crafted entirely of laser-cut leather disks, which Azrouël playfully refers to as paillettes in his show notes.
“It’s a very organic process,” he says. “I’m inspired most by the fabric, because I don’t know where it’s going to take me. I also love to wash fabrics to give them softness and an interesting texture; there’s a jersey fabric that’s among my favorites to use, and the more you wash it, the softer it becomes. With that leather skirt, I started cutting the paillettes in different sizes and building on the idea, then I washed them to bring out this really interesting texture. Because of that, I knew the paillettes had to have a really sharp edge, so I sent them out to be laser cut.”
Last year Azrouël celebrated a decade since he launched his label; he notes that he’d like to do more accessories, especially shoes, under his own label (currently he designs for Walter Steiger, while past collaborations include Manolo Blahnik). There’s also his men’s collection—“That’s super-personal, everything I design for our men’s line is something I’d wear,” he says—and down the road Azrouël also would be into designing interior pieces and home accessories, “a small collection of interesting tables and chairs, or a great cashmere blanket, which would really make sense for me.”
But he’s in no hurry, he adds. Until the time is right, the surf also beckons. “I’ll probably head out to Montauk this weekend,” Azrouël mentions just prior to the July 4th holiday. “The waves are OK out there this time of year; they’re much better in September, when the hurricane season starts churning things up. But what I like about fashion is also what I like about surfing: Every wave is different. It’s all about the surprise.”