By: Maja Von Horn
Photography: Drew Escriva
Her eclectic style and love of all things vintage have made Jen Azoulay — Los Angeles-based French creative director and founder of Jen Wonders Studio — a unique voice among the fashion industry. She sat down with us to discuss Instagram, motherhood and why she’s not moving back to Paris.
Maja von Horn: Do you miss fashion weeks?
Jen Azoulay: I miss the shows and the excitement. Meeting creatives and all the effervescence around fashion is something I look forward to experiencing again. A virtual fashion week is fun, but nothing can replace real human connection.
M.v.H: During fashion weeks you were often seen wearing Chylak bags. Do you have any special memories connected with them?
J.A. All my memories wearing Chylak are during fashion weeks, it’s like an emotional blanket that you have when you are a kid. The Chylak bags give me confidence, I feel original wearing them, which is very important while I am getting photographed outside the shows. Each of these bags has a very strong memory of a look I was wearing, a special day.
M.v.H: In one of your recent Instagram Q&As you said you’re definitely not moving back to Paris. Why is that?
J.A. I was born in Paris and I know that for people who weren’t born there, Paris is a dream. However, in Los Angeles life is much easier, and I’ve gotten used to this lifestyle. I live in the Hills close to the city, but also very close to nature, with coyotes and other wild animals living around us.
M.v.H: Don’t you miss the art and culture of European cities?
J.A. When you live in Los Angeles you have to travel. Otherwise it can get pretty boring. This year was obviously different, but usually I go to Europe or New York every two months. I love to travel, but I also love coming back to my house in L.A.
M.v.H: Has Los Angeles influenced your style a lot?
J.A. When I first moved to L.A. from Paris I was 21, and didn’t have a lot of money, but I always loved fashion. I would try to find inexpensive ways of getting dressed nicely. At that time, you couldn’t find anything that would be fun, yet affordable. That’s how I discovered flea markets, and that’s where I’ve been buying clothing ever since. I still like to mix new clothes with vintage. I love how unique your style is when you wear stuff that no one else has.
M.v.H: Vintage fashion is also more sustainable. Was that one of the reasons you founded Jen Wonders Studio, a brand that sells redesigned vintage clothes?
J.A. Fifteen years ago we didn’t have as much awareness of sustainability as we do now, so back then it was all about being original, emphasizing your individuality, finding cool stuff. When you start digging into vintage fashion, you realize that nowadays they don’t make clothes in the same, elegant way. Many vintage ready-to-wear pieces look like haute couture. In the beginning, I was choosing vintage because it was cool. Then I started to realize how amazing the fit and fabric are. And later, about five years ago, everyone started talking about sustainability, about the negative effects of fast fashion. There are so many clothes in this world, I wondered, why make more? That’s when I first thought about redesigning vintage.
M.v.H.: Do you remake the pieces yourself, or do you have a team of people you work with?
J.A.: I try to do all the work by myself. Occasionally, I use a local artisan, an old lady who lives nearby, who helps me out with some of the things.
M.v.H.: Is there anything Californian girls could learn from the French when it comes to style?
J.A.: It’s funny, because I don’t have either French, or Californian style. My style is very eclectic, I like to mix extravagant and simple things. For Parisians it’s very easy to put together an outfit, it really is effortless. French style is elegant and simple, like a beautiful blazer with jeans. Californians are more laid-back. They wear sportswear everywhere, not only when they go to the gym. Cali girls wear leggings all day long, I’m not there yet. I still like clothes that have shape.
M.v.H.: Back in Paris, what was the most important lesson you learned about fashion?
J.A.: I was 18 years old when I started working at Elle magazine, with the lowest job you can get in fashion - bringing coffee, packing boxes and bags. That’s how you learn about the industry, it’s the best training. You meet different people, photographers, editors and learn from them. My advice for anyone who wants to start a career in fashion is: start at the very bottom and don’t be afraid of fetching coffee, because that’s how you learn things.
M.v.H.: After three years at Elle you moved to Los Angeles.
J.A.: I hardly spoke any English, so I wanted to learn the language and travel. In L.A. I met my husband right away and we had a baby. We decided to move back to Paris, where I started a job at Dior as a visual merchandiser, and stayed there for another seven years.
M.v.H.: Now you’re a mom of two boys, aged 13 and 7. Was it challenging to combine your career with motherhood?
J.A.: Yes, very much so. The reason why I quit the job at Dior in the middle of a great career was because I traveled too much and couldn’t see my kids at all. Women still had to make choices that men didn’t have to make. Our generation is lucky, because things have changed. When I was growing up, you had to have a big job, in a big company. Now, with social media, it’s no longer the case. You can have a career that fits your lifestyle. It’s easier to be a working mom now. The generations before us didn’t have that choice. So I made a decision to be a freelancer, finding clients through my social media, to stay home a little more. I still travel, but not as much as I used to. Back at Dior, I used to be on a plane every two weeks.
M.v.H.: Visual merchandising must have been great preparation for creating content on Instagram.
J.A.: For sure, it taught me a lot. You have to be creative, but at the same time you have to know how to sell. Instagram is all about visual aesthetics. The way you see things, the way you take photos, how you set up your background. My previous work experience has shaped my eye.
M.v.H.: What’s the dream now?
J.A.: Expanding Jen Wonders Studio. It’s not easy, and that’s the reason why so few people do it. You don’t do volume in vintage, it’s not possible to sell large quantities. Every item is one of a kind, but if the size is wrong, people don’t buy it. So from a business perspective, vintage is not very attractive to investors, because you can’t sell more than what’s already out there. But I still believe this is the future, and I’ll keep fighting for it.