It’s impossible to talk about the state of fashion in Chicago without the name Azeeza Khan immediately coming up. The designer’s namesake label extends well beyond the second city, having been worn by the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, Sophia Bush and Gabrielle Union, but has always stayed true to it’s Chicago roots. I recently caught up with Azeeza at her flagship store (900 N. Michigan) to get the scoop on what’s next for her and her gorgeous line…
What inspired you to start your own clothing line, and how did you make the transition from corporate America to fashion design?
I was born and raised in Chicago, attending Chicago Public Schools and then DePaul University where I studied Political Science and Marketing. In terms of my career, I’ve always been in a creative environment with my role as Advertising Creative Director. Having a business background has certainly paved the way for the greater business. After working for the city, and then a few years in corporate, that itch to follow my passion remained and I decided to give it a go. Of course, in this industry, nothing is ever certain so I kept my day job and funneled all earnings into my brand until it was able to stand on its own.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Between business development, production meetings, fittings with private clients, and industry events, it’s tough to define a “typical day” as I’ve got a lot on my plate- both personally and for the brand. My showroom and retail flagship has truly become a multi-purpose space-for office and design work-as well as my second home.
Being a designer you must always be looking inspiration. How has Chicago specifically influenced your design style?
Chicago serves as a major influence to the label; I develop my collections here so the environment is constantly reflected upon. My private clients in Chicago have also defined the Azeeza girl, the standout girl who looks for an understated statement and is always confident – both in life and in her personal style.
You’re known for your intricate embroidery and embellishments, will this always be an AZEEZA staple or do you see future collections moving toward the more streamlined look you’ve been showing lately?
My signature embellishment will always be a trademark of the brand- both literally (I copyrighted it this year) and figuratively throughout my collections. Ready-to-Wear is definitely becoming a simpler, more streamlined look, but the embellishment remains- showing up in more unexpected places- like a fully embellished bra top, or on the pockets of a pair of silk track pants.
You’ve recently discussed moving aspects of your business and expanding to New York. What has that process been like?
This year has been full of growth and expansion- beyond just New York. Between our launch of e-commerce, a rebrand in which the label (formerly “Atelier AZZA”) took on my own name, a soft launch/media introduction in NYC and our first foray to the international and wholesale market at Paris Fashion Week it’s been both exhilarating and exhausting. I am so thankful for the support and excitement Chicago has shown for myself and the brand.
Your custom bridal gowns are gorgeous! What is your favorite part, and the most challenging part, of working with brides-to -be?
I love that each woman I work with has been so unique- making their vision come to life while staying true to both their personal style and my design aesthetic is such a fun process. I would have to say the most challenging thing with brides is accepting that they trust me to dress them for their special day- it’s such a big decision and I am so honored every time.
Your pieces have been featured in publications, worn by celebrities, top fashion bloggers and more. What has been your biggest “pinch me” moment to date?
Hands down, when my STATEment tee was gifted to Sarah Jessica Parker on ABC’s Windy City Live. She received the first one I made for New York City and upon opening it looked into the camera and said “Azeeza, this is genuinely beautiful”- I am still in awe!
What advice would you offer an aspiring designer?
I always say “I am a CEO before I am a Designer.” Having a good business sense is one of the most important traits in this industry. Also- never be too stubborn to ask for advice. This industry was a totally new thing to me when I entered it a few years ago and I am so lucky to have wonderful mentors who have helped me along the way by sharing their candid feedback and experiences.
[Photos By Hallie Duesenberg]