There’s no denying that Elly Azizian, who illustrates under the name Fashion Strokes, has an impressive client list: Van Cleef & Arpels, Oscar de la Renta, Valentino and Sotheby’s, to name a few. However, it is a rarity in modern times to fly to Paris to draw within the elite milieu of haute couture, where the one-of-a-kind handmade gowns on display are bespoke creations bought by global royalty rather than lent for photographs. to Hollywood celebrities as is common in ready-to-wear. Azizian tells FashionUnited how he carved out such a special place for himself in the field of fashion illustration.
How did you get invited to draw in haute couture shows?
I went to FIT to study haute couture and I was very lucky to have great teachers, but even though I did draping, pattern making, sewing, all my teachers unanimously said that my drawing was much better. And they were right. I don’t know if I have the temperament for sewing since I get restless, but I do have that construction and craft background and have stayed in the world of high fashion. When I fully immersed myself in illustration, I came across a Chilean fashion magazine, a super small, niche publication, and since it was haute couture season, I floated the idea that I could go to fashion week and cover it. . I don’t think they thought it was really plausible to do it, but I applied for a press pass and got accreditation, much to everyone’s surprise. We got some invites, small shows at the first, second and third tiers, not the legacy brands, but some really cool couture companies. Then it grew because when you’re on that contact list, people watch you. I met some great PR firms that were very nice and I showed them some work and it snowballed twice a year.
Where do you stand when it comes to outlining catwalk looks?
I think Paris is very specific because a lot of the shows take place in historical places, so the setups can be a bit cumbersome. But depending on how much space we have, very occasionally I will have the luxury of an actual table which is usually in the small space between the photographers and the seated audience. Occasionally, if it’s a brand that doesn’t want immediate sketches but wants a more detailed sketch later, I have the luxury of sitting in the audience, which is fun.
What do photographers do when they have you by their side?
At first I think it was news to them and they were surprised to see someone next to them not with a camera but with a drawing pad. Now I’ve gotten to know some of them and it’s a bit more social, especially at shows. I attend annually. They are very kind and make space for me.
What are your favorite materials for drawing parades?
It’s definitely scaled back, but I tend to do a lot of line work, regardless of the occasion. At home I work with collage, pastel and I like to experiment. In the shows, it’s more about pencil, graphite, a couple of marker highlights, and if I use pastels, it’s always the manicured pencils that you can smudge a little bit and the dust doesn’t go everywhere. I try to make sure it’s a contained situation. They have those great water pens that I tried once. But you see the fear in the eyes of the photographers when they see water next to these huge banks of outlets.
Are there any requests to create digital sketches?
Surprisingly, the digital options never appeared. I suspect that most of the companies that have hired me know that my work uses mainly analog methods. I also think that there is a certain romance and luxury in holding a thin and strong paper with ink marks and sketches. It is very much in line with the essence of haute couture, especially since they often give the sketches away to clients.
How do you prepare to draw in haute couture shows?
I do live drawing sessions beforehand, like with Drawing Cabaret Couture or Ami Benton, London-based productions via Zoom. I get into a really fast live drawing rhythm or slow meticulous work and it’s hard to balance. One always feels more comfortable than the other. Also just looking at magazines and making quick sketches of them. Sometimes, if I know it’s going to be a big event with a lot of guests, not necessarily couture shows, I might have a backup of pre-planned poses, like sketches, that I know I can pull off quickly.
How do you capture the glances that pass before you in an instant?
The dresses are so intricate that the actual speed of the couture runway is a bit slower than that of ready-to-wear, so that really works in my favor. Of course, you can never capture all eyes. And the models will stop at points along the runway, and at the Juana Martin show, she had some of the models do little abstract performances that helped.
How many sketches do you produce per program?
It depends. I’ve heard stories of companies requiring a certain amount, but I haven’t come across that. Everyone has been wonderful and flexible with me. I find that I can do, let’s say conservatively, 7-8 sketches of a show which isn’t much when you think about how many looks that go. The big traditional brands may have 80 looks, but the smaller couture brands have 20-30, so if I can get a third of that, everyone seems happy. At that rate I don’t feel the tension and I can still catch anything that jumps at me.
What was it like drawing in Zuhair Murad?
I think they are the highest ranked brand I have ever worked with and their dresses are so beautifully intricate that I feel bad that I don’t catch as many eyes as I would like. I think that’s one of the shows that comes with more time crises. But at the same time, because they’ve been so kind and so appreciative of the intricacies of my work, just as they appreciate their own craft, there’s never been a problem of quantity.
How would you describe the feeling of drawing in that stressful but exciting environment?
As a fan of any performance, I think that moment when the lights go down and you hear the music turn up and you know something is about to happen is amazing wherever you are, whether it’s a concert, theater or fashion show. It’s a great adrenaline rush. So you see that first dress and it activates oh right, i’m working. Those first few minutes of wonder, then a brief flash of panic, the realization that I’m not here just to marinate in beauty, and then I’m into the groove. Towards the end he is very pragmatic; you look through your sketches, they get collected, it becomes very commercial.
What about the sketches you create?
It depends. Some press and PR agencies take them and keep them for the brand, some brands give them away to customers who buy the dresses because they are also unique. Some will use them for social media purposes. It depends on the company.
Why have you been welcomed in haute couture shows over prêt-à-porter?
I think a lot of couture companies are trying to do things out of the box, while in ready-to-wear everyone is following similar trends. In the world of couture, you get great ideas and artistic concepts that change from season to season. But I would love to work with any company that really embraces costume elements, something really out of the ordinary, that’s where my heart is.
Since couture shows tend to attract celebrities, do you draw them too?
I see them on the periphery. I’m more with the photographers, so I get a front row view of some of the chaos that ensues, but I’m not in the middle of it. This time I had the pleasure of drawing Rossy de Palma, who has always been a great fashion icon for me and then she was very kind, she shared my work and complemented each other. That was a real treat.