In some ways fashion scion, Joyce Azria, founder and CEO of Avec Les Filles, originally of BCBG fame, had a typical Hollywood upbringing: vacations in St. Tropez, hanging with A-list celebs. In other ways, she was always different. “Everybody knew that on Friday night, my dad [Max Azria] was making kiddush at home…Every big actor probably came and sat at my dad’s Shabbos table at one point. It was a very sephardi, traditional beautiful connection.” Despite her father’s extensive travel schedule for business – to Paris, China, and all over the world, he never missed being home on a Friday night. “There is always a time to cut the cord [of your kite] and sink your feet back into from where you started…Our family’s open door approach was a chance to share and inspire others with who I was and really get to know people on a different level…as a family we were able to [truly] engage people. It was just beautiful.”
In Joyce’s teenage years, she rebelled but came back to her roots. “That is definitely one of my guiding lights and I was blessed to be able to come to a life of Torah in my 20’s and really take on making teshuva and taking it a step further.” In terms of what brought Azria back to observance, she relates, “As I saw my family transition into more success, I saw others who had [attained] sucess…they had broken marriages, broken families and broken values.” This made her want to go in the other direction – back to who she was and where she came from even more. “I was blessed to take the material part of it and elevate it to the spiritual later in life.”
In Azria’s mid twenties, she was struggling and her best friend introduced her a great rabbi. “The friend said, ‘You know you hang out with all these Hollywood people, you go to breathing classes and shamans, you’re so open to learning about things and growing, you’ve always been into Judaism. Maybe ask the rabbi some of the questions you have.'” It made sense and Azria spoke while the rabbi just listened for a long time. He responded with “You’re always fully engaged in every part of life. You’re always the best, but you can’t get far enough away from anything to [really evaluate it]. You could [instead] say ‘Maybe I don’t have to be perfect at this – I could be perfect at that.'” It resonated profoundly with Azria, who was impressed with the solution he offered: Shabbos. “I had walked in Malibu in a snake pit because I had wanted to conquer my fears and I had gone to therapists, I had so much in me and so many questions, I knew I had so much potential. He said to try two in a row and you’ll see if you can see more clearly. I did and I have never broken a Shabbos since then.” To Azria, Shabbos is her lifeline. “It’s a day away from actively being and just existing, to stop the go-going and just listen – my life was forever changed.” That began Azria’s conversations with Hashem, as she started to explore more mitzvos.
Azria was keeping Shabbos as she worked her way up in her father’s company. He handed her the reins of his millennial brand, BCBGeneration. There were naysayers and those who thought she couldn’t do it. Becoming observant helped her career, she “became a stronger executive, a better creative director, more attuned to fashion” as a result. She understood that it wasn’t about her personal taste but about the fashion DNA she was working with. One of the most authentic experiences Azria has had in her career was when she went to see an executive of a major account for the first time since becoming frum. “They looked at me with a completely different admiration and respect.” There was a new level of trust embued in Azria’s executive skills because she was looked at as a confident woman who knew herself and was comfortable with her choices and boundaries, with Something bigger above her. “I couldn’t have done that when I was secular.”
Modesty and Fashion is an easy balance for Azria. “Some of the most iconic people in fashion have been innately modest. If you look at the Kennedy family, royalty, Olivia Palermo, Audrey Hepburn…They are always fresh and they are always relevant. When I see people who say to me ‘how can you be modest? Religious girls look so shlumpy and dumpy…’ I say ‘They would look like that if they were not religious. It has nothing to do with it.'” Most people who meet Azria for the first time have no idea that she is modest or that her beautiful hair is a wig. “They say ‘She looks put together, she looks classy, she looks chic. When they learn that modesty is who I am, then they say ‘It’s amazing that you’re Orthodox but you look approachable.’ If you really want to make something beautiful, then make it beautiful. If you love a trend, make it tznius. You have to be creative. For me that’s not an obstacle, it’s exciting.”
To those who aren’t sure about keeping Shabbos she says “It’s like saying you don’t like sushi but you’ve never tried it. Try it and then form an opinion about it. The key to Judaism is to… see what comes from it. If you do it with an open heart and mind then something unbelievable comes from it.” Though it might be different than what someone is used to, their lives could be forever improved as a result. “It’s brave to try something with an open heart. It’s bravery to explore. It’s bravery to try to understand yourself.”
To see Joyce Azria (JITC board member’s) Orthodox Jewish All Stars video, click here.