High50 has been writing about osteoporosis recently as it particularly affects people in later life. One in two women and one in five men over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis, which causes serious pain, disability and loss of independence. Tonight, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the National Osteoporosis Society, legendary Moroccan-born couturier, Jacques Azagury, is showing his Autumn/Winter collection exclusively to a group of invited guests at Spencer House in St. James’s. He hopes to raise £60,000 for the charity.
Jacques was asked to stage the show by Fiona Fullerton, whom Jacques used to dress in the late 1980’s for her red carpet events. Jacques’ sister, Solange, who works with him at his Knightsbridge atelier, was diagnosed with osteoporosis a few years ago, so Jacques immediately agreed to take part. The committee is made up of members from the Untold Ladies’ Club, a fundraising initiative to give voice to people affected by osteoporosis.
Guests expected at tonight’s event include Elaine Paige, Myleen Klass, Samantha Bond, Tamara Rojo and Kelly Brook. Christopher Biggins is presenting the live auction and guests will be treated to a show of 30 cocktail and evening dresses accessorised with jewellery from Garrard.
The evening is testament to Jacques Azagury’s longevity as one of London’s most popular fashion designers and to his survival as the last independent dressmaker on Knightsbridge.
‘Bruce Oldfield is still in Beauchamp Place but we’re the only two left now,’ laughs Jacques, when I meet him at his boutique, a familiar landmark to his many loyal customers. Behind the boutique is the workshop where all his clothes are handmade. ‘When we started here 35 years ago, Knightsbridge was full of couture dress shops but we’re the last one.’ As I’m talking to him, a beautiful Jordanian princess walks in and Jacques greets her warmly. ‘I dress her mother too,’ he tells me, hurrying away to supervise her fitting.
Jacques studied at the London College of Fashion and St. Martin’s School of Art and began making silk crèpe de chine shirts for men while still a student. ‘Brown’s bought my entire collection at the end of the season and that was the start of my career,’ Jacques continues. ‘I started gathering lace from antique shops and I made a range of six dresses and touted it round Brown’s, Originelle and Feathers.’
From there Jacques joined the London Designer Collections, started by the late Annette Worsley-Taylor in 1975. ‘It was a fabulous selling venture for about 15 of us including Jasper Conran, Rifat Ozbek, Bruce Oldfield, David Sassoon, Elizabeth and David Emmanuel and so I started to sell into the Far East and places like Barneys, Saks and Bergdorf in New York.’
Jacques opened his flagship store at 50 Knightsbridge in 1987 and it soon became a destination for his discerning international clientele. He became famous for dressing the Princess of Wales and continues to dress royalty, rock stars and actresses today with Helen Mirren, Helen McCrory, Elizabeth McGovern and Katherine Jenkins amongst his clients. His survival is remarkable, particularly as he relies entirely on word of mouth and uses no advertising agency or bloggers.
‘I have survived as I have a certain signature. I’m known for special occasion wear and people are prepared to fly in to come to me for that. I work on a small scale so am not chained to doing a fashion show and don’t have to create extreme unwearable looks. Instead I focus on glamour and sexy clothes that people really want to wear – that’s the secret of my longevity.’ Such is his durability that he’s now dressing the granddaughters of his original clients. ‘I even created a Christening gown for the daughter of one of my original clients from a Greek shipping family the other day,’ he says.
Jacques also attributes his success to his staunchly independent spirit. ‘I think people are coming back to niche designers now because we’re small enough to work to the season instead of having to make clothes way ahead of time like the brands bought out by the big conglomerates. We make just a few pieces at a time and can dress our customers straight away. They don’t have to wait and our customers know they’re going to be buying something very special and utterly individual.’
Jacques has also launched a range of six colour-coded fragrances in sleek, linear, crystal bottles, available from his store and selected department stores like Harvey Nichols.
Those lucky enough to be invited to tonight’s event will be treated to a catwalk show of this year’s autumn/winter collection in the knowledge that their contribution is going to a cause close to their favourite designer’s heart. Sarah Wolf, Head of Communications at the National Osteoporosis Society said the Society was delighted that Jacques had chosen to support them in this way: ‘Events like this are an important way of raising awareness of a condition that sadly affects more than three million in the UK and can lead to painful and debilitating fractures.’
Jacques Azagury at 50 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7JN