Fashion meets art, it’s in the bag for this young designer.
“Style – the unconscious expression of a person’s state of mind. You give away everything, just by getting dressed,” opined Shana Azahari, when she made the cut as one of BAZAAR’s Most Stylish Women last year. Also known as Shana Azooi, a moniker from her bag label Azooi, the 25-year-old is as passionate about art as she is about making bags.
“My daily style is laidback and functional, a nod to the French as I favour subdued colours and overall simplicity,” says Shana. “I’m not one for prints and tend to dress up basic looks with a statement bag, keeping all other accessories to a bare minimum, if at all.”
Listing Daphne Guinness, Alexa Chung, and Victoria Beckham as her style heroes, Shana credits her mother as her earliest style influencer. “It was mum who told me to ‘never over-embellish, either how you look or what you say’ and that has stuck ever since,” reveals Shana. “She also taught me that less is more, and vows lipstick has stronger value-add than eyeshadow.”
Treading the waters as both project manager and bag designer, her first taste of fashion was when people started to tell the pre-teen Shana that she should model. “I was sold on the idea early on. Flipping through magazines, my eyes would drink in a single page, voraciously consuming every detail of the image,” she recalls. “Clothes are both the props and the actors in a staged performance within a glossy – how is that not fascinating?”
Commercial jobs started pouring in when Shana was 15 but it wasn’t until she graduated from university in the US that she started to model full-time. “I always put school first, so when I finally had the time I decided to give modelling a go,” she shares. “I did shows for names like Bulgari, Etro, and Chanel, and was lucky enough to be the house model for Tiffany & Co., Malaysia. It was about a year and a half after I started that I decided to quit modelling to start my own business.”
Eager to set up shop and armed with a keen eye for detail, Shana realised during her modelling days that she wanted to source and sell quality handbags but couldn’t quite find products she really believed in. “I suppose it was only natural I would want to create bags that speak to my imagination since I paint, and the label Azooi was born.
“Our bags are created for art lovers, the woman who sees the beauty in a piece of painting that can be clutched, as sculptures that can be held,” explains Shana, whose bags are all made by hand and handpainted either by herself or a small group of artists. “I draw inspiration from paintings by various artists, from Gustav Klimt to Henri Rousseau and Yangyang Pan. I have a growing appreciation for abstract artists and you’ll see quite a bit of that in the Azooi bags that I’m launching soon.” As for the one bag that’s closest to her heart, Shana reveals it’s one that was inspired by Rousseau’s work, with a jungle scene painted on the exterior. “The level of detail that went into making that clutch has really set the standard for all my work to follow,” she notes.
“That fashion can be tricky sometimes excites me. Creating beautiful pieces that look amazing both individually and within a collection is what I strive for with Azooi. That, and trying to innovate yet stay true to the core of my brand – that’s a duty I owe to my customers,” she says, while picking up her painted clutch and posing.
Counting designers behind brands like Marchesa and Valentino as inspiration, Shana also looks to the likes of Charlotte Olympia, Olympia Le Tan, and Kate Spade for fashion with a twist of humour. “Their designs are fresh and playful, and make you feel like there should always be a skip in your step. I gravitate towards designers whose work reaffirms my desire to go through life with rosetinted glasses on.” Although, with her looks and talent, reality should prove just as rosy.
A preppy cocktail vibe
Doing double denim. Denim shirt; and pants, both from DKNY Jeans
Vest; and pants, both from DKNY
Ab fab in a chic crop top