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Azadeh Riaz: From Royal Family to Queen of Lace

On any given day, former designer to the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia and Bebe exec Azadeh Riaz is hard at work in her Union Square atelier creating her made-to-measure daytime, evening and special occasion garments for San Francisco’s haute set. In the midst of her work custom-fitting pieces from the spring collection, refining designs for fall and planning an expansion later this month into the ground floor of her current building (a space formerly occupied by Prada), Azadeh took a moment to chat about her time with Bebe, the future of fashion and the staying power of lace.

What got you started in fashion?

I started at a very early age. I started in painting. My love of colors and texture and drawing took me toward the fashion world. Creating garments on a woman is like painting. I cut and I pin and I drape right on you. My interest in fashion came from my mom and dad. My mom had to dress up to a lot because of my dad’s job [as a high-ranking government official]. I’ve been designing my own pieces since I was 14 or 15 years old. This is all I’ve done, this is all I know.

Do you still paint?

I have a big one hanging in the bathroom in my office, and the good ones are at home. It’s what I look forward to doing at home.

Tell us about your time at Bebe.

I was the first designer when Bebe was four retail stores. I got hired as the head designer and vice president of manufacturing. I established the manufacturing and the body of the Bebe proportions in 1990. I left the company when they had 50 stores and they went public....It was five years of fabulous time and really great achievement and success.

You returned to couture after years working in ready-to-wear for a major fashion brand. What inspired you to return to couture?

With the Royal Family, I created really high-end pieces for them and [was] traveling with them on the runways of Paris and seeing all the designers. When I was creating and manufacturing for Bebe, I learned that…no two women are built alike. You can be size six and I can be size six and we can’t wear the same dress.

Most of the time when you shop, you just compromise. You compromise on the price or you compromise on the fit. But when you make to measure, there is no compromise. You are just working one-on-one with the designer and the tailor and you ask for what you want.

What about the fashion world today excites you the most?

The variety of fabrics. What we have available today is not what we had available 20 years ago. Fabrics are better quality, and fabric companies are showing more creativity and novelty, so it makes my world easier to create.

When you’re not wearing your own designs, whose work do you turn to?

My favorite lines are Dolce & Gabbana. I love Alexander McQueen. To me, he is a true artist and designer. And the other designer I love is Azadin Alia.

We’d love to know what different trends you’re seeing in bridal wear these days. Are women interested in anything new or different that they weren’t a decade ago?

Today’s brides want to look young and they want to look sexy and they want to show their proportions. Today’s bride is not a princess bride; she is not going to wear her grandmother’s pearls, and she doesn’t want to be another woman when she walks down the aisle to him. She wants to be herself, but looking better than ever....I always tell this to my brides, you need to walk down the aisle and be who he picked.

If you were a fabric, what would you be?

I would be lace. Everybody considers me queen of lace. I know what to do with lace. Everybody says lace is in, lace is out. Lace never goes out. Something about lace on a woman, it’s sexy and feminine and it’s very contouring. It never shows the little details of the body.