With a long list of A-listers wearing her designs, frequent television appearances and show stopping moments at one of the world’s top fashion weeks, Esé Azénabor is in the midst of living her dream!
Coming from a family that considered fashion more of a hobby than a career, the Nigerian-born Azénabor often wondered if she had made the right decision to leave a higher education in accounting to pursue her intense love for fashion. It was not until her move to Dallas from Ontario, Canada to pursue a Master’s Degree at Southern Methodist University that she took a leap of faith and began designing handmade dresses for her friends and family. The rest as they say is history and in 2012 without any financial assistance, she embarked on her new career as a fashion designer launching a self-titled ready to wear collection.
Today, Azénabor has now debuted five collections including her Fall/Winter 2015 collection inspired by Henry VIII as well as her Spring/Summer 2016 Collection with the theme of The Garden of Eden during New York’s Fashion Week earning a reputation as a designer on the rise.
With a mantra of empowering women through the art of fashion, her designs are inspired and deeply rooted in Nigerian, Egyptian and contemporary European influences. They are intricate, bold, colorful, extravagant and luxurious with a meticulous attention to detail.
Well known for her signature artistic approach to design and fascination for heavy hand beading, crocheted lace, exquisite fabrics and embroidery, Azénabor’s designs have become a noticeable fixture on red carpets in Dallas and around the world.
Recently nominated as a Rising Star by Fashion Group International (FGI Dallas) the fashion world better keep an eye on the beautiful and talented, Esé Azénabor.
Haute Living caught up with the designer to explore who is the archetypal “Azénabor Woman” and what’s next for one of the hottest ready to wear brands.
How did your career begin? My career began when I moved to Dallas in 2010. I moved to Dallas because my job in Windsor, Ontario sent me to SMU to continue my education for masters in accounting. I was supposed to move back to Canada and continue working. But while in school, I would make my own dresses using scrap fabrics that I brought with me from back home and I would hand bead on the garments. At that time I only knew how to sew with a needle and thread. I owned a sewing machine that my mother got me for my 18th birthday but I never learned how to use it. I would wear my dresses to all the school social events, and the attention I received from friends and fellow school mates was overwhelming. Before I knew it I was making dresses for all my friends and mates for all their social events still with my needle and thread. In 2012, I decided to leave school behind and forget about going back home to work and took the risk of launching my own clothing line. I thought if my mates liked the uniqueness of my designs, the world will like it too. It has been up hill since then.
From where do you draw inspiration for your designs? My inspiration really stems from my childhood in Nigeria. I remember my mother and her friends all dressed up in lavish embroidered and beaded Nigerian garments and I was always obsessed with the luxurious fabrics and details. Now as an adult I incorporate these memories with the art around me and every collection is born.
Who is your mentor in design? I really never had a design mentor but I have a business mentor and that’s my mother. She is a fierce business woman and I get all my business ideas from her. However there is a designer that I am absolutely obsessed with and inspired by and that is Naeem Khan. His attention to detail and imagination is from another world. And I see his Indian heritage in every pieces he makes and love how he translates it into a more diverse art. I pray to be like him one day!
If you were to do a collection in collaboration with another designer, who would it be? Naeem Khan
How do you think your brand has evolved since its inception and what key element has remained consistent? To be absolutely honest, we struggled a bit in the beginning when we first lunched our brand in 2012 because we weren’t clear who the “Esé Azénabor” woman was and we kept trying to please everyone by fitting everyone’s idea of what Esé Azénabor meant. We also struggled with the business side of it as well. Things became very clear to us late 2014 when we became very certain about our woman, and how our woman shops. Once we figured that out, we have stayed true to her. Although our designs and colors change in every collection, we still keep the classic design style and allow our beading and embroidered work the create the art for the collection.
How does the Esé Azénabor brand differ from other couture designers? Our goal is the empower women through the art of fashion. Once our woman puts on our garments, she feels empowered by her femininity, she exudes alluring confidence, she is intimidating and definitely sexy. She is all this in a luxury garment that we take the time to hand sew every detail on it and when she put’s it on she is very well aware of it and changes her mood immediately. To have this in a decent price point is almost impossible. Designs with these amount of details put on it can start at $8,000 and up, we are well below that price range.
Describe your latest collection? What was the inspiration behind the collection? Our latest collection is our Spring/Summer 2017 collection. We recently debuted the collection at Fashion X Dallas. The collection is inspired by my love for the colors of Christmas decorations. Weird? Yes! I recently got around to putting away our Christmas ornaments the color Emerald, Red and Gold stood out and I thought to my self, this could be an amazing color inspirations for my new collection, then SS17 was born.
Describe who the Esé Azénabor woman is? What type of woman do you design for? The Esé Azénabor woman is a leader, she is strong, confident, celebrates her alluring femininity. She celebrates life, art, she is definitely intimidating in a “Gosh she is absolutely fierce in a, she couldn’t ever talk to me” kind of way. She is invited to all the elite parties all over the world.
Where do you see your brand in the next decade? We are currently working on opening our first flagship in the design district this Christmas. We also plan on opening three more flagships in Nigeria, Dubai and Toronto within the next 3-5 years. I plan to have 12 stores around the world in 10 years by the grace of God. Also we see our brand all over the red carpets all over the world.
Define fashion? Fashion is a form of language used to communicate one’s personal lifestyle and art.
What has influenced your designs the most? I would say my culture and my mother. My mother has the most interesting, lavish and rich garments inspired by our Nigerian heritage, and every time I design, a lot of my beading graphics stems from what I saw my mom wear growing up.
What advice would you give aspiring fashion designers? Never take ‘No’ for an answer. I know you must have been given this advice before, but it is as serious as life it’s self. With every No, double your drive, double your aspirations and keep on moving with a clear vision of who your market is and who you design for.
What is your favorite material to work with? Obsessed with Silk Crepe. Love the draping effect and takes bead work well.
Least favorite? Tulle. although I work with tulle often especially for my brides, but always dread working with it.
Go to outfit for a night on the town? Any easy tunic dress or maxi dress will get me ready for the day.
You dress celebrities and many of the local socialites in Dallas. Recently, I had the opportunity to wear one of your beautiful gowns for the Emmitt Smith Celebrity Invitational. Could you tell me the inspiration behind the gown and from which collection it was from? You wore our black ‘Melena’ beaded and embroidered dress from our Fall/Winter 2016 Collection. You looked absolutely stunning that evening. That collection is called “Venetian Dream” inspired by a Venetian team. All started when we were renovating our home and I wanted a very detailed crown molding with a venetian vibe and I found a 12” thick crown molding that had the amazing detail and it looked like a serious embroidered pattern. Then my ‘Venetian Dream’ collection was born.
Favorite accessory? My black Classic Chanel flap bag. The Only Chanel I own and I am obsessed with it.
Tell us about your philanthropic work in the community? I have worked in the past with Big brother, Big Sister in 2011. Now I mostly donate to Our hearts Day Center and Ally’s Wish through our shows and sales events. In 2014 we raised a lot for Our Hearts Day Center, where 100% of all proceeds of our show went towards donations. The center was able to purchase a new bus to transport their patients. The foundation focuses on providing a safe, fun environment for teens and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities such as Autism, Aspergers, Down’s Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and others. We also helped raise funds for Ally’s Wish earlier this year through our show and trunk show. Specifically the sole purpose of Ally’s Wish is to provide a last “wish” to young, terminally ill mothers with small children.
What are signature characteristics of your design that make it recognizable to clients? Definitely our exotic patterns and prints done with beading and embroidery work with the structured shoulders. I believe it is recognizable and we intend to keep it that way.
Esé’s Haute Secrets
Where were you born: Nigeria
How long have you lived in Dallas: 6 years
Occupation: Owner/Designer of Esé Azénabor
Favorite Restaurant: Tei Tei
Best dessert: Oreos Mixed with Vanilla Ice cream
Best Sunday brunch: Cafe Pacific
Best place for a power business meeting: Boardroom in Our Showroom
If you have out of town guests, which hotel would you recommend? The Joule
Favorite shopping venue/boutique: Esé Azénabor, Elements, Neiman’s Last Call
Favorite Cultural Venue: Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
Favorite Cultural Institution: Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts
Best Steakhouse: I don’t like steak (Seafood all the way)
Best Limousine/Driving Service: Uber
Best Museum/Exhibit: Kimbell Art Museum
Describe your city in three words: BIG, SOPHISTICATED, DOMINATING
Favorite historic/legendary place to see or explore: I like the Dallas historic hotel ‘Adolphus’ the details and old French style the building makes me feel like I am in Europe.
All-around favorite spot in Dallas: The Library (in Melrose Hotel)
Best Aspect of Dallas: It’s love for art and history