RtA's Eli Azran is a Los Angeles resident with a New York sensibility—i.e. he is usually clad black from head to toe. Here, he talks to Kirna Zabête about his label's beginnings, the RtA girl, and more.
RtA (Road to Awe) was started in 2013 by Los Angeles-based duo Eli Azran and David Rimokh. Staying true to a glam rock aesthetic, the label consistently delivers wardrobe staples that feature weathered details, laid-back prints and edgy ornamentation. Most recently the Azran and Rimokh were nominated for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, and on his last trip to New York, we sat down with Azran to talk about RtA's beginnings, its monumental year, and more. —Jessica Minkoff
Tell me what you were like when you were younger.
I started working in fashion when I was seventeen. I dropped out of high school so there was not a big childhood period. My dad worked in fashion, he owned a shoe brand so when I was younger I always thought I would be taking over my dad’s business.
Where did you grow up? Did your place of birth have an impact on your fashion aesthetic?
In the South of France. I remember my mom growing up, she wore a lot of black and was super chic. My mom always wore my dad’s jackets and to this day I still tease her. I say ‘that jacket is way to big for you.’ My girlfriend is the same way. I bring stuff home and I know that she is going to steal it so I just let her take it.
"We are just trying to make cool clothes for girls to look and feel pretty but at the same time have a tough edge to them."
Has your personal aesthetic changed over time?
It’s the same. I have this theory - when I moved from France to LA, and I went full hip-hop, like 100% rapper. I wore Sean John velour suits, I played basketball. White, all nylon tracksuits, Air Force 1s, Yankees hats, it was great. So my theory is this: anyone who was super hip-hop young, dresses really well later on. If you look at Kanye and all of the fashion people they all went through this crazy hip-hop phase and I feel like there is something about the way you have to color coordinate your jerseys to your Nikes and all of that stuff, it triggers something in your mind. So I went from that to Euro trash for a year. I went back to France and my parents and grandparents were like ‘what are you wearing?’
Did you study fashion at all?
No, I don’t think that it is something that you necessarily need to study because there is no pre set kind of way to go about it. There are other professions that are much more step by step and this one isn’t. One person’s success is not the same as another so I feel like kids should probably not go to school for certain things it is counterproductive. There are very few, very good fashion schools, but most of them instill these terrible habits in kids and they come out of school a certain way….I just think you have to go through the process of starting as a coffee, espresso, photo copy specialist and than you graduate. I think it is good because the reward is being more involved with product development and you can’t really see it as you are growing up that the better you do the shitty stuff the more you get to do stuff that is actually fun. So when you do get the opportunity you don’t waste it because you actually had to work your ass off for it. Now I don’t have a photo copy machine anywhere near my office—it’s on the other side of the building…..
Where did you start working?
I started working with Ben’s [Ben Taverniti of Unravel) dad Jimmy Taverniti when I was young. That is how I met Ben and that is how we all started working in this industry.
Where did you meet David?
We met in LA because we all have similar circles, there is not a whole lot of French Moroccan that grew up in the West side, like kind of five kids. I went to Beverly Hills High School, so it is a very douch-y, exclusive club. David went to Harvard-Westlake and it’s like you know each other. So when we met I always thought David had this quality for being such a good human being. He is a really good person and that was my concern with having a partner. I got screwed when I was younger and with David I knew that I never had to worry about that. He was my boy. When we started working we developed a brand, I never second guess anything that he says and he never second guesses anything that I say. We own up our own responsibility.
Do you have different roles within the company?
Yes, David is more front of the house, logistics. All of the things that businesses need to do to be successful, David does. And all of the things that make you think a business is successful is what I do [laughs].
Where does the name RtA come from?
The way it started—David and I started our partnership and we put this brand together that was so terrible but I thought it was really good. It was for Spring 2013 and I hadn’t worked in two years so I was a little rusty—that is always my excuse. It was super colorful and it was so not me. The weird part is, to this day, I remember feeling like it was good. I don’t know what it was, it was just this blind feeling. We started showing it to people and everyone was kind of weird around it. I showed it to five or six people that I felt I could trust before we went to market and everyone was like ‘it’s kind of cool,’ so I felt like there was something weird or wrong here and nobody was telling me the truth. So I hired a girl and had her go see two more people and I asked her to tell me exactly what they said without sugar coating anything. She came back and said that people felt the collection was the worst thing they had ever seen in their life. I went back and I ended up telling David that I fucked up and we had to scratch the whole thing. At that point I figured my whole investment deal was gone, but luckily we were given a second chance. I was on my way to Hong Kong and I was on a bridge listening to Death is the Road to Awe from the movie called The Fountain and that is where I came up with the name for the brand. It was like the constant journey to better yourself and I felt like it was very indicative of that time.
When we started it was a handful of jeans and maybe a couple of pieces of leather and we went from touching on some categories to really expanding into a full line with shoes coming out next season.
How would you describe the brand now in three words?
It’s a hard question because we are just trying to make cool clothes for girls to look and feel pretty but at the same time have a tough edge to them.
In the four years since you have launched, how has the label changed or evolved?
When we started it was a handful of jeans and maybe a couple of pieces of leather and we went from touching on some categories to really expanding into a full line with shoes coming out next season. I am really excited about those. It is very hard because shoes are really difficult. For the Anna Dello Russo collaboration that we just did, Giuseppe Zanotti did the shoes but I have been working on a shoe for a year now. I am a shoe snob so it is very, very hard. You don’t want to do a sneaker because sneakers are the holy bible of things you don’t touch, but you want to do a sneaker because that is what you wear…
Where do you gather inspiration for your collections?
It is more that there is a general feeling and a conduit between seasons. We just always feel the same way and than we apply things to that. It is very methodical the way that we put the collections together. It is a process and finding ways to expand the RtA world and show it in a way and do things in a way that are less scary than we have done in the past to certain girls, because I feel like sometimes it can be a little intimidating. So it is expanding on the girl.
Who is the girl in your opinion?
It’s really eclectic because I have seen young, 18-year olds wearing it and I have seen women in their fifties wearing it, so that is probably one of the things that I like the most about the brand—the fact that obviously it is a specific girl but I don’t think it is a specific girl who has to be a specific age. It is a fun, kind of willing to try—most of the RtA customers are girls that already know how to dress themselves. The girls that can’t dress themselves aren’t usually able to go to the rack and think that they can pair certain things together. It’s not that customer yet, but yeah it is a girl who can dress herself.
It’s really eclectic because I have seen young, 18-year olds wearing it and I have seen women in their fifties wearing it, so that is probably one of the things that I like the most about the brand—the fact that obviously it is a specific girl but I don’t think it is a specific girl who has to be a specific age.
How did you approach Spring 2018?
I have this constant battle with the seasons because I feel like things should be reversed. Fall should be in Spring and Spring should be in Fall. It doesn’t make any sense to me. I feel like you kind of wear the same thing year round, so if you dress a certain way in Fall you will probably dress the same way in Spring and you just want variations of it. There are also always occasions, in the world we live in that girl travels a lot so we did sparkles, we did fun things, because that girl needs stuff to go places. That is the hardest part to convey to certain people because the collection will come in and look a little fall-ish or a little holiday, but that is the point. I want all of the those components in the collection at all times, all year long. Spring used to be my second least favorite collection after summer because you can’t really wear anything but I am looking at that as my challenge this year.
RtA is part of this year’s CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund group this year. What has that process been like for you and has it had an impact on your approach to the business at all?
It has been very informative because I really feel like the creative world on the East Coast and the creative world on the West Coast are the exact opposite. They have nothing in common, the way they operate is completely the opposite and its like night and day. I feel like for the longest time ever that side of the world looked down on LA as like the ugly stepchild but LA brands have always had businesses. They may not have always been the most editorial but LA brands are massive businesses and I think especially now with everything that is happening in the world today that is becoming more of a factor. You can be a super artsy kid but if you don’t have a business it is going to stop eventually. Being around that, it is interesting to see the other part of the world. And obviously I have had the opportunity to meet some great people.
Was it hard to maneuver around in a world that is so different from where RtA is based?
I am going to be myself regardless because I don’t know how to be anyone else. I feel like a lot of people try really hard to have this persona of who they think a designer or an artist or a painter or a musician should be but it has got to be exhausting to feel like you always have to walk around pretending to be somebody. I am just trying to be myself and if people like me then great but if they don’t at least they can respect me for being myself.