Yigal Azroul – I believe that everybody in this world has a purpose or function and I guess this was my function.September’s New York Fashion Week has dissolved and the focus is now on Spring 2006 collections. Journalists, models and designers have settled back to the four corners and the buzz, now a quiet hum, revolves around Marc Jacobs’ hour no-show, Empire waist gowns, Russian models and, as usual, which show was the best of the season.

Was it Marc Jacobs’ despite the delay? Proenza-Schouler’s soft chiffons against lingerie? Y and Kei’s European polka dots? Names get tossed around like last season’s jelly kelly bags but one that continues to pop up within fashion circles is that of Israeli born-and-bred designer Yigal Azrouel.

“Amazing. Definitely in the top tier,” says 34-year-old Amanda Sooner, a writer and fashion week veteran, echoing her peers and the fashion press. “The way he cuts… you can’t help but look great in his clothes.”

Which explains why the professionally great-looking – from Natalie Portman to Sarah Jessica Parker to Lenny Kravitz – have stepped out in Azrouel’s body-contouring creations, and why magazines like Vogue, Interview, and Harper’s Bazaar regularly splash his designs across their pages.

Considering his sophisticated fan base, it comes as a surprise to learn that this master cutter is completely self-taught. Azrouel did not attend design school or enroll in formal education back in his hometown of Ashdod. How did he learn the basics?

“I bought a sewing machine and a mannequin and I started de-constructing garments and then I’d make new pieces for myself, my sisters and my friends. I would drape the mannequin with a de-constructed jacket I had made and then I would make a new one,” Azrouel told ISRAEL21c.

In the late 90s, he left his sewing machine in southern Israel and headed for Manhattan’s trendy, meat packing district. Almost instantaneously Barney’s, Oxygene and Joyce Hong Kong snatched up his wears. Nowadays, Azrouel’s name is tossed around alongside Calvin Klein’s and Anna Sui’s.

According to industry experts, Azrouel’s mode of advancement has been truly unique.

“It is very hard to get a foothold into the fashion world and survive,” said Tamara Yovel-Jones, Head of the Fashion Design Department at Israel’s prestigious Shenkar School of Engineering and Design. “We get 400 applicants every year and from those we chose sixty or seventy; students spend an intense, four years learning history, technique and methodology and even then it’s hugely competitive. The way he (Azrouel) did it is unusual in today’s world,” she told ISRAEL21c.

Education aside, however, Yovel-Jones claims raw talent as the strongest determinant of designer’s success. “We can provide an intellectual education and teach how to sew and cut. But we can’t teach good designing. A person drawn to this with a knack and an eye was born that way. Especially if he’s a guy interested in this profession, then it’s his karma and he should follow that,’ she explains.

Azrouel concurs, describing his natural flair as an inner calling. “I believe that everybody in this world has a purpose or function and I guess this was my function,” he thoughtfully discloses. “It drew me in.”

And when Azrouel is drawn into full-swing, designing mode, his passion overtakes, at times overpowering his need for food or sleep.

This is a good thing, however, as his European influenced collections have been lauded within the fashion community, for sleek contours, feminine and chic embodiments and personification of the strong, independent and smart woman – essentially the Israeli femme.

Despite his rapid ascent as a favorite of the jet set, Azrouel maintains close ties to his roots and his family in Israel – parents, five brothers and two sisters all residing in Israel – one sister living elsewhere.

“My best friends in the world are in Israel and so is my family. I visit about four times a year and family and friends meet me when I’m traveling around the world,” he shares. “I love Israel. It’s a very emotional place for me. I can live anywhere in the world but Israel is always home.”

He attributes his success to his background and upbringing. A sense of independence, confidence and willingness to follow an un-paved road are consistent with his Israeli roots.

These same characteristics have helped Israeli designers overall carve a niche on the global scale.

“Israel is a small country in the middle of the Middle East but when our designers go out to the world and work, usually they succeed because they’re daring, unconventional and not conservative,” Yovel-Jones says. “Look at Albert Elbaz (House of Lanvin) or Eli Tahari. They know how to catch the eye.”

With boutiques in LA, Russia and Tokyo and sales power at Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, Azrouel is not lacking in the eye-catching department either. His future plans include broadening name recognition in Japan, where, as he puts it, fashion is “edgy and fun.”

Regardless of his status, however, Azrouel has not gone beyond a pampering when he heads back to Israel for holidays. En route to JFK recently for a visit home for the holidays, he relays via cell phone: “I threw an entire mound of clothing into my backpack last night and that was my packing preparation for this trip. I know when I get there my mother will insist upon taking care of me: ironing, doing my laundry. She spoils me. Well, you know how it is.”