November 16, 2018

Behind the Rise of Modest Fashion

Joyce Azria grew up around fashion. As the daughter of BCBG’s Max Azria, she learned about the industry from a young age and joined her father’s company when she was only 16 years old.  

Today, the ba’al teshuvah (someone who became religious after living a secular life), who lives in an Orthodox Jewish area of Los Angeles, is selling modest clothes for women under a brand called WUKOgals. 

Three Orthodox Jewish sisters, Chani Wuensch, Elana Kornfeld and Sara Mayberg, established the company in 2014, and now Azria, a longtime fan, is collaborating with them. 

“When I became more observant, I had to change the way I was dressing and it was always a struggle for me,” Azria, 36, said in a telephone interview with the Journal. “I Googled ‘modest fashion,’ found WUKOgals and just fell in love, as a lot of customers do. I would buy their new arrivals. It was an exciting brand I could always go to.”

Sold at a Los Angeles pop-up shop at 217 S. La Brea Ave., as well as online at WUKOgals.com, the clothes are hip and casual, and cover women’s knees, elbows and collarbones, per Orthodox Jewish modesty standards. 

Azria said she knew she wanted to work with the three sisters as soon as they met. Although she’s not designing clothes for them yet, she plans to start this fall, with a “vegan leather” jacket, new bohemian dresses and more prints. 

“There isn’t an abundance of modest brands, whether you’re a teen or preteen, all the way up to whatever age,” Azria said. “A modest look transcends age. If you’ve seen any modest celebrity, there is [a] timelessness about [them]. Whether you’re 16 or 60, a lot of styles are shared and create that ‘beauty that transcends time’ look.”

WUKOgals is not Azria’s first foray into a fashion line. She sells basics for under $50 through her line Rohb, which is distributed through Amazon, and she owns Avec Les Filles, a millennial fashion brand with a French influence. 

As a child, Azria grew up in Paris and Los Feliz. Her father, Max, is Sephardic, and her mother is a Russian Jew. Although they weren’t particularly religious, they never missed celebrating Friday night dinner together, sometimes with 100 guests at their table. “My dad would travel literally around the world and sure enough, he was always around on Friday night to make kiddush,” she said. “It was our bookend. We’d all go out and do our journeys and at the end of the week, we’d come back and share with our family.”

In her late 20s, when she was going through some personal struggles, Azria sought the help of therapists. When she didn’t find the answers she was looking for, a friend advised her to also see a rabbi. “I fell in love with Judaism and the values and the way they view women,” Azria said. 

After becoming religious, Azria remarried and today, has six children. “My little girls are already doing the typical girl shenanigans of, ‘I want to wear this and I don’t want to wear this,’ but we’ll see,” she said. 

Although mainstream fashion isn’t exactly friendly to the observant Jewish lifestyle and look, Azria has found a way, through WUKOgals and her other lines, to make it work. 

“I love growing and I think that’s a big theme in Judaism and fashion,” she said. “Fashion comes from evolving and growing, whether you’re growing a fashion brand or raising a child. It’s all the same, this desire to make the world a better place. It’s artistic and intuitive and an emotional product. It’s an evolution. I love that in my personal life and in fashion. It’s a constant rebirth.”