'I design for a sophisticated free spirit,' says Azede Jean-Pierre. 'She's bold and she's quirky. She isn't from just one place, so can understand lots of people's perspectives.'
The 28-year-old might as well be describing herself. Jean-Pierre's diverse background — she was born in Haiti and grew up in suburban Atlanta, Georgia — informs her breakout line.
The Savannah College of Art and Design alum, who interned at Ralph Rucci and Ohne Titel, reimagined traditional tiered dresses from the West Indies in bold, primary colours and easy shapes for spring.
Since launching the label in 2012, her graphic, carefree aesthetic has attracted a cool girl celebrity following. Lady Gaga and Solange Knowles are both fans.
The latter has been a supporter right from the start. In fact, one of our earliest memories of a Jean-Pierre look was when Solange attended a party in a crop top and skirt by the designer featuring giant beetle-like bugs. 'It's just about not taking things too seriously,' Jean-Pierre says.
Celebs aren't the only ones who've taken notice: Jean-Pierre made Forbes' 2016 30 under 30 Art & Style list and has been on countless 'emerging designer' roundups.
But it's safe to say her most influential fan is America's First Lady Michelle Obama. After sending a cold email to FLOTUS's team (talk about a go-getter!) Mrs. Obama, a champion of up-and-coming designers, commissioned Jean-Pierre to create the ice-blue dress she wore on the cover of Essence magazine in 2014.
'She's done a lot to help young people, including myself,' says the designer. 'She put me in the forefront, and I'm grateful.'
The relationship also got the Brooklynite invitations to two major White House events, the Reach Higher Fashion Education workshop and the White House Holiday Party.
'She's just a genuine spirit,' Jean-Pierre recalls. 'When you meet her, you're surprised at how down-to-earth she is. She's a normal woman; your mentor who gives it to you like it is, but is very sweet and motherly.'
Despite her explosive popularity among influencers, Jean-Pierre says she wants to grow her brand at a considered, steady pace. 'We spent two seasons working on the back end, and now we want to make a splash,' says the designer about showing her spring 2017 collection during Paris Fashion Week for the first time.
So what's next? Jean-Pierre recently brought on a financial partner to help extend her vision. 'Before we were doing really graphic things. But now it's more about the things women really want to live in,' she says.
Jean-Pierre is quick to stress that practical pieces don't need to compromise on design. 'So it's about texture, things like our knits that you want to keep wearing all the time,' she says.
'And we've developed this little bolero that everyone's like, "What is that!?" It's a really great piece that just elevates whatever the heck you have on.'
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