Baylee Zwart is her own best advertisement. The inherently chic, slender designer behind fine jewelry label Azlee not only has great style (she favors designers Melitta Baumeister, The Row, and J.W. Anderson), she also possesses a laid-back, cool girl attitude that instantly draws you in.
Zwart's pieces are delicate yet bold, combining architectural design with tiny diamonds and for the first time last season, enamel. Inspired by movement, Zwart merges her love for sculptural design with wearability. And while she is her line’s greatest advocate, the women surrounding her are her greatest muses. “I'm very inspired by girls most of the time,” she says via email from her California-based studio. “I’ll pick a muse and an inspiration each season and think to myself, ‘what would she wear that sits in the vein of the story I’m trying to tell?’ My goal is to create a narrative with each collection.”
“Vanessa Traina is a style icon for me. I love how she stays true to her aesthetic and isn't swayed by trends. Her eye for timeless, beautiful fabrics and interesting silhouettes resonates with how I dress."
Raised between the beaches of California and slopes of Colorado, Zwart always had an interest in fashion. “I wasn't sure where I was going to fit into that world,” she says. “I worked at Allure and Glamour magazines in New York and enjoyed seeing that side of things, but I knew it wasn't for me. During that time I also discovered a love for philanthropy, and especially the intersection of fashion and philanthropy.” A true adventurer at heart, Zwart set off for Guatemala, where she labored for a fair-trade non-profit that worked with local artisans to create jewelry and accessories. “Through a series of events while living there I started studying jewelry metal working. From that moment on I was hooked. The idea that you can start with a chunk of metal and create something wearable that is also so precious with beautiful stones from around the world captivated me. I started sketching all the time—on the boat to work, in the middle of the night—I adored it.”
Below: Baylee wears Co. top
Zwart returned to California and began searching for jewelry makers to help realize her vision, Azlee: A fine jewelry label that plays on shape and proportion, turning functional elements into design points. For example, an earring back is extended into one long line, and square studs appear to curl around the lobe like a magical illusion. Strong geometric shapes like squares; rectangles and triangles feature predominantly throughout her collections, yet all retain a delicate feminine edge through tiny diamonds and thin bands. Although her pieces seem influenced by architecture, Zwart also looks to nature. Design inspiration tends to hit her well into the evening. “Often in the middle of the night an image will pop into my head, I’ll flick the lamp on, sketch, and go back to sleep,” she says. “It will be so clear that I can't miss sketching it or I will lose it. I didn't have a formal art driven education, so it was interesting for me to learn my creative process a bit later than some.”
Like her jewelry, Zwart’s personal style skews minimalist. “I like clean, sophisticated clothes,” she says. “I like black and white. Comfort is key. I can't wear things that are uncomfortable as I’m up and down all day. I love jewelry, obviously. But I’m more about one or two pieces at a time, rather than a lot of stacking. That's why I try and design pieces that can stand-alone, where customers don't feel like they require a lot to achieve something special. They just need that one piece.”
As an avid surfer in California—she recently relocated to be closer to the beach—the ocean is close to Zwart’s heart, and a portion from each Azlee piece sold helps ocean-related causes. “I knew that if I were to create a product, I needed to offset that by giving back,” says Zwart. “We partner with a different ocean-related cause each year and as time goes on and we grow, I hope to be able to help fund specific projects and initiatives for these organizations.” She also looks to travel, hiking, and yoga to strike a balance. “I love going home to LA to step away from everything fashion for a bit. It gives me time to think. I find travel particularly stimulating—meeting new people, new styles, new cultures—that spawns a lot of my ideas,” she says. “My head will get into a certain place, latch onto something particular. When I can't let go of it, that’s how I know I need to pursue it.” Just like the designer herself, this is jewelry that leaves a lasting impression.
Visit Azlee.com to shop Zwart's collection.
Hair by Carolyn Riley, Makeup by Emma Broom