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Chris & Claudia

(Pictured) The man and woman behind Zazou, Christopher Carroll and Claudia Koch.

When speaking on the phone, one only has the tone, sound and volume of another person’s voice to listen to. That person on the other end is otherwise invisible. One cannot pick up on body language or other visual cues. It is his or her words and voice that give the caller an insight into this stranger on the other end of the line. Luckily, for Claudia Koch, her voice carries more personality than most people’s entire beings.

On the morning of the Fourth of July, I had the pleasure of interviewing Claudia over the phone. She is one of the original founders of the luxury scarf brand Zazou, the company that this blog centers upon.

Christopher Carroll and Claudia, who met at the University of California, Berkeley, began their Zazou business after Claudia had found success importing jewelry and scarves from other countries into the United States.

“After I graduated [from Berkeley] . . . I traveled extensively in Asia and I started buying silver jewelry and bringing it back and showing it here [the United States] in kind of a casual nature,” explained Claudia. “Finally, one of the items that I was bringing in were scarves that were made in India, these beautifully colored scarves, and they just took off.”

And took off they did, as both entrepreneurs used their own talents to expand the Zebra-clad business. Claudia focused on importing materials while Chris set his sights on designs. Together, the pair also hired a group of dedicated sales reps to help sell the products and create personal relationships with the clients and customers.

“[Zazou] was a name that was known for its quirkiness, and a company that was known for its customer service,” said Claudia with pride. “We did anything for our customers, anything.”

According to Claudia, in addition to customer service, the Zazou brand is also known for creating quality accessories for older, professional women who enjoy creative designs.

“The Zazou brand, it has a quirky aspect,” said Claudia. This “quirky” aspect, she said, was heavily prevalent in the line when she and Chris ran the company. Last year, however, the duo sold the brand to Sterling Styles, where it thrives today. Claudia and Chris still maintain a connection to Zazou, and offer their input whenever they can. And their advice is always welcomed, seeing as the former schoolmates ran the company for approximately 30 years.

“The fashion industry is a lot of work,” cautioned the fashion veteran. “It is a very hard, hard way to make a living. A lot of it has to do with luck. I believe in luck and being in the right place at the right time.”

Now, for Claudia, the right moments come from traveling with her husband or when buying pieces that exemplify her self-proclaimed “quirky” style.

“My own personal style is very quirky, shall we say, and probably younger than it should be,” Claudia said with an exuberant laugh. “And my husband keeps telling me, ‘Claudia, you are not 30 years old anymore!’”

This is what has made Claudia such an innovator and a successful businesswoman. She has made and followed her own set of rules and guidelines all of her life.

“If you look at people who are successful in fashion, they are all kind of eccentric, I think,” opinioned Claudia. “Eccentrics have good business sense, let’s put it that way!”

For more information about the Zazou brand itself, visit https://www.zazou.com/z_index.php.

*Photograph Courtesy Claudia Koch

In the hidden, underground cafés of Paris, they would gossip, read poetry and flaunt their zoot suits. They would find solace in the company of one another as the destruction of World War II played out above theme. They were ‘zazous.’

From their avante garde styles and European flare came inspiration for the name of the American accessory brand Zazou, which can be found at https://www.zazou.com/z_index.php.

“We spent a lot of time thinking about the name because we wanted something that had a good sound to it,” recounted designer, artist, and man behind Zazou designs, Christopher Carroll.

Although he does not necessarily consider himself a fashion designer, or even thought he would be working in the fashion industry at all, Chris has helped develop and grow the brand Zazou since its inception in 1982 with his friend and business partner, Claudia Koch.

“I kind of got into designing scarves in kind of a weird way,” said the Berkeley alumnus. “A good friend of mine [Claudia] had moved to Europe and she was going to . . . Afghanistan and India and a bunch of places, and she would buy some jewelry and hand crafted items . . . and sell them in Greece.”

After seemingly non-stop traveling, however, Claudia wanted to stay put and open up a wholesale line in the United States. After trying out various assortments, the entrepreneur soon discovered that she was selling more scarves than any of her other products, and in an effort to expand the success of her accessories, she looked to her good friend and confidant, Chris.

“Because we were close, she said, ‘Why don’t we just design them?'” said Chris about his first involvement with Zazou scarves.

Soon, one scarf design became two, and two designs became a collection, and the Zazou line is what Chris has been working on ever since, in addition to his own artwork and publications.

“I like designing scarves,” said Chris. “I like fabric and I like participating in that whole thing, but I also like doing my own work.”

Chris’ artwork mainly consists of black and white drawings and projects made from cut paper.

In both his artwork and fashion designs, Chris finds inspirations from a myriad of places.

“Because it’s fashion, it can’t just be anything,” explained Chris. “It has to be something I’m interested in. It has to be something that is current, and that I feel is something people would look good in.”

Current and flattering trends Chris has noticed include bolder prints that are larger in scale, as opposed to smaller, more intricate designs that were popular a few years ago.

Design inspirations, however, can also be found in decades past.

“I know a lot about the history of fashion and textiles,” said Chris. “So when I feel like something is going to be back in style, [because] everything is sort of like a big, revolving circle, I like to update something that is in the back of my head or that is some historical thing.”

The bold patterns and silky textures that frequently make up Zazou designs can usually be found on customers older in age, who already have a clear definition of their own personal styles.

“[The Zazou customer is] someone who is a little bit older, but I have always wanted to design for young people,” said Chris, as he contemplated the women who buy Zazou products. “In my mind, I would rather design for a young person, and that is kind of what I have in mind when I’m designing, even though our customer is usually older.”

No matter what Chris is envisioning when creating his designs, the final products result in quality, bold scarves that have helped Zazou expand to vineyards, galleries and museums in America and Europe.

Chris made no hint to the idea that he was slowing down, and he seemed optimistic about the future, with words of wisdom for the next generation of fashion hopefuls making their way into the industry.

“You have to start off by investing in yourself,” advised Chris. “Just do something. If you want to design clothes, then design them, make them . . . don’t wait.”