‘My obsession is to make women beautiful. When you create with that in mind, things can’t go out of fashion.’ – Azzedine Alaïa
Azzedine Alaïa’s passing in November of last year rocked the fashion world. His name was on every fashion blog, every model had an Instagram post dedicated to him, even my lecturer mentioned him during one of his lectures. I knew of Alaïa very briefly (a ‘this is an Alaïa’ reference in Clueless helped this!), but it wasn’t until after his passing that I began to become more familiar with his work. After I saw an advert for the ‘Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier’ exhibition at The Design Museum in London, I knew I had to write a blog post on the master of couture. Often dubbed the king of cling, Alaïa was world renowned for his form fitting dresses, that embraced women’s curves instead of trying to hide them.
Alaïa, (similar to Zac Posen), wanted to design clothes that fit women’s bodies perfectly, and accentuated their curves. He studied sculpture at École des Beaux-Arts in Tunis, and this is where he learnt how to mould clothes to the female form in the most flattering way. He was one of the first designers to really embrace the body-con dress, and his dresses were known to cinch the wearers body beautifully.
Very little of Alaïa’s designs were carried out by anyone but him. In fact he famously dissed Karl Lagerfeld, saying he was a designer ‘who had never held a pair of scissors in his life’. He was one of the very few designer who still stitched his own designs together, instead of delegating to other people. This is what made his creations so perfectly constructed, as he was the one who had complete control over them. His goal was to make women feel powerful and beautiful, and by constructing his works by hand he ensured he achieved this.
Alaïa has dressed hoards of celebrities in his time. Greta Garbo being one of the first, and leading on to celebs such as Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Madonna and even Michelle Obama. With such a wide variety of women it’s a testament to how talented he was to be able to make them all look equally as stunning.
Another aspect of Alaïa that stood out was his complete disregard to the fashion calendar. He rarely shared his collections during fashion week, instead opting to display them when he felt they were ready. This also led to issues when trying to stock his clothes in store – many retailers found it hard to get on board with getting stock when Alaïa was ready to send it, instead of when it was actually needed.
Aside from being a one of a kind designer, Alaïa is also credited as being a caring man. Often it’s suggested that he in fact invented the supermodels of the 80’s and 90’s, and not Gianni Versace (though a blog post on his fashion legacy is coming soon). I read in one article about him that he found it easy to create dresses to fit women’s figures, not just because he understood their bodies, but because he understood their hearts and souls too. Naomi Campbell still calls him Papa (she considers him a father figure), and many of his friends recall large meals at his home in Paris – it’s clear he was inspired by the people he loved, and liked to have them around constantly.
I’m honestly so interested in the exhibition currently taking place in London, and if I get chance over the summer I’d love to see his amazing creations with my own eyes. As with most aspects of his life, Alaïa was heavily involved in curating the collection, and even though he unexpectedly passed away during this process, you can clearly see Alaïa’s vision for the exhibition throughout.
Alaïa is one of the greats, and will go down in history as a designer whose passion was to make women look beautiful, not just to make beautiful clothes. The out pour of love in November after his death is proof of how adored the Tunisian-born designer was, and I have no doubt that the fashion world will never see a talent similar to him again.
Until next time,
Images sourced from Harpers Bazaar, W Magazine, Daily Mail, NYtimes, DazedDigital and Design Museum