HE HAS EPITOMIZED THE 80S BODY FIXATION WHILE UNANIMOUSLY BREAKING FREE FROM FASHION’S SYSTEMATIC CONVENTIONS. AZZEDINE ALAÏA IS ONE OF THE GREAT REMAINING COUTURIERS WHOSE SECRECY LENDS NO LACK OF VISIBILITY.
Azzedine Alaïa is an elusive being. His name spans decades, yet the designer himself is a rare sighting. His shows have ceased to take place on a seasonal basis since the mid 90s. Today, the prominence and high gloss of his name continues to radiate the industry radar despite his off-schedule private shows. He prefers to expend his social energy decadently tucked away in his Paris apartment hosting dinner parties for his friends Rihanna and Rei Kawabuko among many others. Never one to belong to the system, Alaïa marches to his own beat and he has dismayed the public and press with hour-long show and appointment delays. At times it is not unlikely that he may not show up at all. Refusing to compromise, his off-schedule shows have been due to his insistence on sewing each prototype himself. Doing things on his own time, in his own way, is perhaps Azzedine Alaïa’s greatest ignition.
Tunisian born Alaïa was formally trained as sculptor at Institut Supérieur des Beaux Arts in Tunis. Upon graduation, a switch was in the cards since he had already established that pure sculpture would never lead him to become one of the greats, and so the female form became his fixation. His ascension into design began with a move to France to work at the house of Christian Dior in 1957. His role as a tailleur lasted only five days and his dismissal forced him to take up a housekeeping job for the tailor Comtesse de Blégiers. The unexpected turn of events brought Alaïa close to her high society socialite circle, many of who became his first clients years later. Greta Garbo was one among the glamour. He made a swift comeback to couture and continued to work with the French design elite such as Guy Laroche and Thierry Mugler. By the late 70s, he was ready to launch his own atelier on Rue Bellechasse in Paris and the fashion world embraced him with full force.
Alaïa’s greatest vigor since the late 70s has been his relentless precision when it comes to the contemporary craft of cutting cloth. Having explored and innovated within the realm of revolutionary dress making techniques from the classic Vionnet Bias Cut to his own micro-knit innovations, he created his trademark skin tight silhouette - a foray into what eventually exploded into the 80s body conscience obsession. Technique has been Alaïa’s driving force since day one and beyond producing his famous second skin silhouette; he has mastered it by developing a draping technique that wraps but never constrict a woman’s movements. The ultimate object of his intrigue had been sparked and with that he began to design costumes for cabaret dancers at Paris’ Crazy Horse Cabaret, the source from which he learned the all-important skill of mastering of the curves. Sexual seduction has been Alaïa’s code ever since and his overt attention to the female body has made him an instant sensation among the decade’s raciest women.
By the time the 80s had rolled around, he had already established a trademark style that would launch his name into the spotlight. French Elle Magazine Editor Nicole Crassat spotted Alaïa and snapped his leather pieces up immediately. He forged sculpted leather alongside the pivotal 80s silhouette complete with androgynous shoulders and cinched waist, a domain which built a world up from his leather lust. Alaïa had created his own cast of early punk way ahead of time with grommeted leather dresses and slick one piece black suits. A single shot of Nicole Crassat in Alaïa’s leather jacket photographed by legendary photographer Bill Cunningham for the New York Times made the name Azzedine Alaïa spread like wildfire. By 1982 Bergdorf Goodman buyers where knocking on his Paris atelier door asking him to present his collection in America.
An all-encompassing love for Alaïa has spun the adoration from multiple icons into the web of the great designer’s own iconic stature. It is impossible to reference a retro Alaïa design without mentioning the decade’s unbreakable phenomenon, Grace Jones. As his ultimate muse, Jones provoked the fiery femininity embodied in the breakthrough hooded purple skin tight Alaïa gown. She carried him in her arms on stage to obtain his award for ‘Best Designer of the Year’ and ‘Best Collection of the Year’ by the French Ministry of Culture in 1984. His decision to retract from the fashion industry in the 90s helped his business and his brand continued to boom after buyouts from the Prada Group and Richemont Group in 2000 and 2007 respectively. He declined an offer to take the helm at Dior following John Galliano’s exit in 2011, a decision which does not surprise in light of his aversion to the industry system. Today he continues to cut his own patterns and pin cloth into the morning hours long after his guest have left his dinner parties. A sculptor from the beginning, he has transformed the female form and like all great artists, he is never satisfied with his work. His relentless dedication continues to drive him six decades into his craft.
His skin tight, micro-knit and leather creations blasted onto the scene in the 80s and his name has held a united synergy with seduction ever since.
He is famously known for operating on his own timeline, and has always refused to take part in the fashion system’s cyclical schedule. His shows have run hours late and he often presented his collection a week or two following the industry schedule.
He stands five feet and three inches tall and is greatly adored among fashion’s purveyors. As a father figure to the original supermodel tribe who have known him since they age of 16, Linda Evangelista, Helena Christensen and Naomi Campbell, drop their schedules in a second to jet to Paris and walk his show. Naomi Campbell still calls him, “papa”.
He is artistically inspired and goes on to study sculpture at the Institut Supérieur des Beaux Arts in Tunis at the age of 15.
He leaves Tunisia to work for Dior in France and is dismissed after five days for not having his immigration papers in order.
Following his dismissal at Dior, Alaïa goes on to work for Guy Laroche and Thierry Mugler.
Alaïa opens his first atelier out of his apartment on Rue Bellechasse in Paris.
His innovative sculpting methods put him on the map as the designer who rediscovered leather and his androgynous styles became all the rage. He produces his first ready to wear collection in this year, which jolts his brand into the media and editorial pages of major magazines.
The director of American luxury retailer Bergdorf Goodman comes knocking on Alaïa's door at Rue de Bellechasse in Paris asking him to produce and show his collection in America.
He is awarded ‘Best Designer of the Year’ and ‘Best Collection of the Year’ by the French Ministry of Culture. Grace Jones carries him across the stage to receive his award.
Alaïa expands into the U.S. and opens his first stores in New York and Beverly Hills. His client Jacqueline Schnabel sponsors his Soho boutique.
This is the last seasonal collection presented by Alaïa. He decides to retreat from the fashion industry for personal reasons, but his brand continues to garner success with private shows and ongoing ready to wear production.
Alaïa signs a partnership with the Prada Group, a decision from which the brand benefits positively.
His leather goods continue to be produced by Prada Group; however he buys back the majority of his business and turns it over to Richemont group, owner of Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels.
Azzedine Alaïa is offered the helm of Dior following John Galliano’s exit. He declines the offer.
An exhibition titled: “Couture/Sculpture: Azzedine Alaïa in the History of Fashion”, is celebrated at Galleria Borghese in Rome. For Spring/Summer 2016, Alaïa presents a ready to wear collection two days after the conventional show schedule, in true Alaïa style. The collection is filled with exotic skins and he stuns his audience with goddess - like dresses draped out of an unexpected waxed peau de vache.
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