Fashion lost one of its most beloved and talented designers as Azzedine Alaïa passed in Paris on Saturday at the age of 82 due to a heart attack.

 

His love of the sculpture form, precision in craftsmanship, and focus on making the complex appear simple helped to modernize the idea of luxury dressing today.


BY KENNETH RICHARD

Azzadine Alaia

 

There are those who play by the rules, those that bend them, and the ones the rules simply don’t apply to. Azzedine Alaïa was the latter, a designer who followed his own convictions bucking the fashion system to show when he felt his collection was ready, often out of synch with seasons and schedules. His vision was so succinct, his cuts so classically forward, and understanding of the female form so stunning that the industry bent to his will willingly, understanding him to be an idiosyncratic talent ahead of his time.

“He didn’t play with gimmicky fashion ideas, everything he’s doing is a new classic in a way. He defined a new aesthetic, a new way of dressing for a woman,” shared Louis Vuitton Creative Director Nicholas Ghesquiére in a recent documentary on Mr. Alaïa by the stylist Joe McKenna. (https://www.joesfilm.com)

Born the son of a wheat farmer in Tunis, Tunisia, Mr. Alaïa had a twin sister and a younger brother. His love of arts and drawing caught the attention of the families midwife who registered him at the School of Fine Arts in Tunis. While in school he found work in a local dress shop that made copies of Parisian designers work. With the help of a family friend he left Tunis for Paris in 1957 to work for Dior.

Word spread of his talents and through the support of private clients including Marie-Hélène de Rothschild he opened his own studio in 1979 releasing his first collection in 1980. His understated sophistication and lack of adornment was in synch with the times offering a strikingly feminine counter weight to the influx of avant- garde Japanese designers new to Paris. His house became a beacon for a new generation of models which he cast in his first shows, that crew would later make-up the core of ‘supermodels.’

“It was Azzadine who invented the supermodel thing. The first time I saw all the supermodels together on the runway, not that they were called that then, was at Azzadine’s on the runway,” said Suzy Menkes in Mr. McKenna’s film.

Longtime collaborator Naomi Campbell, who called Mr. Alaïa ‘Papa’ shared in Mr. McKenna’s film, “the clothes are timeless. I wore something 3 days ago that I wore 21 years ago and not many designers I think can do that.”

“It all comes from inside the garment and that is always what I find so mind boggling, nothing is added on afterwards, it all comes from the beginning and I don’t think anyone else does that,” added Vanessa Friedman.

“Azzadine, contrary to what people might imagine, is one of those people who has given confidence to women through their clothes. Confidence and strength, and ability to express your sexuality and your body but never ever in a vulgar way,” explained Suzy Menkes.

By 1988 Alaïa’s reputation had earned an international following and his footprint included boutiques in New York and Los Angeles. In the 90’s the designer stepped away from fashion for personal reasons and working mainly with private clients. In 2000, Alaïa signed a partnership with the Prada Group who shepard the house for seven years selling their stake back to the designer in 2007.

Soon after Swiss luxury group Compagnie Financière, who also owns Chloé and Cartier, became a significant investor helping the house to grow its accessory division as well as introducing a perfume. All the while allowing Mr. Alaïa to continue to operate his RTW at his own pace with more than 300 points of sale globally.

Mr. Alaïa returned to the couture runway this past July after six years of being away. For many it was a reminder of how his pursuit of excellence made him larger than life, and how he lived a life that was large.

Mr. Alaïa is survived by his partner, Christoph von Weyhe.

In ten years from now, fifteen years from now, whatever the time is we’ll be looking back and saying there is nothing like that now. There’s just nothing like it. There is no other house like this.

– Cathy Horyn