For those who are — like us — still mourning the departure of the late Tunisian couturier Azzedine Alaïa, the celebration of his ouvres through a grand London-based restrospective exhibition, promises some comfort. Following an outpouring of emotion after his passing — from Naomi Campbell, who lived with him as a teenage model, notoriously calling him ‘Papa’; to the Parisians who ate couscous at his table; and most notably the clients who reveared the way he made them look – 2018 will be the year Alaïa is recognised as ‘the man who changed what we wore’. In lieu of the legacy he created as a visionary above all, we pay homage to his influence over the world of haute couture.
Just as other designers have been known to closet themselves in an atelier, Alaïa in turn – so often photographed gleaming with an Amazonian beauty towering over him in one of his dresses — and by the likes of Grace Jones or Farida khelfa no less – dedicated his work to honouring the ‘flesh-and-blood women’. “No other dress can make a woman look and feel as good as an Alaïa dress,” says Naomi Campbell, who has known the designer since she was 16.
Reflecting himself on the ethos behind his creations, he once stated in a 1982 interview that he ‘make(s) clothes – women make fashion,”. Indeed for him, fashion was the body above all, and he personally constructed each garment by hand, refusing to bow to the pressures of fashion week deadlines, and instead working to his own schedule. Naturally, his collaborative approach also earned him an esteemed client list, from working with photographers such as Peter Lindbergh to Herb Ritts, and even Michael Jackson’s erotic ‘In the Closet’ video within which Campbell also features.
What’s more, the man invented the supermodel! That’s right, although Gianni Versace is often credited to having concieved the whole concept — Alaïa was actually there first. It was at his intimate, exclusive shows in the mid 80s that the notion was born, and needless to say the press lost their way when witnessing these ultimate goddesses emerge in Alaïa couture. Along with Campbell, this was the era which birthed our iconic supermodels — Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Yasmin Le Bon, Christy Turlington and Eva Herzigova — who originally emerged in nothing but their commanding presence, and head-to-toe Alaïa. It’s even been noted that some models would cancel other bookings to be part of his shows as ‘the way they looked in his clothes, beautiful and empowered, arguably was an effective branding tool in attracting other jobs’.
Already from the 90’s his legacy had transcended that of the fashion world, making Alaïa an internationally acknowledged name. I mean when Cher from Clueless was held at gunpoint and told her perpetrator “But this is an Alaïa!”, it meant something – namely that Alaïa had overflowed from fashion into popular culture. And within the fashion industry itself, it was clear that many of his creations – his signature bodycon, his soft, intricate take on leather, sculpting godet inserts, leopard print and fit and flare silhouettes — have had such an impact, that they are still seen every season at FW. Yes, from Louis Vuitton’s Nicolas Ghesquière to Hervé Léger and Riccardo Tisci, the fashion world will always borrow from the legacy of Alaïa.
And now, just opening last week, London’s Design Museum is showcasing the work of the late couturier, curated by Alaïa himself, shortly before his passing. The show interlaces stories of his life and career alongside personally selected garments, ranging from the rare to the iconic and spanning the early 1980s to his most recent collection in 2017. What remains certain, is that his admirers will have the opportunity to emmerse themselves into what the world Alaïa encompassed, from his nonconformist nature to his infectious energy for fashion, friendship and the female body itself. The show is on until October 2018, so ready your calendar ladies and gents — this will be a show to remember!