Azzedine Alaïa is truly one of the greatest couturiers of our time, someone who we lost just a few months ago in November, 2017. He is not only remembered for his talent, but also his free spirited independence, his refusal to follow fashion trends and his kindness to those who know him well. Here is a look back at the making of a legend…
Let’s take a walk down memory lane and track the footprints of this legendary design house…
1935: Azzedine Alaïa was born in Tunisia’s capital city, Tunis. During his childhood, his glamorous twin sister, Hafida, inspired his love for couture, and was attributed to having helped him get into the Ecole des beaux-arts in Tunis where he studied sculpture.
In 1957: Alaïa moved to Paris to work in fashion design, including for Christian Dior, Guy Laroche and Thierry Mugler.
Late seventies: Alaïa opened his first atelier in his little rue de Bellechasse apartment. It is in this tiny atelier that for almost 20 years he privately dressed members of the world’s jet set, from Marie-Hélène de Rothschild to Louise de Vilmorin to Greta Garbo, who used to come incognito for her fittings.
1980: He produced his first ready-to-wear collection and moved to larger premises on rue du Parc-Royal in the Marais district.
1980: While interior designer Andrée Putman was walking down New York’s Madison Avenue with one of the first Alaïa leather coats, she was stopped by a Bergdorf Goodman buyer who asked her what she was wearing, which began a turn of events that led to Alaïa’s designs being sold in New York City and Beverly Hills.
1984: Alaïa was voted Best Designer of the Year and Best Collection of the Year at the Oscars de la Mode by the French Ministry of Culture in a memorable event where Jamaican singer Grace Jones carried him in her arms on stage.
Mid-1980s: He opened his own boutiques in New York City, Beverly Hills and in Paris. His seductive, clinging clothes were a massive success and he was named by the media ‘The King of Cling’.
Mid-1990s: Following the death of his sister, Hadifa, Alaïa virtually vanished from the fashion scene; however, he continued to cater to a private clientele and enjoyed commercial success with his ready-to-wear lines.
1995: Alaïa designed supermodel Stephanie Seymour’s wedding dress – reportedly took 1,600 hours to make.
1996: A solo exhibition at the Palazzo Corsini in Florence was followed by one with longtime friend Julian Schnabel’s paintings at the Biennale della Moda.
2000: Alaïa signed a partnership with the Prada group. He retained his independence while working with the Group and maintains his vision for his label.
2007: Alaïa bought the Prada Group out of the ready-to-wear line of his label, though his footwear and leather goods division continued to be developed and produced by the group. In the same year, the Richemont group, which owns Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, took a stake in his fashion house.
2011: Alaïa’s first show after seven years is said to have been the most anticipated and secret shows of Fashion Week. Tim Blanks, formerly of Style.com (now Vogue.com) wrote: “Azzedine Alaïa inspires devotion like no other designer in fashion, so it was small wonder that his first show in eight years should end with applause that went on and on… and on, until French Minister of Culture Frédéric Mitterrand scooted backstage and coaxed the famously shy designer out to face a rapturous standing ovation. And that was the only logical climax to a presentation that was punctuated throughout by involuntary squeaks of appreciation from a front row that included Donatella Versace, Sofia Coppola, and Kanye West.”
2012: Alaïa announced he was set to open a new store in Paris, France in March 2013. It is the first new store opening since 1992.
2013: A retrospective solo-exhibition, curated by Olivier Saillard, of Alaïa’s designs opens in the Palais Galleria in Paris.
2017: Azzedine Alaïa presented his first show since the one in 2011, and his last show before his death. Naomi Campbell opened and closed his show (the designer is widely credited at kickstarting the super’s career when she was 16-years old). It was proved worth the wait for many in attendance.
2017: Azzedine Alaïa passed away on November 28, 2017 after heart failure. The global fashion industry and beyond mourned the passing of one of the greatest designers of our time.
Perhaps, Azzedine Alaïa – both the man and the clothes – is best remembered by dear friend and journalist Alexander Fury’s words: “For me, the fundamental tenet of Azzedine Alaïa is a steadfast refusal to obey rules – not just the often-cited rules of the fashion world, trite conventions about when to show and what to show, but all kinds of rules. Technically, Azzedine’s clothes mixed silk with leather, making the latter molten and the former rigid, muddling our perceptions of physics; ideologically, in a post-feminist landscape, he created clothes that gave women power not by neutering their sexuality, but embracing and celebrating it. He bucked every trend. But Azzedine’s impact was wider than that. He mixed fashion with art and literature, refusing to recognise any boundaries between different art forms, eschewing the notion of hierarchy. And although Azzedine didn’t speak English, he managed, somehow, to speak with everyone.”