The famous adage that all good things come in small packages, holds especially true for Tunisian couturier Azzedine Alaïa -- the “smallest designer in haute couture”, with a gigantic influence on fashion. Known as the ‘King of Cling’, his pioneering hyper-fitted silhouettes were a predecessor to Herve Leger’s bandage dresses and the modern bodycon shape that lives on even today.
Azzedine Alaïa in Tunisia
Alaïa, began his love affair with fashion in Tunisia, while reading Vogues under the roof of his wheat farmer parents in Northern Africa. To get an education as a sculptor, he lied about his age and entered École des Beaux-Arts in Tunisia. Soon enough, he left the continent to train as a dressmaker in Paris, the fashion capital of the world. There, began his career in creating the most magnificent clothes, by first cutting his teeth in the atelier of Christian Dior, followed by Guy Laroche and Thierry Mugler. In the 1970s he opened his first retail spot in the city, above his apartment, where he found the patronage of stylish women like actress Greta Garbo and French socialite Marie-Hélène de Rothschild.
Azzedine Alaïa in his atelier at Rue de Bellechasse
To really understand the role of Azzedine Alaïa in the world of fashion, is to soak in the pop-culture moments he defined of the time. The designer is known to have created the supermodel moment of the ‘80s, with his star-studded fashion shows in Paris. Naomi Campbell called him “Papa”, and is known to have been taken under the designer’s wing to become the fashion force she continues to be today. Few relationships in fashion can claim to be as close as this maker and muse.
Azzedine Alaïa with Naomi Campbell
“No other dress can make a woman look and feel as good as an Alaïa dress because it cinches the body perfectly,” Naomi Campbell once said about Alaïa. His use of material and cut, hugged the body, empowering the woman who wore it. He was also one of the first fashion designers to forgo the traditional Paris Fashion Week calendar, instead creating collections at his own pace. With his sculpted silhouettes and daring cuts, the man in the black suit (his daily uniform) defined sex appeal in the late 20th century.
Grace Jones for A View to Kill (1985)
The modelling world is just one of the industries Alaïa towered over. Film was where his couture came to the silver screen, in films like 'A View To Kill' (1985) where model Grace Jones stunned in a hooded purple mermaid dress with corseted cut-outs that ran along one thigh.
His influence jumped eras. Every 90s kid has had their education in fashion through the coming-of-age movie Clueless. Remember when Cher Horrowitz at a gunpoint robbery refuses to get down on her knees because “You don’t understand! This is an Alaïa!”? That meme-worthy moment has travelled through time and generations.
In 2017, at the age of 77, Azzedine Alaïa passed away, but left a fashion house relevant now and forever. His craftsmanship made women feel confident, sexy, powerful, and capable. From dressing a Bond Girl to the First Lady of the United States, the late designer made more than a memorable career. His close friend and former editor in chief of Vogue Italia, Franca Sozzani once said, “Azzedine was always thinking about young people, his obsession was how the young generation would approach not only his work but everything he had collected. He was always thinking about how to share.”
Rihanna in Azzedine Alaïa
Madonna in Azzedine Alaïa
Kim Kardashian in Azzedine Alaïa
His roster of fans today include Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Madonna and even the Kar-Jenners - everyone recognises the leopard print look revived from Alaïa’s historic ‘90s shows.
The designer’s memory lives on today in his ahead-of-its time cleverly crafted dresses, that will now live on in the hands of a newly-appointed creative director of the house - Pieter Mulier. Mulier’s way with craft, learnt working with Raf Simons at Calvin Klein, will show in the label’s Autumn/Winter 2021 collection. We don’t know about you, but we definitely can’t wait to see what this legendary label will serve us in the coming months!
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