Fashion Flashback: Azzedine Alaia

                                          Image courtesy of jakpost.com

Fashion Reverie looks back at the life and career of Azzedine Alaia. Azzedine Alaia is thought of as having paved the way from iconic black fashion models—and in particular Naomi Campbell early in her career—going against the tide of using more than one or two models in collection. However, using models of color wasn’t the only thing that Azzedine Alaia rallied for. Alaia believed that time was a fashion designer’s friend and that the crunch schedule that major designers are forced to create collections against stifles creativity and does not give consumers adequate time to digest collections. In response to that perspective, Alaia would show collection on his own time schedule, often showing after the fashion calendar or some seasons not showing all. Azzedine Alaia presented his collections when the clothes were ready, on his own time schedule.This tradeoff was very frustrating for the fashion community and his loyal fans, and Azzedine Alaia paid a heavy price for his obstinacy. Though he was financially comfortable, had he acquiesced and played by the fashion rules, he could have been wealthy. Still, Azzedine Alaia’s creative freedom was more important to him than great wealth.

Born to humble farmers in Tunis, Tunisia, Azzedine Alaia was inspired by his glamorous sister and enrolled at the School of Fine Arts in Tunis against his father’s will. While a student, Azzedine found a job in a small dress shop. “The owner was looking for someone to finish up the dresses,” he said. “My sister had learned sewing with the nuns, and she had a notebook with all the basics. That was my first real experience with fashion, and while I was in the shop, I improved dramatically,” as detailed in a nytimes.com article.

      Images courtesy of theguardian.co.uk, pinterest.com, and nymag.com, respectively

“Close to the boutique, there was a beautiful palace where two wealthy girls spent their days looking out the balcony. They saw me going in and out of the shop with cartons and fabrics, and finally, one day after school, they came up to question me about my work and invited me to their house that same night.” Through these connections, Azzedine acquired a job with Christian Dior in 1957.

                   Azzedine Alaia Couture fall 2011 image courtesy of wgsn.com

Making clothing on the side for influential Parisians, word quickly spread that Alaia was a great talent, opening his own design house in 1979. Alaia launched his first ready-to-wear collection in 1980 and was immediately declared the “king of cling” by the French press. In actuality, Alaia’s designs were made to empower women and celebrate the feminine silhouette without exploiting a woman’s curves. Alaia became known for deceptively weaving embellishments and patterns seamlessly into the weft of the garment.Though Azzedine Alaia’s design aesthetic fell out of fashion in the 1990s, Lady Gaga and other celebrities, as well as an injection of investment money from Compagnie Financiere Richemont, the company that owns Van Cleef & Arpels and Cartier, in 2007 allowed Alaia to design collection at his own pace with his particular creativity. Azzedine Alaia returned to the fashion calendar last July after a six-year absence, demonstrating that his collections are timeless.

                            Azzedine Alaia spring 2017 images courtesy of vogue.com

Azzedine Alaia died from an apparent heart attack on Saturday, November 18, 2017.—William S. Gooch

 

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