Time really does fly! In just a few days (the 18th November, to be precise), we will mark three years since Azzedine Alaïa left us. But why are we talking about this stylist on the Klokers blog, when most of his portraits show him with a resolutely bare wrist? What’s more, it wasn’t like he counted the minutes when he designed his iconic range of dresses.
Over and over, Azzedine Alaïa took a stand against the ever-accelerating fashion industry, driven by the trend for fast fashion, marketing, financial groups and investors looking for a quick return on their buck. In the 1990’s, he went so far as to boycott the industry’s Fashion Weeks, which had by this time started to multiply. In more recent years, he would only unveil his collections when the inspiration took him.
In a way, he was like those artists who work with a final exhibition in mind when creating new works - but it shouldn’t be a surprise: Azzedine Alaïa dreamt of becoming a sculptor when he was younger, and studied at the Tunis College of Art. Coming from a poor family, however, he had to find a way to pay for these studies so, in his spare time, he would help out a local seamstress and sew the lining on her clothes.
It did not take long for wood, stone and clay to fade away, ceding their place to leather, cloth and stretchy jersey fabrics. Like a thread into a needle, this student sculptor fell headlong into design and the soft, ever-changing materials which demanded such dexterity. Even today, all luxury, high-street and mass-market clothes are made with a minimum of human input. In this way, they are very much like watches: these still need the human touch, despite the massive technological leaps forward since the appearance of quartz mechanisms.
When he arrived in Paris in the mid 1950’s, Azzedine Alaïa would sometimes work for major designers. At the same time, he steadily built up a circle of private clients, for whom he would design unique, tailored models. In 1980, the time had come to officially launch his brand: success came rapidly, but his approach remained the same. In a way, he turned his back on traditional fashion seasons. Instead, he worked to develop timeless pieces which would outlast fashions and passing trends. He consistently sought perfection in everything he made, constantly working to improve his designs and their wearability, blazing his own trail up until the twilight of his years.
Open until the 07 February 2021 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, About Time Fashion and Duration (*) presents Azzedine Alaïa as the perfect example of a contemporary designer who made a firm impression on his era and set his own rhythm. At the same time, at 5, rue de Moussy in Paris, La Petite Boutique now presents a selection of his models from four decades, all of which have stood the test of time.
Text: Frédéric Martin-Bernard
Photo: Azzedine Alaïa in his workshop, january 1976. Photo Muus. Sipa
(*) due to the current pandemic, the MET now only provides guided tours of About Time Fashion and Duration from their website, www.metmuseum.org