THE Tunisian-born couturier Azzedine Alaïa has died in Paris at the age of 77. The Sphinx-like designer, once dubbed “the King of Cling”, was highly revered for his garments that moulded the body into extraordinary proportions, the product of an obsessive craftsman who bears more resemblance to a sculptor than a fashion designer.
“Azzedine Alaïa was a true visionary, and a remarkable man. He will be deeply missed by all of those who knew and loved him, as well as by the women around the world who wore his clothes,” said Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful this morning. “The generosity of his spirit and genius of his designs will never be forgotten.”
Born in Tunis on 26 February 1940 to wheat farmers, Alaïa was an early devotee to Vogue and cheated his way into the local Institut Supérieur des Beaux Arts in Tunis to study sculpture. He noted that “when I realised I couldn’t be an amazing sculptor, I changed direction” – segueing into fashion. He began assisting a dress-maker and, having built up a private client base, he moved to Paris in 1957. He soon got a job at Christian Dior, in the midst of the Algerian war, but was dismissed for having incorrect immigration papers.
From Dior he went to Guy Laroche, where he spent two seasons, then to Thierry Mugler, but a series of high-society patrons allowed him to set up his own workshop. Elegant swans such as the Comtesse of Blegiers offered him lodgings in exchange for dress-making and babysitting. Hollywood stars such as Greta Garbo and the Seventies jet-set, which included Marie-Hélène de Rothschild, came regularly for fittings.
He produced his first ready-to-wear collection in 1980, in conjunction with a move to a studio in the Marais. It was a smash hit: moulded in leather, it was as erotically charged as it was ground-breaking.
Over the years he continued to create collections to the beat of his own drum, eschewing the traditional seasonal calendars, from which he retired in 1992: “When the collection is ready, it’s ready,” was Alaïa’s attitude. He showed a surprise couture collection in July, his first since 2011, in which Naomi Campbell made a rare catwalk appearance to rapturous reviews.
Alaïa in 1976, before he opened his eponymous label.
With model Farida, and his beloved pet dog.
At a fitting with performer Grace Jones.
Models in Alaïa dresses outside one of the designer’s Paris Fashion Week shows.
In his workshop, based in Paris’s Marais district.
With Alber Elbaz.
With Giambattista Valli and John Galliano at the latter’s first eponymous womenswear show.
With Carla Sozzani, to attend the Christian Dior spring/summer 2015 show in Paris.
The press preview of the exhibition Azzedine Alaia’s Soft Sculpture at the Galleria Borghese in Rome.
The designer backstage at his surprise 2017 couture show.