Azzedine Alaïa

The Couturier

“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 effortlessly said about Azzedine Alaïa.

From May 10 until October 7, 2018, London’s Design Museum will feature Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier, the UK’s first exhibition of the late, legendary designer who conceived and co-curated the exhibit with Mark Wilson (Chief Curator of the Groninger Museum) prior to the designer’s sudden death in November 2017.

The retrospective exhibit will feature over 60 rare, iconic and timeless pieces that will hang and drape with grace and power on towering mannequins throughout the museum. The collection will be set against exclusively designed screens, backdrops and architectural innovations created by artists such as Richard Wentworth, the Bouroullec Brothers, Christoph von Weyhe (the designer’s partner of sixty years), and more. Stretching almost forty years of designs from Monsieur Alaïa’s career in the early 1980s to his last show in 2017, The Couturier gives museum goers and fashion aficionados alike an exploration into Alaïa’s personal approach to designing womenswear. The late designer’s atelier was most famous for the zipped dress, the bondage dress, the corset belt, stretch body and perforated leather, which will all be showcased through uniquely curated and commissioned pieces by close friends, including Konstantin Grcic, Marc Newson and Kris Ruhs.

Born in 1935, the Tunisian designer started his career when he moved to Paris in 1956 where he worked briefly for Christian Dior (under Yves Saint Laurent) and was introduced to the upscale nuances of Parisian high society. Fast-forward four years to when he started working at designer, Guy Laroche’s fashion house and the time he met the fabulous French actress, Arlette-Leonie Bathiat, also known as Arletty. This relationship resulted in Alaïa designing an iconic dress named after her, which garnered the designer a reputation with a cult following, and eventually earning him the title, “King of Kling.”

The North African designer started his fashion house, Maison Alaïa, in 1981 and presented his first ready-to-wear collection for Spring/Summer 1980. Perhaps ahead of his time, yet still timeless, his first collection displayed leather garments with uniquely designed metal eyelets, creatively placed lace on skirts, precisely sewn metal zips, and meticulously-stitched, structured leather suits.

It wasn’t long after that the likes of Naomi Campbell, Veronica Webb, and Christy Turlington would walk runways donning his designs, and that pop culture icons like Rihanna and Lady Gaga would soon flaunt his creations at sold out venues, further adding to his legacy and following.

Alaïa was notorious for his expertise in tailoring and proficiency in pioneering garments that showcased fluidity and innovation. A fascinating mix of sophisticated edge exemplifying a woman’s body is exactly what the Design Museum will pay tribute to.

Dividing the exhibit are eleven themes organized by unique screens. The collection concentrates on the couturier’s diverse and unique use of techniques rather than the traditional, chronological order. Monsieur Alaïa and Mark Wilson selected these themes to depict the diversity of garments from the fashion house’s collection. They include Sculptural Tension, Decoration and Structure, Revolutionary Skins, Exploring Volume, Other Places, Other Cultures, Spanish Accent, Black Silhouettes, Renaissance Perspective, Wrapped Form, Fragility and Strength, and Timelessness.

With an incredible atelier attached to the name, Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier, for the first time in the UK, brings to life and pays homage to the man who revolutionized the way women were and are still being dressed.

Text Azra Hirji
Images Courtesy of Mark Blower