Azzedine Alaïa, 1939 – 2017

“Fashion is not a trend that you have to follow like sheep. When something is good, it’s good.”  Azzedine Alaïa

Tunisian born Azzedine Alaïa’s love of fashion was fostered by his twin sister, and a French friend of his mother who gave him copies of Vogue when he was young.

After studying sculpture at the Beaux-Arts in Tunis, Alaïa went to Paris in 1957 where he started his career as a tailleur at Christian Dior. He then worked as a combination au pair/personal dressmaker for the Marquise de Mazan from 1957 to 1960 and the Comtesse Nicole de Blégiers from 1960 to 1965.

These women helped him open a private atelier for a select group of clients until he founded his Paris fashion house in 1979. He began with accessories, but in 1982 produced his first ready-to-wear collection that garnered him the designer of the year award by the French Ministry of Culture. By 1988, he had opened boutiques in Beverly Hills, New York and Paris.

Alaïa’s first RTW collection, 1982

The signature Alaïa look emphasized the figure using naughty and nice materials mixed together: black leather, silver studs, lace, silk jersey, tweed and zippers. He became famous for his knitwear, bustiers, and close-fitting suits, and was dubbed the ‘King of Cling’.

He was also known for being a perfectionist, protective of his creative process, and was notorious for operating his business according to his own timetable. His deliveries were rarely on time, and he never advertised. A well-known rift developed between Alaïa and Anna Wintour (who reportedly once fired a subordinate for wearing Alaïa.)

Alaïa’s 2016 collection

1992 was a difficult year for Alaïa who was already coping with high expenses and slow sales in a soft economy when he also lost his muse and twin sister. Alaïa stopped doing shows but continued his couture work for private clients.

Alaïa regained his prominence when he entered into a new partnership with Prada that launched in September 2000. He seemed to be over his control issues as delivery times improved and he regained his reputation for innovation. In 2007, Alaïa bought back control of his house from Prada when Compagnie Financière Richemont (owner of the luxury brands Cartier and Chloe), became Alaïa’s new financial backer.

Alaïa died November 16, 2017

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.

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