Azzedine Alaïa, household name and iconic couturier, has died at the age of 77. His final moments were spent in fashion’s capital Paris, France. A place where the fashion icon planted the seeds of his success.
Born in Tunis, Tunisia, Alaïa came from very humble beginnings as the child of two wheat farmers. It is written that the designer’s late twin sister Hafida is the match that lit his fashion flame. She was credited as being a very glamourous woman who is the reason Alaïa fell in love with couture alongside a close family friend who fuelled his passion with copies of Vogue. The young designer lied about his age to enter the École des Beaux-Arts where he studied sculpture to further his craft. After graduation, the budding designer moved to Paris and worked for some of the biggest names in fashion such as Christian Dior, Guy Laroche and Thierry Mugler. A decade later and Alaïa was opening his first atelier out of a small Parisian apartment. However, space size was no issue for the up-and-coming designer who had accumulated famous clientele such as socialite Marie-Helene de Rothschild and actress Greta Garbo.
It wasn’t long after that Alaïa became an international name. In 1980, a Bergforf Goodman buyer stopped someone in the street that was wearing a leather jacket by the Tunisian designer demanding to know where the coat was from. This small instance is what led to his work being stocked in America. Around the world, fashion fans, celebrities and starlets praised the stretchy body-conscious silhouette that make up the Alaïa’s repertoire. Never before had a designer created garments that gorgeously accentuated the bust while cinching the waist.
As his clientele grew, so did his business. Alaïa became such a fashion favourite he was able to sign a partnership with the Prada group in 2000. However, he always remained true to his independence. Seven years after signing a partnership with Prada, he bought them out of the ready-to-wear line of business. It is also noted that he turned down an offer from France’s prestigious Legion D’Honneur stating that he “doesn’t like decorations – except on women.” And that isn’t the only time the iconic couturier spoke his mind. It wasn’t long ago that Alaïa came down on Anna Wintour for not honouring his work at the Met. He went so far as to say that not one will remember the Vogue Editor-In-Chief. He used this same fire to also critique Chanel Creative Director Karl Lagerfeld, revealing that the two are just not the same when it comes to work.
Even with his outspokenness, people could not get enough of Alaïa. He was real and a real designer who was beloved by all. In July 2011, Alïa staged his first runway show in seven years. The venue was packed with a star-studded FROW, including designer Donatella Versace and director Sofia Coppola. Two years later and he opened a store in Paris, his first since the early 90s. Unlike the pop ups and shops of today, Alaïa’s shopping destination was built on intimacy and a low-key experience so much that the shop was built in a relatively secret location.
Even as the times changed and fashion became more “inclusive” with bloggers, the social media boom and public runway shows, Alaïa never lost his footing. Just this year he staged his first couture show in six years and fashion fans, editors and celebrities ate it up. He was a man that knew he didn’t have to conform to the change of fashion traditions because, you see, Azzedine Alaïa is fashion.
With an exceptional eye and a love for couture, Alaïa is truly a founding father of fashion and though he is gone, we will never forget his creative contributions, his dedication and his work.
Rest In Peace Azzedine.