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The Industry Remembers Azzedine Alaïa, A Fashion Original

The designer, whose passing was announced on Saturday morning, is remembered for his independence, compassion and creative genius.
Azzedine Alaïa | Source: Getty Images
  • BoF Team

PARIS, France — One of the industry's most beloved creative minds, Azzedine Alaïa's legacy as both an unparalleled couturier and an independent force willing to buck the fashion system is without question.

Alaïa, who passed away early Saturday morning, opened his first atelier for private clients in his Rue de Bellechasse apartment in the late 1970s. He debuted his first ready-to-wear collection in 1980. Over the course of the next decade, his business and profile grew: he expanded his operation in Paris and opened boutiques in America. After Prada invested in the business in 2000, his accessories line boomed. He eventually bought the company back before entering into an agreement in 2007 with luxury conglomerate Richemont, which owns a significant stake in the business.

Throughout his career, Alaïa was known for following his own conventions and creating collections at his own pace, rejecting the increasing pressures of an industry that radically shifted during his lifetime. Through meticulous craftsmanship, prodigious talent and an understanding of the female form, Alaïa built a powerful body of work over the decades that is timeless and idiosyncratic.

The reactions to Alaïa's passing on Saturday reveal just how much he impacted so many during his career, leading by example with compassion and elegance. Here, industry leaders including François-Henri Pinault, Katie Grand and Stephanie Seymour pay tribute.

François-Henri Pinault, Chairman and Chief Executive of Kering

"It is with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Azzedine Alaïa. In the fashion world, he was a great, a major couturier. Everything was at the top with him: couture, art, the standards he aimed at, his dedication to his work, his mastering of techniques, and all the women he dressed. He was an artisan in the noble sense of the term, and a man fiercely attached to his freedom. He was a friend.”

Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Azzedine was an artist in the truest sense. His search for perfection, which revealed itself in an almost fetishistic reworking of the techniques of the couture, not only advanced the art of fashion, but changed the course of fashion history.”

Carine Roitfeld, Editor

"Azzedine was the true meaning of ‘original.’ We should all aspire to live life as purely as he did and to be as focused in and devoted to our work as he was to his. It’s exceptional for someone to exist outside of fashion’s system and be so successful and beloved. Like a true artist he followed his instinct and simply did what he loved. He was dedicated to women — all types of women, not just those with the typical model’s silhouette. He always told me he loved to spend time with real women, learning about their loves and likes and dislikes. This is how he came to understand women the way he did — by listening. On top of all this he was incredibly modest, which is very rare in our world.”

Katie Grand, Editor-in-Chief of Love and Creative Director of W

"Azzedine proved that being uncompromising is the best thing a designer can be, when you don’t bend to merchandisers and the press and stay true to yourself it works. On a personal level, I was very fortunate to have him make my wedding dress which was brown snakeskin. Standing in the dressing room with him pinning and tinkering was one of my favourite experiences in life ever. He was one of a kind.”

Miuccia Prada, Chief Executive Officer of Prada

"Although I didn't know him so well personally, I always admired and appreciated his intellectual honesty and the originality of his thinking which are very rare qualities."

Riccardo Tisci, Designer

“One of my biggest inspirations! The one who never followed anybody in the fashion world but followed by everybody! The special and loving friend! I will always love and respect you! And celebrate you the way you taught me... I will miss you” (Instagram)

Jean Paul Gaultier, Designer

“He was a great master. He brought together brilliantly technique, couture savoir faire, tradition and modernity!!! All the curves of the most beautiful women in the world were enhanced and made sublime by Azzedine Alaia.”

Cathy Horyn, Fashion Critic for The Cut

"Alaïa loved designing for the female form, constructing his garments directly on the body. Very few designers do their own fittings, much less make their own patterns, but he did. From his first studio in Paris, on the Rue de Bellechasse, he made clothes for a growing group of devoted customers. He earned their trust in the way couturiers used to work. No armies of assistants, no hovering publicists, just an obsession with remaining alive to a woman's body, the way she walked in the street." (Source: The Cut)

No armies of assistants, no hovering publicists, just an obsession with remaining alive to a woman's body, the way she walked in the street.

Cindy Crawford, Model

"Besides being a creative genius, [Alaïa] was one of the sweetest people I have ever met. The way he dressed a woman's body was such a revelation to me as a young model in Chicago because his designs embraced my curves. One of the very first designer pieces I ever bought myself was one of his famous body suits with a skin-tight skirt to match in a gold knit fabric from Ultimo in Chicago. Worn with an Alaïa belt cinching in my waist, I felt like a million dollars. What an honour it was to model for him only a few years later in Paris at his atelier. He made all of his models feel beautiful and the fashion world will never forget him."

Stephanie Seymour, Model

"Azzedine's contribution to the fashion industry is immeasurably far reaching, but to put it simply, he understood both the soul and anatomy of women all over the world. I will be forever grateful for his presence in my life and the influence he had on my heart and in my career. Repose en paix mon Papa."

Claudia Schiffer, Model

"I’m fortunate to have worked a lot with him over the years and loved spending time with him. Alaïa was a very sweet, shy man who invented a look that no one has been able to copy. He’s a true fashion legend and will be greatly missed." (Instagram)

Stephen Jones, Milliner

"I was first introduced to Alaïa by Sibylle de Saint Phalle in 1984. I showed him some hats I had brought from London and even though he loved them said, ‘I don’t do shows for which I need hats, but I know somebody who does.’ He telephoned Thierry Mugler and told me to show him my hats immediately. Two weeks later, he was having lunch with Joseph Ettedgui, of the Joseph chain of shops and Azzedine said he had met me, and that Joseph must buy my hats, as he had never seen hats like that before. Therefore, I was eternally grateful to Azzedine Alaïa, and he too was my ‘Papa’ in Paris."

Christy Turlington, Model

"Such sad news to wake up to today and all I can do is look at photos and videos of happier times with one of the gentlest, feistiest, most loving and adoring talents I have known, inside or outside the fashion industry. I will miss your light in the world so much and am sending love to all who did not get a chance to say goodbye." (Instagram)

Glenda Bailey, Editor-in-Chief of Harper’s Bazaar

“He was the king of curve. He broke the rules and that’s what makes him an original. He was incredibly respected because of his knowledge, love of beauty and uncompromising spirit. He’s going to be dearly missed.”

Stefano Tonchi, Editor-in-Chief of W

"Azzedine was and will remain a role model for independent designers who have a clear vision and who do not want to compromise in order to fit within the fashion system. He had his beliefs and paid for them, over and over, throughout his very unique career. He showed that artisanal craftsmanship can coexist with industrial production, and opted to be in and out of the system at his own will. His legacy is about art and freedom in an industry that has often lost the connection with its own reason to be.”

Hussein Chalayan, Designer

"Without doubt, Alaïa is one of the few names making fashion history — where craftsmanship, form, elegance and the body became inseparable in one of the most magical ways in our industry. Alaïa created his own system setting us all an example that we don’t need to be a victim to a system which is getting increasingly unreliable and difficult for us all. I was very lucky to have met this legend in Paris in the early 2000s with incredible reciprocal warmth, I was also lucky enough to have had one of his famous dinners in his house which was a rare human experience, reminding you that there can be warmth and authenticity in fashion. Azzedine rejected the system but for proper causes in light of humanity and sincerity, which is well needed in our industry — this is a massively sad loss for us all.”

Marc Jacobs, Designer

“A true artist, genius and master. He was always kind, friendly and supportive of me. He welcomed me when I first came to Paris. We had some great adventures and many good times. His talent is unparalleled and his playful character generous, naughty and wickedly unique. The exceptional beauty he created is timeless and will without question- live forever! I pray that Azzedine will rest in peace.” (Instagram)

His talent is unparalleled and his playful character generous, naughty and wickedly unique.

Ikram Goldman, Founder of Ikram boutique

“Azzedine Alaïa designed unapologetically sexy dresses for women. This attitude was infused in every stitch of his being. His generosity goes beyond Fashion. I will miss him, deeply!”

Angelo Flaccavento, Critic and Journalist

"Do things your own way, or do not do them at all: this, for me, sums up Azzedine Alaïa’s contribution to the business fashion. He was not one to make compromises, in any way, stubbornly refusing to even agree to the agreed calendar. This was no mere tantrum temper, nor marketing strategy. It was not certainly about his ego, too, as it happens in other areas of the system nowadays. It was not a dictatorial power move. It was quite simply the result of superb technical skill, and the will not to deliver anything that wasn’t perfect. Alaïa was the most controlling of all control freaks, knowing too well that it’s this kind of obsession that makes the true master. In a fashion world full of divas who only think about the limelight, not the metier, Alaïa was all about the metier. That’s the true lesson: do some proper dressmaking, before being a diva. The rest will follow.”

Roland Mouret, Designer

”I learnt how to use my background to become a designer from Azzedine. As Azzedine Alaïa did, I learnt how to embrace my roots and keep a sense of family, which has helped me to become the designer I am now…that lesson was given in his kitchen, surrounded by a bunch of fashion kids.”

Christopher Kane, Designer

“Azzedine Alaïa was inspirational not just because of his talent in making the most amazing clothes that will forever be unrivalled, but because of his stance on how to do business. He made his own rule book and at the core of that was his dedication to perfection; there is not one living designer doing this. He is a legend.”

Erdem Moralioglu, Designer

“Alaïa was a master and, above all, an independent. Independent in thought and creativity, a total visionary.”

Pierre Hardy, Designer

"He totally succeeded in reinventing the eternel feminin in his own way, evoking the archetype of glamour with modernity. He was my model in his permanent, zero-compromise commitment and fidelity to his own aesthetic, ignoring trends and hype, to preserve his independence in thinking about beauty and how to express it with the ultimate technique. M. Alaïa was a master.”

Anya Hindmarch, Designer

"I think his greatest contribution was that he was a master of his craft whilst being a really kind and nice man. That is quite a legacy.”

Nicoletta Santoro, Creative Director at Large for Town & Country

"Azzedine did not follow the system, and that is how he won the system. He was succeful because he refused to comply. His obstinate individuality and his insistence on his creative point of view could even contain answers for the future of fashion."

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