The enigmatic Azzedine Alaïa was one of the few designers willing to forego conventional fashion schedules and produce collections at his own pace. His ability to do so stemmed from his prodigious talent and fashion’s seemingly insatiable appetite for his designs. His skill at cutting and his idiosyncratic takes on classic silhouettes have made Alaïa popular for decades. In November 2017, at the age of 82, Alaïa died in Paris.
Alaïa signed a partnership with the Prada Group in 2000, a second renaissance for the designer. He then bought his brand back from the group in 2007 to enter an agreement with Richemont. Having remained relatively unchanged following the deal, the Alaïa brand underwent a Richemont-backed expansion.
Tunisian Alaïa’s love of fashion began through his reading of Vogue at a young age. After lying about his age to attend the École des Beaux-Arts in Tunis, where he trained as a sculptor, he began working as a dressmaker and the moved to Paris in 1957. There he started his career at Christian Dior as a tailleur, but soon moved to work for Guy Laroche for two seasons followed by Thierry Mugler. Alaïa opened his first atelier in his Rue de Bellechasse apartment in the late 1970s, from which he dressed private clientele including Marie-Hélène de Rothschild, Louise de Vilmorin and Greta Garbo.
In 1980 he produced his first ready-to-wear collection, which was championed by the then-doyennes of fashion, Melka Tréanton and Nicole Crassat, who both regularly featured his work in Elle and French Elle respectively.
That same year, Alaïa moved to larger premises in Paris and by 1988 he had opened boutiques in Beverly Hills and New York, and was soon dubbed the ‘King of Cling’ by the media. During the mid-‘90s Alaïa partially retired from the fashion scene for personal reasons. However, he continued to cater for a private clientele and enjoyed commercial success with his ready-to-wear lines. His collections were presented in Paris’ Marais neighbourhood, where he brought his creative workshop, boutique and showroom together under one roof.
In 2013, a major exhibition of his work, curated by Olivier Saillard , was staged at Paris’ Palais Galliera, to coincide with Paris Fashion Week. Alaïa passed away in November 2017 and in January 2019 a plaque honouring his work was unveiled at his Marais workshop.