Fashion History: Azzedine Alaïa

Crowned the ‘King of Cling’ in 1981, Azzedine Alaïa reinvented body consciousness at a time when the world was infatuated with frills. Alaïa’s underlying principle is that women should celebrate their undulations- one good reason why he returns to pliable textures, such as leather and rayon jersey, time and time again.

Son of a wheat farmer, Alaïa studied art history and sculpture at the École des Beaux Arts in Tunis, where he was born in 1940. He traveled to Paris at 18 years old and secured a succession of jobs, which included five days at Christian Dior and two seasons at Guy Laroche. For years Alaïa was one of the best-kept secrets in Paris, his phone number passed between the city’s grande dames. By the early 1980’s, encouraged by Thierry Mugler and commissioned by Charles Jourdan, he launched his first collection. Alaïa was instrumental in promoting supermodels- he met and employed Naomi Campbell as a 16-year-old model on her very first day in Paris.

Although Alaïa’s style is essentially sexy- he has dressed Tina Turner, Grace Jones and Paloma Picasso- he also made a voluminous cloak for opera singer Jessye Norman for the French bicentenary parade, and a billowy cashmere coat and tailored trousers for Greta Garbo. Alaïa does not conform to seasonal timetables and his collections are always somewhat out of sync with everyone else. Fittingly, his book Alaïa, a compendium of amazonian images, took a decade to complete. ‘I’m not naive enough to think my dresses are going to be photographed unless the girl in them looks great’, he stated in 1990. ‘Anyway, I fell depressed when I look at rails of limp dresses. I don’t feel they’re alive on a woman’s body.’

For Spring 2017, Alaïa opted for an athleisure collection with a 1960’s twist. The outfits varied from more athletic looks to geometrical shapes and groovy optical prints. He played with volume at the hips and offered a more glamorous take on leisure wear. The collection is comprised of zippered blousons, swingy tennis skirts and plunging swimsuit bodices. My favorite part of Alaïa’s vision of Spring 2017 were elegant, flowy black dresses- just perfect for the hot & cold spring nights.

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Photo Credit: Olivier Degoulange