The Design Museum pays tribute to the once fashion outsider turned fashion icon Azzedine Alaïa in a stunning exhibition you won’t want to miss
Words Pendle Harte
Man In Black: Celebrating Azzedine Alaïa
The Tunisian-born couturier Azzedine Alaïa enjoyed his role as an outsider in the world of fashion. Always dressed in a uniform of black, he ignored the collection calendar while tirelessly upholding the traditions of haute couture. From his first show in the late 1970s to his final one just before his death in 2017, Alaïa’s work has generated excitement and respect.
Sensuous, body-hugging forms, described as ‘second-skin dressing’, are Alaïa’s enduring influence. Experimenting with the latest stretch materials and precisely tailored leathers, he worked in the tradition of the great couturiers he admired and studied, Madeleine Vionnet, Cristóbal Balenciaga and Charles James.
Alaïa thought with his hands. He gave his ideas form by draping, cutting and pinning fabric directly on to the statuesque models with whom he loved to work. He combined his rigorous technical skills with an understanding of how women want to feel. He once remarked, ‘I make clothes, women make fashion’. And many women have made fashion in his elegant and sensual creations, from Greta Garbo, Grace Jones, Lady Gaga, and Tina Turner to Scarlett Johansson, Naomi Campbell and Rihanna.
Reflecting a consistency of approach and the timelessness of his creations, Alaïa’s most significant works are grouped here to reveal ideas he perfected and remastered over many years. This includes Alaïa’s use of black, his favourite and most widely used colour. Restricting the colour palette left Alaïa nowhere to hide and enabled him to develop the purist expression of his ideals of form. As Alaïa’s explorations in shape and volume deepened, he remained focused solely on the demands of perfecting his vision, not on market demands. This exhibition and installation, conceived with Alaïa, includes architectural elements by artists who Alaïa admired and befriended, as well as photographs of Maison Alaïa by the artist Richard Wentworth, who documented the fashion house over the past few years.