Azzedine Alaïa, Spring 2008, © Azzedine Alaïa, Courtesy Groninger Museum and Azzedine Aiala.

The Designs of Azzedine Alaïa over the Last Decade

Azzedine Alaïa, couture winter 2011, Photo: Robert Kot, © Azzedine Alaïa, Courtesy Groninger Museum and Azzedine Aiala.

Azzedine Alaïa, Winter 2010, Photo: Robert Kot, © Azzedine Alaïa, Courtesy Groninger Museum and Azzedine Aiala.

Azzedine Alaïa, Summer-fall 2003, Photo: Robert Kot, ©Azzedine Alaïa, Courtesy Groninger Museum and Azzedine Aiala.

Azzedine Alaïa, Winter 2010, Photo: Robert Kot, © Azzedine Alaïa, Courtesy Groninger Museum and Azzedine Aiala.

 

Groninger Museum
Museumeiland 1
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Groningen
Azzedine Alaïa in the 21st Century
December 11, 2011-May 6, 2012

Azzedine Alaïa, a Tunisian-born couturier and shoe designer, particularly successful since the 1980s, is one of the last major living couturiers. This exhibition displays the most fantastic Alaïa fashion creations of the last ten years.

The exhibition, curated by Mark Wilson, focuses on Alaïa’s work in the 21st century. It is the sequel to the presentation of his designs from previous decades, also shown at the Groninger Museum in 1997-1998, and which subsequently travelled to the Brant Foundation, Guggenheim Soho in New York in 2000.

Alaïa was born in Siliana, Tunisia on 7 June 1940. His parents were wheat farmers but his glamorous twin sister inspired his love for couture. A French friend of his mother fed Alaïa's instinctive creativity with copies of Vogue. He lied about his age to get himself into the local École des Beaux-Arts in Tunis and began studying sculpture where he gained valuable insights into the human form.

After his graduation, Alaïa began working as a dressmaker's assistant. He soon began dressing private clients, and in 1957 he moved to Paris to work in fashion design. In Paris, he started to work at Christian Dior as a tailleur, but soon moved to work for Guy Laroche for two seasons, then for Thierry Mugler until he opened his first atelier in his little rue de Bellechasse apartment the late 1970s. It is in this tiny atelier that for almost 20 years he dressed privately the world's jet set, from Marie-Hélène de Rothschild to Louise de Vilmorin (who would become a close friend) to Greta Garbo, who used to come incognito for her fittings.

He produced his first ready-to-wear collection in 1980 and moved to larger premises on rue du Parc-Royal in the Marais district. Alaïa was voted Best Designer of the Year and Best collection of the Year at the Oscars de la Mode by the French Ministry of Culture in 1984 in a memorable event where Grace Jones carried him in her arms on stage.

His career skyrocketed when two of the most powerful fashion editors of the time, Melka Tréanton of Depeche Mode and Nicole Crassat of French Elle, supported him in their editorials.

In 1980, while designer Andrée Putman was walking down Madison Avenue with one of the first Alaïa leather coats, she was stopped by a Bergdorf Goodman buyer who asked her what she was wearing, which began a turn of events that lead to his designs being sold in New York and in Beverly Hills. By 1988, he had opened his own boutiques in these two cities and in Paris. His seductive, clinging clothes were a massive success and he was named by the media "The King of Cling." Devotees included both fashion-inclined celebrities and fashionistas: Grace Jones (wearing several of his creations in A View to a Kill), Tina Turner, Raquel Welch, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Brigitte Nielsen, Naomi Campbell (who is like a daughter to him), Stephanie Seymour, Tatiana Sorokko, Shakira, Miley Cyrus, Isabelle Aubin, Carine Roitfeld and Carla Sozzani.

During the mid-1990s, following the death of his sister, Alaïa virtually vanished from the fashion scene, however, he continued to cater for a private clientele and enjoyed commercial success with his ready-to-wear lines. He presented his collections in his own space, in the heart of the Marais, where he brought his creative workshop, boutique and showroom together under one roof.

In 1996, he participated at the Biennale della Moda in Florence, where along with paintings by longtime friend Julian Schnabel, he exhibited an outstanding dress created for the event. Schnabel-designed furniture, as well as his large scale canvases, are decorating Alaia's boutique in Paris.

He then signed a partnership with the Prada group in 2000. Working with Prada saw him through a second impressive renaissance, and in July 2007, he successfully bought back his house and brand name from the Prada group, though his footwear and leather goods division continues to be developed and produced by the group. In 2007, the Richemont group (Cartier, Van Cleef) took a stake in his fashion house but he still does not show during the collections.

However, Alaia still refuses the marketing-driven logic of luxury conglomerates, continuing to focus on clothes rather than "it-bags." Alaia is revered for his independence and passion for discreet luxury. Catherine Lardeur, the former editor and chief of French Marie Claire in the 1980s, who also helped to launch Jean-Paul Gaultier's career, stated in an interview to Crowd Magazine that " Fashion is dead. Designers nowadays do not create anything, they only make clothes so people and the press would talk about them.The real money for designers lie within perfumes and handbags. It is all about image. Alaia remains the king. He is smart enough to not only care about having people talk about him. He only holds fashion shows when he has something to show, on his own time frame. Even when Prada owned him he remained free and did what he wanted to do."

A monograph Azzedine Alaïa in the 21st Century will be published by BAI and the Groninger Museum with an essay by Annie Cohen-Solal and introduction by Mark Wilson.

The exhibition Azzedine Alaïa in the 21st Century was compiled by curator Mark Wilson.

Azzedine Alaïa, Winter 2011, © Azzedine Alaïa, Courtesy Groninger Museum and Azzedine Aiala.

Azzedine Alaïa, Winter 2011, © Azzedine Alaïa, Courtesy Groninger Museum and Azzedine Aiala.

 

Azzedine Alaïa, Winter 2011, © Azzedine Alaïa, Courtesy Groninger Museum and Azzedine Aiala.