They say that behind every great man there is a great woman. Sometimes, behind the gorgeous looks of a woman there is a tiny, great man. That man is Azzedine Alaïa.
Now celebrated with an exhibition at the Musée Galliera in Paris, the Chinese pajama clad designer is one of the most peculiar figures in fashion, a man that, having refused to obey to the mechanisms of the system, has founded his fame on his sole, exceptional ability to model his creation on the female body.
His studies in sculpture and his work for the Crazy Horse enabled a young Alaïa to learn the aesthetic of the entire body, the importance of seduction and how to achieve it by enhancing the backside of the woman.
One of his most loyal clients, Mathilde de Rothschild, said that thanks to one of his signature bandage dresses “a woman has 50 percent of her work done for her, whether her aim is to do business or to seduce a man”. He understands women and their bodies, and his dresses, usually displayed without any unnecessary jewelry-they’re just perfect the way they are, lift and firm backside and breasts, show the necessary amount of cleavage, extend the torso and slim the waistline.
A trip to Alaïa’s headquarters in the Marais district, Paris, where he has his atelier and a showroom-boutique, is a magical experience. The minimalistic interior in a black and white allows the customers to concentrate on the beauty of the clothes, all in a neutral palette, made of black, white, pastels, reds in winter and the occasional leopard print. Each piece works on its own, but is designed in conjunction with the others. I remember trying on a dress and changing four or five different cardigans, until the sales assistant was sure that what I was wearing was a reflection of Monsieur Alaïa’s idea when he imagined and crafted the dress.
He is known for his infallible instinct, the maniacal perfection with which he works on a piece of clothing, evolving it every time, tearing it apart and reassembling it. His bandage dresses are made of the softest fabric, knitted to perfection, product of the most complex craftsmanship, as they allow the woman freedom of movement and comfort without corsetry, underpinning or seams, simply by stretching over the body. He is the “builder” of the perfect feminine body, the creator of a new esthetic, made of broad shoulder, tiny waists and long legs, the glamorous version of punk, achieved through a skillful use of perforated leather, decorative metal studs, dark leggings and bodysuits.
The bandage dress clings the body, hugs it and confers an attitude of elegant, effortless chic.
It can be worn with the designer’s staples: flats, gladiator sandals, high heel boots, and works wonders every time. It only needs a short, fitted cardigan and it takes you through fall, or a tailored and structured coat to face winter. Young pretty things will cling their tiny waists with a wide leather belt, while older ladies will protect their shoulders with a fur bolero.
Carla Sozzani, the mind behind Italy’s most important concept store Corso Como 10 in Milan, a good friend of Alaïa and one of the few retailers in Italy, believes that “Azzedine represents fashion at its purest. In his clothes women feel beautiful, comfortable, admired”. I couldn’t agree more, he’s the only one that can make your skin glow, put a smile on your face and let you walk confident that you are, indeed, the most elegant woman in the room. What more can you ask from a couturier, whose clothing never goes out of style?
F. Baudot, Alaïa, Assouline, 2006
A. Fine Collins, All eyes on Alaïa, Vanity Fair, 2012