Fashion designer Azzedine Alaïa, the rebel couturier

Azzedine Alaïa was fashion’s rebel hero. The Tunisian-born French couturier broke the rules of fashion. His was not thematic creations, neither did they follow fleeting trends. Rather Alaïa allowed the material, often complex technical fabrics, to dictate the design. These are more than clothes and garments – they are striking sculptures that embrace the female figure, hugging its curves and accentuating its beauty.

A stylish exhibition opens at the Design Museum this week to examine his life’s work. Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier (10 May – 07 October 2018) was envisaged and curated by the designer prior to his death in November last year, age 82. He worked with the chief curator of the Groninger Museum Mark Wilson in choosing the 60 outstanding examples of his craft over the course of his career including the zipped dress, the bandage dress, the corset belt, the stretch body, perforated leather, as well as iconic pieces made in his early years as a couturier.

Alaïa admired the Design Museum’s architecture and had joked of taking over the whole space for this show. The garments here are treated like sculptures – each creation can breathe, coming alive against the various screens of technical materials positioned to act as dividing walls. For Alaïa process was critical to his creations, and here the screens visually highlight his technical skills as a couturier. He is often referred to as the last real couturier as he made everything himself, overseeing the construction of each and every piece.

The exhibition is presented against a backdrop of photography by the artist Richard Wentworth who was given rare access to Maison Alaïa, the fashion house in Paris where the designer worked for over 30 years. The photographs capture the detail and texture of couture production, as well as the building in which rolls of fabric are transformed into wearable sculpture.

Alaïa was a perfectionist and would work on certain pieces for years at a time, displaying his creations only when they were ready, not when the fashion season dictated. The Design Museum presents his work as Alaïa himself intended – grouping the designs to provide a narrative into the ethos of this maverick designer.

Images above © Design Museum, the image below Naomi Campbell and Azzedine Alaia-Paris 1986 © Arthur Elgort

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