Elegant Dressing - Azzedine Alaïa: Fashion Mourns Loss of Master Couturier

Every so often I'll have a post ready to go, but then will change tack to address particular current events.  Such was the case with Azzedine Alaïa, a master couturier whose career spanned 40 years unexpectedly passed away 2 weeks ago.  I've been a fan for probably the last 20 years, intrigued by the extraordinary breadth of his creativity, the artistry of his timeless creations, perfection of craftsmanship and passionate, single minded sense of purpose.  

How could you not admire a designer who succeeded in working outside of the industry's relentless trend-driven calendar, setting his own timetable, while maintaining a loyal following of clients and industry insiders?  Working with just 2 assistants Mr Alaïa, who was involved in all aspects of the design process showed collections at his own pace, in the intimate confines of his Rue de Moussy headquarters in Paris' Marais district. 

Born in Tunis, Tunisa the midwife for Mr Alaïa's family, Madame Pinot introduced him at a young age to the world of art and architecture through pamphlets and books, including one by Picasso.  She went on to enroll him at the school of Fine Arts in Tunis.  Through luck and fortuitous connections Alaïa worked first for a local woman who made copies of Balmain gowns, eventually arriving in Paris at the House of Dior in 1957, followed by a short stint at Guy Laroche.  

Becoming the secret go-to dressmaker to society ladies such as Cecile & Marie-Helene de Rothschild, enabled him to finally open his atelier in 1979. Mr Alaïa summed up his dressmaking philosophy as "I dressed women directly on their body, by intuition. This is how I gained experience."  

Crowned the "King of Cling" during the 1980's for his figure conturing silhouettes, the fiercely independent Mr Alaïa maintained his singular aesthetic, never bowing to prevailing trends.  Instead he continued to refine and perfect timeless, sophisticated clothing to enhance a woman's idealized self.

Below's a small sample of the many tributes paid to Mr Alaïa by his industry peers who deeply respected his genius, artistry, passion and independent spirit.

"Mr Alaïa dedicated his life to the belief that fashion was more than just garments; to him they were just as much an element in the empowerment of women and of a broader conversation." Vanessa Friedman, New York Times

He "changed my conception of fashion.  I thought fashion was about embellishment as a kid and when I saw Azzedine's work I understood fashion was about construction and architecture too.  To have an amazing idea and the capacity to realize it yourself is the definitive act of a designer."  Nicholas Ghesquire, artistic director Louis Vuitton

Rei Kawakubo, fashion designer said that what she most admired about the designer was that "he worked with his heart and soul."

Jean Paul Gaultier, Fashion designer recalled “A true master who brilliantly combined technique, couture know-how, tradition and modernity. The curves of the world’s most beautiful women were sublimated by Azzedine Alaïa.”

 Azzedine Alaïa -  photography Ed Alcock New York Times

Azzedine Alaïa - photography Ed Alcock New York Times

 Naomi Campbell opens the Azzedine Alaia Fall 2017 couture show -  photography courtesy Azzedine Alaia

Naomi Campbell opens the Azzedine Alaia Fall 2017 couture show - photography courtesy Azzedine Alaia

After a 6 year absence Alaïa returned to the Couture calendar in July for what turned out to be his final collection.

 Azzedine Alaïa Fall 2017Couture show -  photography courtesy Azzedine Alaïa

Azzedine Alaïa Fall 2017Couture show - photography courtesy Azzedine Alaïa

 Azzedine Alaïa Fall 2017 Couture Show -  photography courtesy Azzedine Alaïa

Azzedine Alaïa Fall 2017 Couture Show - photography courtesy Azzedine Alaïa

 Azzedine Alaïa Fall 2017 Couture Show -  photography courtesy Azzedine Alaïa

Azzedine Alaïa Fall 2017 Couture Show - photography courtesy Azzedine Alaïa

 Fall 2017 Couture Show finale led by Naomi Campbell -  photography courtesy Azzedine Alaïa

Fall 2017 Couture Show finale led by Naomi Campbell - photography courtesy Azzedine Alaïa

 Azzedine Alaïa dressing Grace Jones for the 1985 Oscars de la Mode  - photo from Vogue Arabia

Azzedine Alaïa dressing Grace Jones for the 1985 Oscars de la Mode - photo from Vogue Arabia

 Azzedine Alaïa and Elle Macpherson -  photography Gilles Bensimon 1986

Azzedine Alaïa and Elle Macpherson - photography Gilles Bensimon 1986

 Azzedine Alaïa and Carla Sozzani -  photography Sylvie Delpech courtesy Azzedine Alaïa

Azzedine Alaïa and Carla Sozzani - photography Sylvie Delpech courtesy Azzedine Alaïa

 Alaïa gowns from ready-to-wear Spring 2014 Collection  -  photography Valeria Mezzanotti New York Times

Alaïa gowns from ready-to-wear Spring 2014 Collection  - photography Valeria Mezzanotti New York Times