Remembering Azzedine Alaïa and His Contributions to Fashion

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Naomi Campbell and Azzedine Alaia,photographed by Arthur Elgort 1987
Photo: Courtesy of Arthur Elgort

It is with heavy hearts that we report that Azzedine Alaïa, the “King of Cling” himself, has passed away at the age of 77. Earlier this year, he emerged to create a rare and wonderful haute couture collection after a long absence, demonstrating that there are still designers who find success in doing things their way. The Tunisian-born couturier was one of the few remaining major designers who produced on his own schedule, entirely eschewing the traditional fashion calendar.

His appearance at Paris Haute Couture Week was always an occasion to rejoice, given that he has honed his skill over 50 years to become one of the industry’s most important designers. Not only is Alaïa responsible for designing present-day essentials like leggings, body suits, and bandage dresses, but he has also contributed design elements like perforated leather, metal studs, and more to the fashion lexicon.

Like a lunar eclipse, Alaïa’s couture shows were sporadic and rare, but also a spectacle to behold.

Alaïa bestowed his unique and skillfully crafted silhouettes upon the world, but he also created looks made iconic by their famous wearers. It’s hard to picture Grace Jones without her famed silky hooded dress, or Madonna without her golden bustier, or Cher from Clueless without her body-conscious red dress, which she managed to keep in the face of a gunman by screaming, “This is an Alaïa!”

Furthermore, supermodels like Naomi Campbell, Stephanie Seymour, and Gisele Bündchen have immortalized his creations, acting as lithe muses for his constricting bandage dresses and gowns. For his understanding, grace, and wisdom, these same models refer to him lovingly as a family member. Supermodel Veronica Webb confided, “Myself, Naomi, Stephanie — he taught us how to use our forks, how to walk, how to take rejection, how to present ourselves. He treated us all like flesh-and-blood children.” Meanwhile, Campbell credits him with launching her career and told Independent, “I am honored to have watched him work and to have worked for him. He has been my papa since I was 16, and I love him very much.”

2016 FW sheepskin fur skirt and ALAÏA flower print t-shirt
Photo: Courtesy of Alasdair McLellan

His sculptural works not only enhance the assets of the supermodels and demigoddesses who wear them, but they also create a spectacle of flesh and curves out of nothing. As one of the world’s most talented couturiers, Alaïa made a name for himself on skill alone, refusing to compromise his aesthetics by advertising in magazines. While someone from his team does maintain an @AzzedineAlaiaOfficial account on Instagram that carefully catalogues his work, Alaïa all but stayed away from social-media marketing. Instead, he relied solely on his instincts, and his production timetable ran accordingly. Although he refuses to show at Fashion Week, his collections still sold out – and quickly – wherever they are stocked.

He is credited with being one of the first designers to make “tough” leather looks accessible for the fashion crowd in the late 1970s.

While “The King of Cling” nickname appeared in the 1980s, it is something of a misnomer today as Alaïa has expanded his scope to include all manner of shapes and silhouettes. Experimentation with Madame Vionnet’s famous bias-cutting techniques, coupled with bespoke fabric development in partnership with a Florentine knitwear factory, means Alaïa maintained a position at the cutting-edge of fashion design. Leatherwork was also central to his aesthetic, and he is credited with being one of the first designers to make “tough” leather looks accessible for the fashion crowd in the late 1970s.

Alaïa’s particular skill in understanding the human body and how it moves comes from his background as a costume designer for Paris’ famed cabaret dancers at Le Crazy Horse. He kept this tradition of costume design alive until his passing, and has crafted costumes for the Mozart Opera in Los Angeles, the Ballet Vlaanderen in Belgium, and others.

Given his astonishing breadth of design expertise and his more than 50-year career as one of the world’s most important designers, it’s easy to see why his death has reverberated through the fashion industry. Help us in remembering the legendary works of an exemplary fashion innovator by browsing through the gallery below for a retrospective of his most iconic works to date.

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