Azzedine Alaia: the early years


hand moulded chain mail / Summer 1992 collection
“I have eliminated only the word “old” and my age. I have kept everything else. All my memories and objects are still there.”
Azzedine Alaia

Trying to trace Azzedine Alaia’s roots is an impossible task because whilst still being somebody from the planet Earth, the designer is as fascinating and mysterious as another galaxy.

He was born in 1940 in Tunisia, with its endless landscapes, overlooked by the gold disk of the sun melting in the hazy skies and softened by the air saturated with history and spices. Most of the childhood years were spent in his grandparents home under a watchful eye of a loving grandmother and grandfather, a police officer who worked in ID card department.

From the age of 10, whenever Azzedine didn’t have classes, he would come to the station and sit next to a woman who made the ID cards, then save the scrapped photos and organise them in his album back at home…

Cinema was another favourite. Every week the boy spent hours in Cine-Soir, a movie theatre that belonged to his grandfather’s best friend. His grandfather would leave Azzedine there in the morning, go to work and pick his grandson up at the end of the day. While the men played cards in a nearby cafe after work, Alaia watched the movies over and over again, soaking up the beauty of the costumes and learning the dialogues to perform in front of his friends later in exchange for crayons.

His sketches were the way to release the need for beauty and dreams and his talent was beginning to show.

At the time he was helping his mother’s friend, Madame Pineau, a local midwife, to deliver babies. She was a part of their family, very close with his parents and grandfather (Alaia’s grandmother run away at the age of 70) and, by his own admission, one of the most important people in his development. It was Madame Pineau who first noticed Azzedine’s sketches and, when he was 15, enrolled him at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts to study sculpture.

Alaia's friend and model, wearing custom made maternity dress photographed by Jean-Marie Perrier in 1995
While completing the course, Alaia continued assisting at the clinic, but it wasn’t just the childbirth that fascinated him, but an extensive collection of Madame Pineau’s fashion magazines, catalogues and art books that was left around to browse. It was that very first introduction to fashion when  Azzedine realised - his true destiny was not art, but working with the female body, sculpting it using the fabric rather than marble. 

Either way, he needed the money to continue his studies and since his choice of school was against his father’s wish, the boy found himself in a difficult position – he wanted to learn the skills, but couldn’t ask his father for support in order to pay for the course.

One day, while walking through the neighbourhood, Alaia noticed a sign on the door of an atelier saying that the couturier was looking for somebody to finish the clothes. The teen went straight in, but instead of admitting that it was him who needed the job, he said that it was something his sister Hafida wanted to do to help her with a course in couture she studied at boarding school.

 vintage Vogue sewing patterns 1950s
Azzedine got the job, went back home and asked the girl to show him how to sew. A few months later he met two sisters from an influential Tunisian family who liked his designs and introduced Alaia to another couture house where the teenager spent his summer holidays learning essential skills and making copies of Dior and Balmain dresses.

It was a wonderful experience but not what Alaia dreamed of. His thoughts were in Paris. He wanted to be a part of it.

In 1957 his grandfather finally gave his permission for Azzedine to travel to Paris and study couture.
The new chapter of his life was about to begin.

Paris in 1950s by Patrice Molinard
To be continued…

Photo source: hand moulded chain mail / Summer 1992 collection / Alaia by Francois Baudot, life in Tunisia: vintage Vogue covers, landscape & street photos via wikipedia, original 1950s travel poster via live auctioneers; Farida, Alaia's friend and model, wearing custom made maternity dress photographed by Jean-Marie Perrier in 1995 / Alaia by Francois Baudot, vintage Vogue sewing patterns 1950s, Paris in 1950s by Patrice Molinard via Matthew's Island of Misfit Toys


  1. I was waiting for this second post, Little Rus! I like getting to know the people and their story. Please do continue :*

  2. oh wow natalia! i never knew anything about his earlier life. can't wait to read more. i always feel that what is suppose to be will ALWAYS find it's way. remarkable story!

  3. Fanastic writing once again and very intersting story...

    XO, Gina

  4. NEver known about his story, made me curious to know how it continues:) Kisses dear! xo

  5. How I love your fashion stories. You have such a writing talent, I savour every word. :)

  6. Loving your posts this week. Coffee and your posts, a real treat after work!

    Red xx

  7. Hi dear, interesting thoughts! Thank you for that.

    And it´s a pleasure to hear that you have a few habits/rituals, too, and I´m sure that this is a reason that you seems so happy :)


  8. Buona settimana (: Reb, xoxo.

    *Nuovo outfit sul mio blog, fammi sapere cosa ne pensi:

  9. Thank you for sharing this unfamiliar topic with us

  10. Hy! I just discovered your blog

    Would you like us to follow each other?


  11. Wow...someone did their homework. So cool!

  12. Wow, Natalia this is fascinating! What a great story, I'm looking forward to the next instalment....

  13. How fascinating! I'm so glad you've decided to do a series on this - as I suspected, Alaia is such a character and I can only imagine what he got into once he got to Paris!

  14. Thank you for your lovely comment :) I had no idea about the history of Alaia, this was very informative...its always good to know how and where a designer started to have some understanding of their designs.

  15. Great post !
    Very interesting !

  16. Very interesting, your writing skills are great!
    Will go to the next post to read the second part ;o)

  17. Very interesting! You writing skills are great!
    Want to read the second part ;o)