Azzedine Alaia: Paris


Azzedine Alaia working on a skirt from his spring 1992
“I don’t think I am a great designer. I’m good, but great is another matter… I have a lot to learn.”
Azzedine Alaia

In 1957 Azzedine Alaia arrived to Paris.

He was introduced to Christian Dior’s clients by his friend’s mother and got invited to work at the Maison. Five days later, as the Algerian war broke out, Azzedine was asked to leave - having a foreigner wasn’t good for the reputation of the house.

The war made many things complicated. Being in France at the time was incredibly difficult – foreigners were running the risk of being arrested or stopped on the street… Renting a room or getting a job was virtually impossible.

Paris streets in 1957
Madame Simone Zehrfuss, a wife of an architect Bernard Zahrfuss, took young Alaia under her wing and invited him to stay in their family home. The day Azzedine found himself at Zehrfuss’s, he met Louise de Vilmoirin. The writer who later referred to Azzedine as “my artist” who made her “appear beautiful” introduced Alaia to the chic Parisian community of intellectuals that he found incredibly stimulating.

Besides offering the roof over his head, Simone also introduced the young designer to a few women who later became his clients. He didn’t speak English, so she translated for him, too.

Alaia never stopped working combining the knowledge with his imagination and unique skills as if it was a science about which he wanted to know everything.

For five years he lived at the house of the Comtesse de Blegiers where he babysat and cooked during the day and made clothes in his room at night. To protect Azzedine from any trouble the Count de de Blegiers gave him his card and introduced Alaia as his protégé.

In the late 1960s Azzedine Alaia got a job at Guy Laroche’s atelier. He spent two years there, leaning and mastering his skills, but eventually felt that he wanted more, something of his own.

Greta Garbo, Louise de Vilmorin, Andre Malraux, Arletty in Alaia & Chaudette Colbert
The two bedroom apartment in Rue de Bellechasse, on the left bank, was a tiny space with sewing machine scattered around the place. It was the safe haven, a place where Azzedine could completely immerse himself into designing the clothes – and there was nothing that could make him happier.

Alaia’s life, just like those childhood photo albums he, was filled with beautiful women who adored him: Greta Garbo, Arlette, Claudette Colbert, Rene Clair, Cecile de Rothschild. They became clients, clients became friends… The world of Alaia was full of inspiration, glamour and thought provoking conversations. It was a secret club of couture, opened to the selected few.

For the first time in history women gained an access to a designer who, according to Mathilde de Rothschild, understood “the intimate emotional, intellectual and biological facts of being female”, and had an ability to make clothes that created the most beautiful curves of all. And yet he didn’t care about fame or money – all he strived for was the understanding of the connections  between the body and fabric and achieving perfection in everything he made.

In 1968 he also decided to collect couture pieces. One day, while visiting the recently closed Balenciaga atelier for some unwated mannequins, Alaia noticed a woman destroying a dress from 1955 collection. It made him sick to his stomach. Needless to say, that shopping trip was no longer about soulless dummies, but precious fashion pieces he wanted to preserve forever and the beginning of one of the best couture collections in the world.

In 1979 Alaia was approached by Charles Jourdan who commissioned a capsule ready-to-wear collection. The pieces made of leather decorated with zippers and buckles were too extravagant for Jourdan to accept, but women loved them. One of the black leather dresses was photographed for the cover of French Elle and the other, worn by created hysteria on the streets of New York – after all, nobody had never seen leather leggings before.

black leather tunic designed by Alaia in 1980
In the summer of 1980 Alaia landed three outfits to the editor of French Elle and her colleagues to wear during to one of the fashion week shows. A few months later an article written by Bill Cunningham appeared in Women’s Wear Daily. He wrote he had just seen the future.

To be continued…

Photo source: Azzedine Alaia working on a skirt from his spring 1992 collection via Alaia by Francois Baudot, Paris streets in 1957; Greta Garbo, Louise de Vilmorin, Andre Malraux, Arletty in Alaia & Chaudette Colbert; black leather tunic designed by Alaia in 1980 / photographed by Toscani via Alaia by Francois Baudot


  1. WOW! very interesting post darling!!
    Thanks for it!

  2. Una historia muy interesante... me encanta tu blog!
    Gracias por tu comentario en mi blog, te sigo!

  3. So many things I didn't know about him. It's fascinating.

  4. I do like the quote at the beginning - so humble. This is an interesting story and I'm looking forward to the next installment!

  5. This is fascinating! I'm so glad you are doing this post! What a life!

  6. Your writing is captivating!

    XO, Gina

  7. I really enjoyed reading about Azzedine Alaia! Lovely post :)

  8. Very interesting post!
    Love Alaia works!

  9. Thank you,dear Natali:-)*
    I read this story with so much attemding and pleasure!

    Wish you a very good day,keep it warm,


  10. This proves again that there is always complications and barriers to one's way to success or goal, but it makes us stronger and hopefully better humans.
    Can't wait for the third part

  11. Reading his life from you make me appreciate much more his work:))) Kisses dear!

  12. I love reading this blog, this text are inspiring with that vintage pictures. It's always a pleasure to come here.


  13. stunning post dear...
    kiss and happy evening

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  14. I'm loving this series! It's always so fascinating to learn more about how designers got their start and their inspirations.

    Rowena @ rolala loves

  15. im hooked. I love alaia


  16. Thank you for your effort to give us this information. Could always learn a lot with your blog and your work.


  17. Again, so so interesting Natalia! Wow, imagine being the designer who created something as innovative as leather leggings, incredible. Looking forward to reading more tomorrow...

  18. Great story! Thanks for sharing the history of fabulous designers!

  19. Fashion Designers really inspire me! They all have such amazing pasts. Thanks for sharing this with us.

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  20. He had some really humble beginnings. He deserves everything he has now, because he has truly worked for it. A person like that has a much better appreciation of things, then one where it's given to them. Very honorable man.