Thursday, 31 January 2013

Azzedine Alaia: 1980s and beyond

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“Azzedine Alaia is the greatest couturier who never was.”

Suzie Menkes

In 1981 a group of people gathered at rue Bellechasse to see the first Alaia collection ever shown to the public. There were no invitations or any form of advertising, but the news travelled fast and everyone who loved fashion wanted to see the clothes that soon appeared on pages of fashion magazines.

That very same year Alaia invented the “body” that literally changed the way women moved as the stretchy fabric shadowed their curves wrapping around, following the motion and setting them free. He also reintroduced the “balcony” bra that was inspired by corsetry that highlighted and accentuated the bust.

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By the early 1980s Alaia’s designs were appearing in Vogue and Elle, sold in several boutiques including Beverly Hills, Barneys NY, Chicago, Los Angeles and Tokyo, Neiman Marcus in San Francisco, Les Createurs in Geneva and Joseph in London and shown in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Bordeaux and Palladium in New York in 1984.

In October 1985 the French Ministry of Culture presented Azzedine Alaia with the Designer of the Year and Best Collection of the Year awards, as a sign of appreciation of his unique talent and skills.

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The same year Alaia and his small team move to an old nineteen century warehouse in the heart of the Marais, at 7, rue de Moussy. The vast construction becomes his headquarters, atelier, boutique and show space where Azzedine Alaia spends his time working without distractions, surrounded by a few assistants, friends and his beloved animals. Every garment Alaia produces bears his touch. Unlike many other designers, he does not just create the silhouette (he never sketches or makes notes), but cuts the patterns, does the leather work, the embroidery, the draping and pleating and even repairs and redesigns of his earlier creations. When he can no longer fight with the circadian rhythm, Azzedine falls asleep on his work table, curled up in a piece of fabric or moves to his Spartan bad where he is lovingly greeted by cats and dogs.

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The house also becomes home for many supermodels who adore and practically worship Azzedine, not only as a designer, but one of the kindest and caring human beings.

Whenever they are offered to do a show, Linda, Christy, Naomi, Stephanie, Veronica leave their busy schedules behind and fly to Paris to walk for Alaia without any fee attached to it. “Because it’s Azzedine…” murmured Linda in one of her interviews.

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In 1995 Stephanie Seymour chooses the glass roof studio space for her wedding ceremony instead of Ritz and wears Alaia’s dress that takes 1600 hours to make.

A few years later, in 2009, when Alaia is left out of the show hosted by the Metropolitan museum of Art, he calls Naomi, Stephanie and a few other top models invited to the event and asks them not to go. Neither of them shows up at the exhibition opening later that day.

***

And then, in the mid 1990s Azzedine Alaia suddenly disappears from the public eye. The world becomes a darker place for him. In 1992 he had to deal with the death of Arletty, his confidante and dearest friend and then – loss of his sister who dies of cancer. He retreats to his studio avoiding people and wondering if he is good enough to continue working in fashion. As a result, everything slows down. Including the money.

And then it was women who helped him again. This time it was Carla Sozziani, the former editor-in-chief of Italian Vogue and editor-at-large of American Vogue, gallerist and founder of 10 Corso Como, who took care of business and introduced Alaia to the Prada group that became an investor. It was a unique agreement – while Prada bought out the brand, Alaia kept the rights to his name allowing him remain independent.

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2006 Alaia brought the brand out and sold it to the Swiss luxury group Richemont in 2007 to maintain financial stability. While the group assumed 100 per cent control, Alaia was given a free pass to pursue his dreams and design the way he felt right – not to suit the ever changing fashion world or meet a certain number of annual sales. Following the designer’s request, Richemont also created a foundation to preserve his enormous and incredibly valuable archive containing his own creations along side vintage Vionnet, Balenciaga, Paul Poiret, Schiaparelli, Comme des Garçons, Margiela, Junya Watanabe and some young designers.

In 2008 he is awarded with the prestigious Legion D'Honneur, which he refuses. “I don't like decorations - except on women. I am always in doubt; I am never sure of myself. Even when you tell me I'm an influential designer - I don't see myself like that. So I don't like decorations.” he explains in an interview in 2011.

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In 2011 following the incident involving Galliano, Christian Dior approaches Azzedine Alaia with a job offer – he declines while taking an opportunity to support Galliano.

Just a few days before the award announcement, on 7 July 2011, first time in eight years, Azzedine Alaia presents an impeccable show. It lasts 15 minutes and receives a standing ovation.

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In 2012 he announces that he will be opening a store in Rue de Marignan, off Avenue Montaigne, in March 2013.

In January 2013 Alaia signs fragrance and cosmetics license with Beauté Prestige International - the luxury perfume company  that “corresponds perfectly to the spirit of the Alaïa house”.

Throughout his entire life Azzedine Alaia remains a mystery, a man full of secrets, and as long as he continues to surprise the world with his creations, we certainly have many treats to look forward to.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Azzedine Alaia: Paris

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“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.

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.

***

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.

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: Alaia by Francois Baudot

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Azzedine Alaia: the early years

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“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 for somebody who was born on 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, the boy watched the movies over and over again, soaking up the beauty of the costumes and learning the dialogues that he would then perform in front of his friends in exchange for crayons.

His sketches were the way to release his 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.

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 available to him. It was that very first introduction to fashion that make Azzedine realise that his true destiny was not art, but working with female body that he could sculpt using 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.

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.

To be continued…

 

Photo source: hand moulded chain mail / Summer 1992 collection / Alaia by Francois Baudot

Monday, 28 January 2013

Azzedine Alaïa / Elle US 2000

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I could write an ode to Azzedine Alaïa choosing the most poetic and beautiful words in attempt to explain the genius of this man who filled fashion with ideas, inspired some of the most influential designers, created iconic pieces and made women feel beautiful in their own skin. And yet… never self-promoted himself, used PR companies or advertising… created collections based on his own schedule regardless of the seasons… had been in fashion for around 50 years and still remains a mystery.

Alaia is an extraordinary figure, a unique being and one-of-a-kind. I first heard his name in mid 1990s when Russian Elle published an article about a fashion designer who knew the secret of crafting a dress with ability to mould around female body like no other.

Since then I’ve become fascinated with Azzedine Alaïa and his work wishing that one day I’ll get a chance to wear something made by him. The dream may never come true, but the love for Alaïa’s art and talent is a good enough reason for me to dedicate this fashion week to him.

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Photo source: Elle US September 2000

Friday, 25 January 2013

Emperor’s new clothes or am I going mad?

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This blog was created to talk about all things beautiful, fashions that inspire and stories that preserve the past and the present. However once in a while I make an exception because I need to share the other kind of thoughts, get them out of my head, straight into the web-space that I made my own.

Over the last few months every time I saw another Dior fashion show and read a review that followed I felt like that little boy in the Andersen’s tale who seemed to be the only one seeing no real clothes. I saw so many flash backs and similarities in what Simons is currently presenting as his innovative designs that it hurt my eyes and made my heart cry for help, hope, anything... My mind was also struggling whenever I saw another interview or story praising “the new Era of Dior” and the houses new designer.

And the questions kept popping up in my head…

Look at the images below, look at the seasons they come from. If this is the future of Dior then why so many looks resemble Dior and even Jil Sander collections from the past? Is Simons even capable of designing for such a unique and historically important fashion house like Dior? Does he even have the gift of visualising fashion and making it evolve while preserving the legacy, not blindly copying some of the past designs? Or is his own imaginary world is, in fact, empty, just like that Emperor’s closet? And what is the real reason for the Dior bosses to keep the Maisons designer?

I know everyone deserves a second chance and creating one’s very first collection is always a challenge, but Simons had three attempts already and yet failed to impress and inspire. The feelings of emptiness and disappointment that come after each show have such a strong and bitter aftertaste that I no longer plan to think of Dior as one of the houses that’s worth talking about or falling in love with. It’s sad, but it’s true.

In his interview that followed the couture show the designer said that with his latest collection he was hoping to “re-connect with the company's long-timers” (as if he can’t forget the effect Slimane’s collection had on the YSL audience – something he is yet to achieve). I am afraid if he continues the way he does, not only the old school will be gone forever, but the younger generation will also join them. I booked my one-way ticket already. You?

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Dior CTR S/S 2013 (S = Simons) - Dior RTW F/W 2012 (S) - Jil Sander RTW S/S 2011 (S) - Jil Sander RTW F/W 2007 (S)

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Dior Couture F/W 2012 (S) - Jil Sander RTW F/W 2012 (S)

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Dior CTR S/S 2013 (S) – Jil Sander RTW F/W 2009 (S)

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Dior CTR S/S 2013 (S) – Dior RTW F/W 2012 (S) – Dior CTR F/W 2012 (S) – Jil Sander RTW F/W 2007 (S)

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Dior CTR S/S 2013 (S) – Dior CTR S/S 2008 (G = Galliano)

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The yellow fabric overstock from the times at Jil Sander, no?

Dior CTR S/S 2013 (S) – Dior RTW F/W 2012 (S) – Dior CTR F/W 2012 (S) – Jil Sander RTW S/S 2007 (S)

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Dior RTW S/S 2012 (S) – Dior RTW S/S 2010 (G)

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Dior RTW S/S 2013 (S) – Dior CTR S/S 2005 (G) – Jil Sander RTW S/S 2011 (S)

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Dior CTR F/W 2012 (S) – Dior RTW F/W 2005 (G)

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Sparkling lips: Dior CTR S/S 2013 – Kinder Aggugini RTW F/W 2012

These are just a few examples – I’ll let you be the judge.

Photo source: Numero China November 2010 (the dress is Dior RTW F/W/ 2010), style.com

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Temperley London Pre-fall 2013

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My heart, having recently fallen in love (all over again) with period drama and associated costumery, chose the Temperley pre-fall collection at first sight. And how could it even be possible not to adore these looks created within the walls of a mansion that once belonged to the Queen's couturier Norman Hartnell, where the very history, air and beautiful detail, whether it’s the parakeets painted on the walls or butterflies woven into the silk, nourish your imagination and desire for all things glamorous.

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Photo source: style.com

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Stylish quote

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“Fashion today is fifty per cent attitude - and what makes you feel sexy, modern, or old, interesting, or squalid is only attitude.”

Domenico Dolce

Photo source: Anja Rubik wearing Dolce&Gabbana in Harper’s Bazaar US January 2010

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Best Spring 2013 campaigns: Akris

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Every season I look forward to the new campaigns. It’s always such an exciting moment to see the images and think of the idea behind each story. Last year I liked so many that I had to pick the best of the best and combine them in one post instead of spreading the joy of visual pleasure over weeks of blogging space.

Sadly, it’s no longer the case as the quality of the imagery seems to be going down. Perhaps, this is just me, but I can’t help feeling disappointed pretty much every time I see something new. I cannot understand why it is so important for some companies to hire a famous photographer who seems to be more concerned with his fee rather than the concept or a model who doesn’t have the face or emotions to portrait the beauty of the collection. I also absolutely cannot understand the need to keep using old Versace campaign as a template for the new ones – last year it was Cavalli, this time Balenciaga decided to adopt the same approach to creativity and picked Versace Spring 1993 ads.

As a result I chose the favourites and decided to create a post for every single one of them. Hermes was the first one and today it’s Akris – simple, radiant and elegant reflection of beauty.

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Photo source: Akris Spring/Summer 2013 campaign

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