Remembering Azzedine Alaïa: The Last Great Couturier

03 Aug 2018 | Updated on: 27 Sep 2022 |By Ellen Millard

The life of Parisian couturier Azzedine Alaïa is remembered in his final project, a commemorative exhibition at the Design Museum

A 17-year-old Naomi Campbell is painting the Parisian town red with her friends and colleagues Iman and Grace Jones. They’re at the nightclub Les Bains Douches (now a hotel), and Prince is due on stage imminently. Then there’s a tap on her shoulder. It’s her Papa, a.k.a couturier Azzedine Alaïa.

After a stern telling off, she’s ordered home – but not before he fixes the outfit she’s wearing, which she pinched from his shop earlier in the day. Having taken the stubborn south Londoner under his wing in the early stages of her career, Alaïa become a father figure to Campbell, attempting to keep her in line when she was in town. He eventually made her sleep in the room above his, so that he would hear if she snuck out.

When he died at the end of last year, Campbell was one of the first to pay tribute, remembering not just his generosity but his influence on the fashion world. Throughout his career Alaïa shunned the traditional fashion week schedule, instead choosing to reveal his collections when he was ready – in some cases years after his last show. His unique method of pattern cutting – draping the fabric over his models and shaping it to suit their bodies – meant his clothes were always in tune with the female figure, designed to amplify the wearer’s best features.

Alaïa’s pioneering approach is now the subject of a blockbuster exhibition at the Design Museum, curated in partnership with the couturier himself. More than 60 rare garments spanning the designer’s career are on display, alongside a selection of specially commissioned pieces by leading creatives, including Marc Newson, Kris Ruhs and Tatiana Trouvé – designers with whom Alaïa had a personal connection.

The tributes that flooded in following Alaïa’s passing are testament to what an inspiration he was, with the likes of Alexander Wang, Edward Enninful and Marc Jacobs paying homage to his timeless designs – but it is in his own words that his influence is best summed up: “My obsession is to make women beautiful. When you create with that in mind, things can’t go out of fashion”

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