In times like this, it’s strange to write about fashion. But at the same time, oh how I want fashion… Don’t get me wrong: less collections a year is an initiative that needs praise and support. But when I hear such radical things as “no more fashion weeks” or “no more fashion shows”… then what’s the actual sense of it all, other than just clothes? Also, I fear that not only small and emerging labels might struggle and drown in financial problems, but as well independent, legendary houses that don’t have the deserved spotlight. One of them is Alaïa. After producing 10 collections without the house’s founder, Azzedine Alaïa‘s studio has pretty much found its stride, taking liberties while never straying too far from home base. It also found ample inspiration in two satellite events: the exhibition at the Galerie Azzedine Alaïa entitled Alaia and Balenciaga, Sculptors of Shape, and the book Taking Time, a selection of conversations compiled over the years around Alaïa’s imposing, eclectically populated dinner table. Among those featured are Jonathan Ive and Marc Newson, who speak of time as “the first ergonomic product.” For the autumn-winter 2020 line-up, the studio picks up on the late designer’s fascination with ergonomy, in particular through jersey knit. Starting with archival samples and a lifetime’s worth of research, it delved into origami-inspired pleating and came up with a new, openwork iteration that, while visibly true to house codes also pushed the story forward. For the first time, a cape coat ordinarily cut from cloth resurfaced in a dense knit, textured in ovoid reliefs. Knits also proved a foil for a leather corset belt with fringes that fell to mid-thigh. Impractical though it may be, in a season heavy with fringe, that would-be skirt was one of the most compelling pieces around. In that spirit, there were also a few fringed jackets extrapolated from one Mr. Alaïa had left unfinished on a mannequin in his studio. With Alaïa’s original, iconic zip dress headed to the Met exhibition, About Time (which has been indefinitely postponed due to coronavirus), the studio offered up a new, simpler take on that idea in a little black dress. His signature leopard print also appeared in various iterations, in a gathered and belted coat or a knit bodice on an evening gown. Other highlights included velvet dresses in black, deep burgundy (sublime!) or forest green, and an eye-catching jacket and skirt ensemble in laser-cut, embroidered leather that amped up the contrast of matte and shine. That’s why we will always need brands like Alaïa: it’s not just the history and the person, but a place, where you will find a perfectly timeless dress.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
In 1968, as Cristóbal Balenciaga was preparing to close his eponymous fashion house, a young Azzedine Alaïa – already designing for private clients from his small apartment – received a phone call from Mademoiselle Renée, Balenciaga’s then-vice general director. She was concerned about the future of the Spanish couturier’s archive of gowns and unused fabrics and invited Alaïa to the maison to help himself to what was left, hoping he might re-cut and re-purpose the garments and cloth to give them new life. “That’s how his obsession for collecting fashion began,” says fashion curator and historian Olivier Saillard. “He was so moved seeing all those pieces that, instead of reworking them, he decided to keep them intact.” Saillard – who works closely with Carla Sozzani and Alaïa’s partner, the painter Christoph von Weyhe, to manage the late designer’s foundation, Association Azzedine Alaïa – has curated a new exhibition “Alaïa and Balenciaga, Sculptors of Shape” which runs until June 28 (temporarily closed now due to the coronavirus epidemy) at Galerie Azzedine Alaïa in Paris. Conceived as a sort of pristine white labyrinth, the exhibition sees pieces from both designers mirror one another without ever getting too physically close, reflecting the fact that the two couturiers never met in person. And, though Saillard might have been behind the exhibition’s content and design, he is quick to insist that the exhibition was not his own idea – rather that of another famed Parisian couturier, Hubert de Givenchy. “He came to see us in 2018, approximately six months after Azzedine’s death and, at 90 years old, completely blew us away with his old-school charm. He wanted to show the work of both designers at the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum in the Spanish city of Getaria,” Saillard informs in the press notes. “Unfortunately, he died two weeks after that first meeting.” The curator then became in charge of fostering Givenchy’s idea, and the exhibition will eventually make its way to Getaria this summer. Identifying all the Balenciaga pieces in Alaïa’s collection was no easy feat. “Nothing was really archived, but we ended up finding more than 500 items,” remembers Saillard. “Then we compared them to Azzedine’s own work. That’s when I realised the extent of the Spanish master’s influence on him. Most of all, I think Azzedine always strived to equal Cristóbal’s technical virtuosity.” Did he succeed? “Well, there are very few 20th-century designers that mastered every step of the creative process, from drawing to cutting, sewing and assembling a garment, and they both did it. So yes.” Here are some photos I took inside this divine exhibition – partially located in the Galerie, partially over Alaïa’s boutique-slash-studio on rue de Moussy – but to really feel that mastership of cut and every single detail, these garments should be seen in real life. Here’s my post on one of the previous exhibitions presented here in case you’ve missed it: “Adrian and Alaïa. The Art of Tailoiring.”
Galerie Azzedine Alaïa / 18 rue de la Verrerie
Azzedine Alaïa Boutique & Studio / 7 rue de Moussy
And now we’re jumping from Le Marais district to rue de Marignan (located near the posh Avenue Montaigne), where Alaïa’s second Paris flagship store is located. I’ve been there a few years ago after its opening, and now I was surprised to see that more floors are open to the clients. Here you will find the brand’s current collections (designed by Alaïa’s studio), as well as re-editions of some of the most cult Azzedine designs and motifs. Fact check: no other brand in Paris does as refined eveningwear as Alaïa’s maison. Oh, and shearling coats. When I saw that rack, my heart skipped a beat. Going to this store feels like a continuation of the exhibition tour, but this time you can try it all on and, if your wallet is a magic well, buy it. Never enough of Alaïa!
Azzedine Alaïa Boutique / 5 rue de Marignan
All photos by Edward Kanarecki.
(P.S. If you are inspired by my Parisian coverage, I’m really happy about, but please have in mind that now isn’t a safe time for any sorts of travelling. Stay at home!)