End of an era: Design great Alaïa is dead, no news on future of label
Azzedine Alaïa has died at the age of 77, reportedly some days after being hospitalised due to a fall. One of the most influential designers of his generation, he defined the body-con look of the 80s and even after that look faded as the dominant style, stayed relevant as trends came and went by sticking to his trademark ultra-fitted looks.
An early user of laser-cut leathers and viscose jersey knits, he was a master cutter with an eye for just the right level of decoration and his signature style was frequently copied but never equalled.
Luxury giant Richemont, which held a major stake in the label, issued a tribute at the weekend. Chairman Johann Rupert said: “Azzedine Alaïa was not only a colleague but a great friend, so it was with shock and enormous sadness that I heard of his untimely passing. The industry has lost an exceptional talent. He was a man of integrity and kindness who was also a true creative genius. With his unique approach to couture, he created a distinctive style that will forever set his creations apart. Azzedine will be missed by all of us who had the good fortune to work with him. I wish to extend my sincerest condolences to his family and his friends.”
But there was no news on the future of his label with the Alaïa brand, more than any other fashion label out there, having been intimately linked to its founder as its creative driving force rather than simply a figurehead.
The Tunisian-born designer was an unlikely fashion influencer having come from a farming/landowning family. But influenced by his sister, he studied sculpture at the Institut Supérieur des Beaux Arts in Tunis and once said he only changed direction into fashion after realising the wouldn’t ever become an amazing sculptor.
After building up a small business with private clients, he moved to Paris in the late 1950s. But a job at Christian Dior ended in just a few days when his immigration papers were found to incorrect as the Algerian War started, after which he moved to Guy Laroche and then Thierry Mugler (another of the designers who helped set the tone for fashion in the late 70s and 80s).
After setting up his own workshop, he became one of the best kept secrets in Paris, with a stream of Best Dressed List regulars beating a path to his door.
Launching into RTW in 1980, he made an impact with his leathers and jerseys and was exposed to a wider audience after editorials in French Elle and Depeche Mode. Alaïa always stood slightly outside the fashion mainstream, despite his influence on the dominant look of the 1980s, but still followed a regular seasonal calendar during the at decade. His retail distribution grew both through his own boutiques and his wholesale business with luxury department stores and multibrand boutiques.
However, the death of his sister and muse in the 1990s saw him taking a step back from the the runway round, although he continued to work for private clients and produce his ready-to-wear but followed a model that almost foretold the seasonless approach many designers take today.
A partnership with Prada Group in 2000 was followed by him buying back the rights to his label several years later and then selling a stake to Richemont in 2007. But he continued to follow his own path, showing his collections as and when he felt like it (which was very rarely) and creating ultra-luxe RTW, footwear, bags and belts for sale in his small network of boutiques.
His roster of celebrity clients/friends, including Michelle Obama, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Grace Jones, Naomi Campbell, Marion Cotillard and Victoria Beckham to add to a devoted fan base of private ‘couture’ clients and RTW customers.
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