Azzedine Alaïa’s Fashion Firsts

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Alaïa, bustier dress, couture S/S 2003
Alaïa, bustier dress, couture S/S 2003© Patrick Demarchelier

AnOther meets Olivier Saillard who does the near impossible and selects just seven of Azzedine Alaïa's design highlights

“The best way to know me is through my clothes,” says Azzedine Alaïa in his interviews. The very private, tremendously talented, Tunisian-born designer is the object of the latest exhibition at the Galliéra Museum in Paris (reopening now after a four-year hiatus). To learn more about the legendary couturier, AnOther met up with the museum’s director Olivier Saillard to discuss Azzedine’s most iconic works.

The bias-cut dress: 
Azzedine always says a woman’s bottom is a lot more interesting than her breasts, and his dresses masterfully and invariably enhance the derrière, mainly through 1930s-inspired bias-cut skirts and siren silhouettes.

The zipped black dress:
Alaïa first created it in 1981, then he went on to do a long version of it in 2003. It was inspired by French film legend Arletty (one of his first clients and a close friend until her death in 1992), who in the 1938 film Hôtel du Nord also wore a zipped dress. With time it has become the ultimate modern little black dress: it makes a statement but it’s also a very useful piece.

The perforated leather ensemble: 
In 1981, Azzedine presented his first collection in his studio on the Rue de Bellechasse, to rave reviews from the international press, with editors particularly marvelling at a perforated black leather coat. Perforated leather has, ever since, been a staple in his collections. This ensemble dates from 2010.

The “Bandelettes” dress:
From Spring/Summer 1990, this is a long body-con dress made out of stretch strips. Azzedine conceived it as a sort of fluid sculpture enveloping the female body. It’s one of his most recognisable pieces, so much so that it’s been endlessly copied by other designers.

The “Houpette” dress:
The French word “Houppe” means literally “a tuft of woollen threads”. For this dress, from his Spring/Summer 1994 collection, Azzedine used fluffy stretch rayon strips, black on white, to achieve a positive/negative effect. Once again, the dress is an homage to Arletty, who wore a “houppe” dress in Marcel Carné’s 1942 fantasy film Les Visiteurs du Soir.

The crocodile jacket:
Since 2003, crocodile skin has come to be a sort of logo-less logo for Alaïa. It’s a lot harder to work than leather or even python, since it’s naturally a rigid, non-elastic skin. Yet, through years of experience, Azzedine has learned how to mould it.

The skater dress:
It’s the ultimate Alaïa silhouette. No other dress has been so successful to him, or so troublesome – the public has often typecast Azzedine as “the inventor of the skater dress”. Truth is, the skater-shaped dress existed before Azzedine but he reinterpreted it through the series of leopard-print, Africa-themed dresses he designed in 1992. From then on it has become so closely associated with him that other designers can’t help mimicking him when making their own skater dresses.

Alaïa is at the Musée Galliéra, Paris, until January 26 2014.

Text by Marta Represa