A Tribute to Azzedine Alaïa, Fashion’s Great Couturier

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AnOther Magazine A/W17Photography by Richard Wentworth

On the sad news of his passing, Alexander Fury remembers an exceptional man who made exceptional clothes

Azzedine Alaïa was the great couturier. He wasn’t the last – Azzedine was first, not last, in everything. And his wasn’t an old-fashioned or newfangled way of working. It was simply his way, and his alone. Alaïa was both the first, and the last. Alaïa was Alaïa. He was incomparable.

But alongside Alaïa, there is Azzedine – the man, not the label. The exceptional human being who created these exceptional clothes. His first name didn’t appear in connection with his brand – ‘Alaïa Paris’ are the words written on the slender slips of fabric that, for almost 40 years, have been stitched into the world’s most desirable clothing. I admired that Alaïa for decades – as a teenager, through until today, and beyond. But I loved Azzedine.

Like the man himself, Azzedine Alaïa’s clothes are some of the most extraordinary in the world. So says received wisdom, and I never found anything to challenge that. But Alaïa’s clothes are, fundamentally, about relationships between people – or rather, between him and other people. Alaïa is about Azzedine: about the characters Azzedine drew to him; and about their discussions, about Alaïa, which in turn continue to draw those people together. We are all bound together, by Azzedine Alaïa, man and cloth.

Azzedine Alaïa’s achievements needn’t be outlined. Like Balenciaga or Vionnet, Alaïa is synonymous with craft and invention. He created new ways to create. Through that, he invented a style which was his, and his alone. Often imitated, never equalled. 

For me, the fundamental tenet of Azzedine Alaïa is a steadfast refusal to obey rules – not just the often-cited rules of the fashion world, trite conventions about when to show and what to show, but all kinds of rules. Technically, Azzedine’s clothes mixed silk with leather, making the latter molten and the former rigid, muddling our perceptions of physics; ideologically, in a post-feminist landscape, he created clothes that gave women power not by neutering their sexuality, but embracing and celebrating it. He bucked every trend. But Azzedine’s impact was wider than that. He mixed fashion with art and literature, refusing to recognise any boundaries between different art forms, eschewing the notion of hierarchy. And although Azzedine didn’t speak English, he managed, somehow, to speak with everyone. 

So many have a story about Azzedine – about a time spent at his atelier in the Rue de Moussy, around his enormous kitchen table, with his even more enormous dog, eating copious amounts of food, drinking and laughing. Because Azzedine’s house is the very opposite of the popular perception of a fashion house – cold, closed, elitist. Alaïa, rather, is generous, welcoming, warm. It isn’t a house at all, it is a home.

I was lucky enough to be welcomed into that home: I stayed with Azzedine when I was in Paris, which was often but – in hindsight – not nearly often enough. I stayed with him, and stayed up with him, and drank vodka. And all the time, I was slightly incredulous. Because it was Alaïa

Until I realised, that Alaïa is Azzedine. The man and the clothes were inextricable. They shared the same characteristics. Both Azzedine, and his clothes, were ferociously intelligent, informed, passionate, playful. They hugged you, warmly. They were unlike anything else on earth. They made you feel wonderful. 

We treasure them. And they will stay with us forever.

This photograph originally appears in AnOther Magazine A/W17.