Thursday, March 1, 2018

THE AURA OF ALAIA .. excerpted from AMARTA

I like black, because for me it is a very happy color.”AA

 Consider this a love letter to a once vibrant living legend as well as a paean, a remembrance and a tribute. This ode to Azzedine Alaïa is not some sort of maudlin and moribund obituary filled with empty cold facts and quotes from famous people who never met him.  If you are in need of the historical details of his life please consult Wikipedia because here we will not be regurgitating that aspect of this man’s illustrious life.  Here, in an exclusive story (including quotes)  for AMARTA,  we shall examine and revel in how his life intersected and affected some of those who crossed his path on many different levels. Azzedine, I have read and been told, was like a proud papa when he entertained family style at home with those he loved and thought of as family. So in the spirit of Azzedine Alaïa, let’s celebrate the man (with his own quotes) as designer and human being. This was a man of great integrity, great courage who never buckled or compromised under the pressures of the fashion system.

I have many Azzedine stories, but one that puts a smile on my face is when we had dinner alone near his new boutique/home in the Marais near a school where “he could discover his new girls." He would always be a bit of a mischief maker.  He spoke only French and I only spoke English, but a bottle of red wine and one question from him and my school French poured out and never stopped. When we returned chez lui he told Christophe (his partner) that he couldn't get me to shut up.  How great it was to finally stop hiding or pretending to be less than who I was. How blessed I am to have spent time in August 2016 laughing, eating, watching him cook traditional Tunisian dishes for his niece, her daughter and the rest of his motley crew of friends.  Grateful for over 40 years of connection.
Alva Chinn ... fashion icon, model, friend

“I think women should be seductive, not triste. There's enough sadness in life now without making women look sad, too.”AA

Azzedine was a guest to my apartment in New York City in the late 80s, he came with Iman and Anna Anderson; he was very down to earth and simple. When I was next in Paris I went to his atelier whilst covering shows … he made lunch and took me around. He treated everyone like one big family. I was amazed how personal he was as he made everyone feel at home. My last encounter with him was when he made the wedding gown for model Gail Elliott which was a beautiful white strapless mermaid gown.  He was talented, with a very definitive point of view and was a TOTAL original. Freddie Leiba … international stylist... editor

In essence what you will read here are first hand memories from some of the most notable names in the world of fashion. You will not read opinions, other than mine, who had never met or encountered Azzedine Alaïa. This is all about a much more intimate portrait of the designer and how he left his stamp on the lives of these few personalities. Read how this fiercely outspoken and independent thinker left his imprimatur on a business that is populated by far too many followers rather than leaders.

I worked at the house of Alaïa for some years 7-8 but knew him even before. It was a great experience and he was just a wonderful man. I worked with Azzedine with a stylist called Christiane Bailly and when he made the more difficult pieces for Thierry Mugler ... because he is the best technician! At that time I was working for Mugler for the accessories and as house model. At night I went to Azzedine’s for the fittings. I left Mugler because of the pressure but when I left Mugler I was very happy and surprised that Azzedine asked me to work with him. At that time the house was just beginning and very small, we were 2 or 3! It was a fantastic time and I was so happy to work with a such a gifted man… he did all the clothes on me and also I did some sewing with him at night; we worked day and night ... Azzedine was also very funny and loved making jokes on the phone, changed his voice and made believe it was someone else. I only remember the good times … we were like a family.
Zuleika … colleague, model, friend

“The present fashion system is too hard - there are too many collections. The designers have no time to think! Money is too important. Schedules are too crazy”

“As for success, I don't care for it. It is a fragile thing”AA

In 2005 I gave a dinner in honor of Azzedine following his honorary degree ceremony at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.  I told him how much I loved his clothes but was afraid that I could not wear them as they were so body conscious. His eyes sparkled and told me of course I could (bien sur, bien sur)!  Within a few years he developed a knit that was much more “forgiving” without any loss of his chic.  Although most of my collection has been donated to the de Young Museum, I will never give my Alaïa clothes away. Christine Suppes … author, philanthropist, client, friend

His demeanor, while at times was less than exemplary but he was a man who spoke out and was not the kind to back down; he was principled and totally devoted. What struck me most is that rarely when asked about his profession did he ever speak in terms of how it benefitted him but almost always spoke about “the women” he catered to and wished to satisfy. One of his other rare traits that is certainly worth noting is that he actually interacted with his clients as well as with the clothes themselves. Plainly speaking he was not one who pointed and offered his opinions so that others could satisfy his whim, he did it ... he draped, he cut, he sewed, he fitted and all of that with equal élan and skill.

“My obsession is to make women beautiful. When you create with that in mind, things can't go out of fashion.”AA

Arriving at his raw but polished space, we were greeted by Mirella, his right hand, but no Azzedine in sight.  After walking through the collection and while looking at the accessories spread out on tables I finally saw that Azzedine had arrived with Pat-a-Pouf in his arms. He walked around with Mirella inspecting what was to be bought and as he came closer to Mirella I was introduced to him and told him about my pursuit of the collection for Bergdorf Goodman to which responded in French, of course I did not understand. Mirella then translated as he walked me through the collection pointing out details and his favorite pieces. When we were finished he looked at me and said in the clearest English “You are young, blow away the dust, breathe fresh air into the corners, and wake up what sleeps - give new life - it is your charge now” and he disappeared through a nearby door.
Andrew Basile … former fashion director Bergdorf Goodman

“I work for women. I only think for them. If I didn't like women, I wouldn't do this job.”AA
While a buyer at Browns (working with Mrs. B (Burstein). We were at our buying appointment for a Thierry Mugler collection with a saleswoman named Mirabelle.  we loved these seamed a grey flannel suits - and she told us Thierry had someone working with him who had worked on these pieces and that Thierry was encouraging him to do something on his own.
We later found Azzedine and visited him where he lived and worked at that time about in ‘83 in rue de Bellechasse but unfortunately they said they did not have production at that time to sell the dresses but they were able to sell the gloves and one off custom pieces; Mrs. B placed a personal order for herself which she still has! When we went returned the following season they were ready to sell and Browns went on to buy lots (1 season we sold 600 pairs on his leggings) as well as the dresses.
 I must say whenever I would see him here and there in Paris at events and shows he was always so warm and friendly. Robert Forrest … former buyer Browns (London), Maxfield

In a business that eats its young, often overlooks the truly gifted and with a very short memory, Azzedine was rarely and or sufficiently lauded for his talents due to his persistence to not fall under the heavy hand of one Vogue editrix who he loathed and detested.  Unequivocally he made no secret of it to anyone who would listen and many feared that his disdain of her would rub off on them if publicly in agreement with him. In plain speak the little man had a big set and the rest cowered! What else is clear is that Alaïa was a man that despite being vertically challenged stood head and shoulders above most of his so called peers and most certainly in comparison to most of the latest crop of so called designers. He not only had abilities and a skillset … the man had talent.

ahh, found it in my photo archives.
I photographed Azzedine when he was living and working in a tiny apartment in the late 70s... I took many others for my American Vogue’s View column that day. He gave me this skirt... I adored it, (never got my hands on the jacket) what a dear sweet soul; humble and kind (to the chosen only!!!) There will never be another like him.  Azzedine stood out as one of the most self-effacing and truly humble of spirits I have ever encountered.  He was demanding of everything and everyone around him. Loyalty always came first. When the present editor of Vogue offended him (the reason need not be mentioned here), she and the magazine were banned from his shows… Forever!
Now that is power!" ….I adored him! Mary Russell... former editor Vogue, WWD, photographer, friend

“Vogue remains while its fashion editors come and go.”
 “Who will remember A … W … in the history of fashion? No one”!AA

I met Azzedine in 1980 in Paris while working on a project with some new designers for a fur company.  I was fascinated by the simple new modernity with which he worked on this show … marvelous contemporary shapes of fur coats, all in clear shades, but above all by the hooded pure draped white jersey dresses with white tights and boots.
At that time he was helping Thierry Mugler on his tailoring, with his sharpened way of cutting. Later he showed this for himself, with zipped numbers, shouldered, volanted, more than both sexy and stylish, in jeans or leather with studs and stitching which became his signature.
In the 80s his name was mostly known to a little sophisticated circle. He was a designer's designer, discreetly designing privately for such icons as Marlene Dietrich, Arletty, Greta Garbo, and Marie Hélène de Rothschild etc. He soon became the Alaïa he was and still is worldwide well-known
with muses as Grace Jones, Naomi and so on.
He was known in Paris not only for his house but for his open table kitchen and mixing workers and stars with delicious food. The host in residence was Azzedine presiding in Chinese sandals and Mao blue suit, his little Pekinese dogs in his arms
I remember several  Paris -New York flights we spent chatting, him speaking mainly, with so nice, unbelievable, interesting stories about his debut, friendship with poetess and socialite famous cafe society icon Louise de Vilmorin, approach of fashion world, our mutual admiration and passion for American designers as Claire McCardell, Adrian, above all Charles James.  I didn't want (and anyway couldn’t!) to sleep for the long flight long. Christian Lacroix… coutourier extraordinaire

No comments:

Post a Comment