Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier is not a tribute or a retrospective. It is the exhibition that Azzedine himself began to pull together, and as Carla Sozzani said this morning at the preview: “He wanted to do an exhibition, not about himself but about his designs.” When walking into the Alaïa exhibition at the Design Museum, a wall highlighted in fluorescent light reads: “I always feel free. When I don’t want something I don’t make it.” A great beginning. And so inside the exhibition is an emotional, poignant journey, that freedom he speaks of, felt in over 60 of Alaïa’s incredible creations that mark moments in time, not just in Alaïa’s life but for all of us who have so closely followed his genius over the years. A timeline of his life trails the wall, reminding us of his Tunisian upbringing in the village of Siliana with a family of farmers, to sewing hems for a local dressmaker, and then going onto create his first collection under the name Alaïa in the 1980s. Throughout the exhibition are pieces date from 1981 to 2017, but this seems somewhat irrelevant (still remarkable) when each design proves to be so timeless. Alaïa’s kickass use of leather in his first collection stands strong with a constellation of metal eyelets, so supple and soft, still elegant in all their strength. A selection of Alaïa’s most glimmering queenlike gowns rise up, a celebration of his clever use of volume, the chosen dresses larger than life, fit for all his Queens. An Alaïa dress does not fit a woman, the woman fits the Alaïa dress.
Black silhouettes stand tall together, coven-like and sleek, the chicest plunging gowns, so perfectly tailored, cinch those waists in, panther-esque. The way Alaïa sculpted a woman’s figure was the epitome of expert workmanship, his technique unrivalled. Even in those dark, wild, leather bondage-like pieces, his brilliance glints in flashes of yellow and emerald beads, his humour evoked so slyly in his creations. A velvet dress dripping in blood red and a midnight black glinting in the light sit amongst the exhibition that is divided by specially commissioned artworks by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, Konstantin Grcic, Marc Newson and Kris Ruhs. Rihanna’s fire engine red hot Grammys dress in all it’s cascading sheer fabulousness is there, but honestly we see Rihanna in any of these Alaïa pieces. For fearless women. Unapologetic. The lineup of the bandage and hooded dresses dominate this world, the Supremes, in their wrapped forms slicked to the skin so skilfully. We could talk for hours about every piece but we won’t. One must see for oneself. Alaïa’s heart is in all of these pieces, his genius transcends time, that quiet mystery and total understanding of what women want to wear is sensed so deeply. As he once said: “My obsession is to make women beautiful. When you create with that in mind, things can’t go out of fashion.” There’s a glamour and knowingness felt so powerfully in every Alaïa piece here. For women who rule their own worlds.
By Roxy Lola
Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier is open from May 10- October 7 at the Design Museum, UK.
Photographs by Mark Blower.