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What The Industry Needs To Learn From Azzedine Alaïa

The legendary Tunisian-born designer, famously known as "The King of Cling", has passed away at 82.
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I wasn’t born in the 80s. When I first heard the name “Alaïa” for the first time – uttered frantically by Alicia Silverstone in Clueless, which was honestly how I learned to pronounce “Alaïa”–  I was a pre-teen in the 2000s. For some years that followed, Alaïa in my mind was tied to that one red dress on Cher Horowitz. It was short, it was tight, it was sexy and it cut a severely fine figure.

As I got a little bit older, I got my first taste of Sex and the City. Now, I’m a serious sucker for jackets and blazers, so amongst Carrie’s Hall of Great Looks, no look stood out quite as much as that one red blazer she paired with simple black pants in Season 2. Again, it was an Alaïa. Again, it was red. Again, it cut a severely fine figure. Alright, curiosity piqued.

I scampered down to the library that very weekend after I saw the episode. There, on the shelf of fashion biographies stood Assouline’s Alaïa. There, I sat on the dinky carpeted floor of a public library, poring over pictures of Grace Jones and Naomi Cambell in Alaïa. There, I was introduced to the “King of Cling”.

Alaïa had stints at Dior, Guy Laroche and Thierry Mugler, but he was always meant to come into his own, doing so with his first show in 1980. The reviews were wild, and they continued to rage wildly as his reign lead into the 90s. As Cher Horowitz would say, “This is an Alaïa, it’s like a totally important designer.”

Collection after collection, Alaïa exalted the female form, sculpting dresses that emphasised her body, that made her aware of what she had. Of course, it helped that he had a bevy of supermodels in his army, their sinewy bodies the perfect canvas for his meticulously sculpted silhouettes. Yet, his erotically-charged clothing still came with a sense of polish. There was not a stitch out of place, a line that wasn’t meant to be there. It is said that it wasn’t uncommon for Alaïa to make adjustments right up to the last minute. If it wasn’t gold, it is a no-go.

It was this pursuit of perfection that lead to Alaïa becoming fashion’s biggest rebel. So, you rebel runway trends? Pfft. Alaïa rebelled the system. At the height of the 90s, he decided to march to the beat of his own drum. No longer would he follow the breakneck speed of the fashion calendar. While other creative directors from major houses go on to churn out as many as six collections a year, Alaïa kept to his ethos: his collections will only be revealed when they were ready. Even if took years. The runway collection he showed in July this year – and would turn out to be his last – was six years in the making.

His dismissal of the calendar was and continues to be a bold move, even in his passing. In a time where the fashion industry seems to be moving faster than ever, coupled with the unavoidable and troubling chaos building up in the world which it lives, it is an act that seems increasingly relevant. Whether it is about the pursuit of perfection or ignoring a system that can take a lot out of you if you’re not careful, Alaïa is a reminder to stop, to slow down, to reevaluate what it is you’re really chasing after. For him, the perfect, perfect cut. For you?

Alaïa rarely did interviews, which, adding on to his unconventional way of working, made him one of fashion’s most enigmatic and elusive. Yet, as one would surmise from the only documentary ever made about him – he doesn’t speak in it, how is that for elusive – Alaïa was a ball of cheeky, endless energy behind closed doors.

I’ve never had the honour of meeting him, but with all the tributes I’ve read over the weekend, I do wish that I had attended his swan song at Couture Week in July, to be able to experience, for the first and last time, the indisputable legend that he was. Good bye, Mr Alaïa. We will never see the likes of you again.

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