An interview with Olivier Saillard on the occasion of Alaïa avant Alaïa, a new exhibition at the Fondation Azzedine Alaïa. An exploration of the couturier’s early years of before establishing his fashion label, the show presents an expansive selection of archive materials, drawings and photographs – many on view for the first time. The exhibition continues until October 23rd, 2022. Here, the esteemed curator sheds light on certain pivotal moments.
Before founding his house in the early 80’s, Azzedine Alaïa worked as a « couturier en chambre » (private designer). Do you think we can consider it as a long apprenticeship? How did it shaped his work and his world?
In a way, these years working as a private designer for a select clientele provided Azzedine Alaïa with a form of training. While other designers went to fashion schools or worked in established ateliers, Azzedine trained himself by meeting all the women he created clothes for.
Yes, those years at rue de Bellechasse were filled with many encounters with exceptional women. You speak of a gathering of women. In your opinion, was there a pivotal meeting for the couturier?
There were three highly decisive encounters: The first, with Louise de Vilmorin; another with Arletty; and a third, very significant, with Greta Garbo. These three people have influenced Alaïa’s style the most.
At what point do you think one can say that his style and his signature became established?
In 1979, encouraged by Thierry Mugler, he designed a collection under his own name. He was invited by Bergdorf Goodman in New York to design a collection, a fashion show. Just prior, he had created a collection for Charles Jourdan which was rejected because the leather, perforations, and nails were considered to be sadomasochistic. In the end, he kept it for himself, and this made him successful. This is when he became Azzedine Alaïa.
Is there anything especially distinctive about early Alaïa?
Not much. From 1979, by the time he had established his own style, the foundations for the thirty years to come were already in place. The only difference is that he will keep on building on them – better and finer.
The exhibition continues until October 23rd, 2022 at Fondation Azzedine Alaïa: https://fondationazzedinealaia.org/.