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Azzedine Alaïa at the Design Museum

What a fantastic installation! Exhibitions often fail to impress me (like Balenciaga) but when they succeed, they are unforgettable. Such was the case with Azzedine Alaïa: The Courtier currently at the London’s Design Museum. 

Frankly, as a failed couture-enthusiast, I have never followed the Maison Alaïa. Other courtiers came first and thus when deciding whether to attend this exhibition, I was unsure. Advice to any hesitant as me? Go! To see the clothes, admire architectural installations and to pay respect to the artist who died in the course of making this show. Alaïa is a no-brainer!

All mannequins are based on Naomi Campbell’s body.

Azzedine lived and breathed clothes. Originally training as a sculptor, he let his hands do the talking which explained why he was always fitting his creations straight onto models. By the way, all mannequins are based on Naomi Campbell’s body, so do not be surprised by the enormous length of the legs or the tiny diameter of the waist. From leather and metal to lace and stretch fabric, the designer was unique in creating the least expected combinations of materials and making them look like a second skin. Alaïa’s garments celebrate experimentation.

The exposition on the ground floor of the Design Museum is filled with beautiful figures, all dressed in the best garments produced by the Parisienne Maison. It is airy, spacious, yet clearly divided into section according to the style and inspiration rather than the years or collections. The latter was something Azzedine successfully ignored, only presenting his collections when they were ready and not when the fashion calendar dictated.

Alaïa’s garments celebrate experimentation.

When he first moved to Paris in 1956, he soon become acquainted with top local artists, such as Miro and Cocteau. His spectrum of celebratory friends expanded especially after relocating to his new house in 18 Rue de la Verrerie in the 1980s. This venue become more than a studio, Alaïa’s iconic kitchen was where models, craftspeople and artists gathered to share inspiration and to work on collaborations. These moments are captured on two films on the side of the exhibition. They also capture other celebrities close to Azzedine, such as Tina Turner or Andy Warhol.

His friendly personality is well presented in the exhibition by showcasing work of artists who designed various screens dividing the large open space. The disposition represents well the blurring lines typical for Azzedine – between haute couture and ready-to-wear, seasons and styles. Alaïa’s lack of ornamentation and decoration proves that all his models were never meant to overshadow the woman but to empower her. His clothes was always perfectly fitted and therefore timeless. The ‘intemporelle’ characterises Azzedine up until the current day.

Airy, spacious and divided [by] style and inspiration.

Alaïa was awarded the Best French Collection and the Best Designer (1985) but he was much more than that. He was a perfectionist with a unique taste and courage to explore new horizons. He was eager to share his knowledge with others, through a series of exhibitions (in New York, Florence, Düsseldorf and the Netherlands) as well as launching a cultural programme. He was the first designer to be shown next to traditional painters such as Caravaggio in the Gallery Borghese (Rome).

He was the master of craft, the fabric sculptor, the artist who found happiness in black. Azzedine Alaïa: The Courtier is everything the couture world stands for. Congratulations, Mark Wilson and the Design Museum for making such a wonderful exhibition. Hallelujah, Azzedine Alaïa!


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