Wednesday, 18 March 2020

“Je Suis Couturier” | Azzedine Alaïa & The Evolution of Perfection

Azzedine Alaïa
Image courtesy of: REDEF | Alexander Fury

For the women he dressed, Alaïa wasn't about right here, right now. Timelessness is supremely seductive in its intangibility. Here was a designer who developed his aesthetic out of the public eye, getting to intimately know a handful of clients of all ages, shapes and sizes, from the moment he started to make clothes” ~ Tim Blanks

Time, it has been said, reveals all truth. Time, it can also be said, is the ultimate judge; it is only through the passage of time, for instance, that the true merit of an individual's work is made evident—or dispensed withwhether that be the work left behind by an architect, an artist, a sculptor, an engineer, a scientist, an inventor, a statesman, an intellectual, a writer, a composer, a performer, or a designer. More than unerring judge, time validates; time vindicates.

When we come to consider such a topic as that of fashion design—that most ephemeral of applied artsit is time's affirmation which undoubtedly separates authentic talent and abiding taste from sheer hype; the genuine couturier from nothing more than the stylist, the ‘confectioner’ or au courant trend-setter. That is unmistakably the case with an exhibition, held in January of 2018. Entitled Je Suis Couturier’ and held in lieu of a memorial service (the exhibition, like many of his collections, was presented at the couturier's Marais headquarters in the 4th arrondissement district at the Association Azzedine Alaïa, 18 rue de la Verriere)a mere couple of months past the death of Azzedine Alaïa—it spotlighted a selection of forty-one archival pieces (nearly all of which were in black and white, with the exception of one red bias-cut chiffon gown) of the late designer's oeuvre, with examples ranging through four decades from 1981 to his last couture collection, presented in July of 2017

Azzedine represents fashion at its purest. In his clothes, women feel beautiful, comfortable, admired. What more could we want?” ~ Carla Sozzani

Azzedine Alaïa & Naomi Campbell 
(Photo by Josh Olins)
Image courtesy of: tumblr | Arizona Semones

Alaïa's garments seem engineered rather than simply sewn; their fluctuating, distinctly physical relationship with the individual beneath them the real mark of his mastery of craft. They flare and wrap and grip and knead the human body, as if the flesh were clay ready to be sculpted. Like sculpture, they belong in a museum” ~ Alexander Fury

‘Timeless’ and ‘timely’ are adjectives most often applied to Alaïa and his decades-long output—and well-deserved, well-earned adjectives they are. ‘Timely’ because Alaïa's collections were conceived and created, like all creations, within the frame of their eras and are of their time; ‘timeless’ because Alaïa's work, especially when compared with that of other contemporary designers of the same periods and seasons, stands alone, transcending the eras in which they were created: time ultimately transcends mediocrity; it transcends the mundane. And subsequently, discerning designslike the names of their creatorsresonate, in whatever period of time in which they are considered.

To create something—anything—of substantial quality, something of genuine merit, requires time and Alaïa took his time to create his collections; there is nothing superfluous to be found in his creations. Alaïa was one of the most vociferous condemners of the exhausting modern fashion system of presenting multiple and even overlapping collections a year; instead, he presented his collections only when he felt ready to do so and when his collections were, he felt, complete. (The essential requirement of time is a concept which Alaïa fully understood: in all of his career, he only presented three haute couture collections, with years intervening each: 2003, 2011 and 2017.Adamantly refusing to abide by set fashion collection presentation schedules, Alaïa was notorious for unveiling his collections—and delivering order shipments—late, off-schedule, past (and out of sync with) the collections' seasons, thereby necessitating buyers, private customers and editors alike to travel back to Paris, chiefly for his showings. But no one complained; no one had reason to. Anyone privileged enough to attend one of Alaïa's collections—whether they be ready-to-wear or one of his three haute couture collections—was aware that what they were presented with was something unique and unlike any other collection; and those who were sensitive enough to the vagaries of fashion to realize it, recognized that Alaïa's work was the time-transcending work of genius—that presently oft-repeated, oft-tossed noun so misused.

“...his immediately identifiable clothes, though much copied, remain unlike anything else. He has been refining his chosen metier for more than half a century and is now universally respected—even revered—both by the women who love to wear his designs and by others of his profession, which, it goes without saying, is extremely rare” ~ Susannah Frankel

As with an earlier exhibit (as well as more recent and current Alaïa exhibitions) held at the Palais Galliera in 2014, Azzedine Alaïa: Je Suis Couturier’ (January to June 2018) was curated by Olivier Saillard (formerly the curator of Palais Galliera) and has the distinction of being the first posthumous Alaïa exhibition. The title of the show is a reference to Alaïa's refusal of the term ‘designer’—he was, from beginning to end, a couturier in the truest sense of the term and, undoubtedly, among the grandest. In regards to his craft, which he refined over a life-long career, Carla Sozzani, who knew Alaïa for forty years, put it succinctly: You could spend hours with him, with his ruler, pins, and patterns. (Quote: Isaac-Goize, T., Vogue)

In as many as there are those who refuse to designate fashion as a valid art form, there are those who adamantly believe it to be so; but on whatever side of the debate you may be, what is indisputable is the fact that fashion is, inevitably, a reflection of its time, depicting backmuch as a mirror doesthe disparate factors that constitute and define its times: ideological, political, social, ethical, cultural, economical, and artistic. In essence, there is much more to fashion than the clothes we choose to don and present ourselves to the world in. Very few designers have the longevity, much less possess the required talent, the dedication, the rigorous discipline or the skill necessary, to raise the craft—the metierof dressmaking to an art form; fewer still are those whose work can withstand the test (and authentication) of time. Years from now, when fashion historians look back to the last and first decades of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries respectively, they will undoubtedly cite not only the intrinsic talent of Azzedine Alaïa but will number him among the preeminent couturiers of our time.

(Sources: Diderich, J., Paris Retrospective Keeps Alaïa's Spirit Alive, WWD, January 20, 2018; Isaac-Goize, T., Inside ‘Je Suis Couturier,’ a 41 Dress Azzedine Alaïa Exhibition at His Marais HeadquartersJanuary 20, 2018, Vogue; Horyn, C., A Powerful Alaïa Exhibit Capture's the Designer's Spirit and Signals the Future of the Brand, The Cut, January, 2018)

Part geometer, part alchemist, Alaïa endeavors to tame material into behaving in a manner alien to its intrinsic nature: chiffon takes on heft, knits assume structure, leather softens to a fluid 
~ Amy Fine Collins

Image courtesy of: Journal du Luxe

The above eight images are all courtesy of: The Cut

The above two images are both courtesy of: Vogue

The above image is courtesy of: Pinterest

The above five images are all courtesy of: CR Fashion Book

Top image is courtesy of: ba-idane.over-blog
The two lower images above are courtesy of: I Prefer Paris

Image courtesy of: Pinterest

Video courtesy of: Fashion Network

Eschewing the fashion show calendar altogether, the forty decades of Alaïa's work shown here reveals no defining trends, only an increasing interest in the refinement of technique, a kind of reverse neoclassicist ethos that lends soft flesh and airy fabric the smooth, uncanny weightiness of sculpture” 
~ Christina Catherine Martinez

Image courtesy of: MFFashion

Azzedine was the last of them. In ten years, there will be a new one, but in the meantime he or she might as well start learning here. That would be a fine start” ~ Olivier Saillard