I stumbled upon these 1980’s Azzedine Alaia adverts and I just love them. They really speak to the fullblown glamour and excesses of that era, and to the more shapely icons of that time – the original supermodels (Cindy, Eva, Christy, etc) and personalities like Grace Jones, Tina Turner and Naomi Campbell.
Tunisian born Alaia grew up with a fascination for the female form, and his taste for glamour was fuelled by his fashion-loving twin sister and pilfered copes of Vogue. Clasically trained as a sculptor, Alaia relocated to Paris and evolved from a humble dressmaker’s assistant into one of the most sought after designers of the 1980’s. Along the way he held posts at heavyweight fashion houses Dior, Thierry Mugler and Guy Laroche.
His slinky, sensual clothing appealed to a select group of fashion-forward celebrities, including Grace Jones (who can be seen wearing his creations in classic Studio 54 snaps), Madonna, Janet Jackson, Brigitte Nielsen and Carine Roitfeld.
His successes under his own label led to a partnership with Prada, and it is said that, despite this agreement, Alaia still maintained a level of independence and integrity no longer often seen in the fashion industry. It is often the case when designers sign licencing deals with bigger groups (Halston is a good example), that the original brand is snuffed out and diluted. In 2007 Alaia succesfully bought his house and brand name back from Prada. He continues to show collections, but only as and when he has something to show.
In other words, Alaia is not interested in producing collections each season simply to drive sales and marketing. In this sense, he stays true to a kind of creativity and commitment to quality not often seen these days.
It reminds me a little of the fierce and fraught hold Valentino has over the Valentino group (as seen in The Last Emperor, which I mused on here). For Alaia, it seems, it is more about building something lasting and thus valuable, irrespective of popular demand. In The Last Emperor we see the effects that corporate control has over fashion houses in the massive popularity of ‘it-bags’ and other accessories – belts, purses, keyrings and more. Items like these make up a huge part of these big houses’ revenues. Not exactly novelty items, but certainly not couture.
And with this democratization of the brand comes another phenomenon… Designer vintage becomes more and more valuable, hearkening back to a time when each stitch counted, and when it wasn’t so much about production as it was about creation.
And so when Cher Horowitz is held up at gunpoint in Clueless and asked to lie down on the pavement and count to 100 and she says, in a shrill voice and with big eyes ‘But it’s an Alaia!’ we all feel her pain. That mini wasn’t vintage then, but it is now, and Alaia’s commitment to his craft has ensured that his vision will be preserved for many years to come.