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Exhibition: Azzedine Alaïa – The Couturier

Following his prolific career from its start in early ‘80s to his last masterpieces before his untimely passing in 2017, Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier is an inspiring study of Alaïa’s craftsmanship and life.

Opening last week, London’s Design Museum became the first UK gallery to host a retrospective of the legendary fashion designer, Azzedine Alaïa. Conceived and co-curated by Alaïa himself, prior to his death in November 2017, Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier examines the extraordinary career-spanning creations of one of the most respected couturiers in history.
 

Known for his nonconformist nature and infectious energy, Alaïa personally constructed each of his garments by hand, working on certain pieces for years at a time. Alaïa remade all his most famous especially for the exhibition, elongating the garments by over a foot to create an extraordinary alien-like silhouette, sculpting the fabrics over the transparent hourglass mannequin bodies. Stepping into the room, a visitor is invited to admire the engineering and technical brilliance of Alaïa’s hands-on artistry with a 360° view of each design, allowing the viewer to study the construction of the dresses. We advise spending time looking down into the mirrored glass floor beneath the garments, and marvel at each folded pleat, the layers of tulle and dyed silk chiffon that make up just one of many components of an Alaïa gown.

Sensuous, body-hugging forms, described as a ‘second-skin dressing’, are arguably the most noteworthy motif throughout Alaïa’s career. Often cited as the “King of Cling”, Alaïa pioneered the use of traditional sportswear jersey for high-fashion purposes, most notably in the case of his infamous bandage dress. Over 60 rare garments (including his trademark “zipper” dress and his experimental gowns cut in tailored leather) are grouped to reveal ideas he perfected and remastered over many years. Key highlights of the exhibition include a gold beaded dress mini dress worn by Tina Turner in 1989, and the iconic Grace Jones’ hooded pink bandage dress, worn in the ‘80s Bond classic A View to a Kill.

Photographs charting the couturier’s life line the back wall of the exhibition, providing insights into Maison Alaïa, his Parisian workshop for the last 30 years of his life. Personal quotes and a rolling film showing the preparation and staging of an Alaïa show in the early ‘90s, bring to light Alaïa’s incredible attention to detail as a designer, and illustrate his long-term relationships with his muses: Naomi Campbell (who called Alaïa “papa”), Franca and Carla Sozzani, and the inimitable Tina Turner. Yet, despite the personal touches, the Design Museum have cleverly put together an exhibition that is not just a retrospective of the late couturier’s life, but a testament to Alaïa’s enduring craftsmanship and legacy that has shaped the course of fashion history over the last four decades, and will continue to inspire for years to come.

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