Azzedine Alaïa, Fashion’s Most Independent Designer, Is Dead at 82

Azzedine Alaïa, one of the greatest and most uncompromising designers of the 20th and 21st centuries, died on Saturday in Paris. He was 82.

His company said the cause was a heart attack.

Known as a sculptor of the female form, and worn by women from Michelle Obama to Lady Gaga, Mr. Alaïa was equally famous for his rejection of the fashion system and his belief that it had corrupted the creative power of what could be an art form.

He rarely hewed to the official show calendar, preferring to reveal his work when he deemed it ready, as opposed to when retailers or the press demanded it.

Instead he built his own system, and family of collaborators and supporters, and since the turn of the millennium had become an increasingly important voice for the value of striving to perfect and explore a single proprietary aesthetic, and against giving in to the relentless pressure to produce collections.

“I dressed women directly on their body, by intuition. This is how I gained experience,” he once said.

His kitchen, where he was famous for holding free-flowing lunch and dinner gatherings, for which he often cooked, was his soapbox. There he would regale guests — who could include designers, Kardashians, the artist Julian Schnabel, the architect Peter Marino and seamstresses from his ateliers — long into the night with opinions, stories and exhortations.

He “changed my conception of fashion,” said Nicolas Ghesquière, the artistic director of Louis Vuitton, in a documentary on Mr. Alaïa made by the stylist Joe McKenna and released this year. “I thought fashion was about embellishment as a kid, and when I saw Azzedine’s work I understood fashion was about construction and architecture too. To have an amazing idea and the capacity to realize it yourself is the definitive act of a designer.”

Diminutive in stature — at least compared to supermodels like Naomi Campbell, who called him “Papa,” as he was a guardian of sorts for her in Paris at the beginning of her career, and Farida Khelfa — he was always attired in a uniform of black Chinese cotton pajamas. He was famous for working long hours alone, bent over patterns and pieces of fabric, with National Geographic programs playing on the wide-screen TV nearby next to a pillar collaged with photos of friends and their families.

He was also mischievous: He often lied about his age, once told a journalist that his mother was a Swedish model, and liked to hide from his staff members and then startle them by jumping out with a whistle. Prone to holding grudges, fond of animals (he had three dogs — including a St. Bernard — and eight cats), he could also be extraordinarily generous.

Mr. Alaïa dedicated his life to the belief that fashion was more than just garments; to him, they were as much an element in the empowerment of women and of a broader cultural conversation.

An exhibit of his work in 2015 at the Villa Borghese in Rome, where his gowns held their own among the Caravaggios and Berninis, suggested that he had achieved that goal.

Azzedine Alaïa was born in Tunis, Tunisia, on Feb. 26, 1935 (though some biographical sources list his birth year as 1939 or 1940). He had a twin sister and a younger brother, and his father ran a wheat farm outside the city.

Azzedine became interested in art and design at a young age.

“I was helping Madame Pinot, a midwife that helped in giving birth to my whole family,” he recalled in an interview with the fashion magazine The Ground in 2011. “I told her that I liked to draw. She gave me books, pamphlets to art exhibitions, and my first book of Picasso.”

Soon she registered him at the School of Fine Arts in Tunis, he said, “against my father’s will.”

He also found a job in a small dress shop. “The owner was looking for someone to finish up the dresses,” he said. “My sister had learned sewing with the nuns, and she had a notebook with all the basics. That was my first real experience with fashion, and while I was in the shop, I improved dramatically.”

He added: “Close to the boutique, there was a beautiful palace where two wealthy girls spent their days looking out the balcony. They saw me going in and out of the shop with cartons and fabrics, and finally, one day after school, they came up to question me about my work and invited me to their house that same night.”

Mr. Alaïa had become the equivalent of a national treasure, and everyone was there to honor him.

Repost – New York Times

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