Art of Style

The icon: Alaïa

Opening to the ‘Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier’ exhibition

Before his death in November 2017, beloved designer AZZEDINE ALAÏA had begun work on the first ever UK solo exhibition of his incredible archive, which is now on show at London’s Design Museum until October. Here, fashion’s elite explain why the master couturier is one of the most important designers of our time

Naomi Campbell wearing Azzedine Alaïa’s Tati collection, spring/summer 1991. Photograph Ellen von Unwerth


“As a designer, I think Azzedine is a genius. His dresses are like a second skin. Wearing them makes you feel sexy and feminine, just like a woman should. Nothing makes him happier than to see women wearing his clothes. I don’t care how long I have to stand to be pinned into one of his dresses, because watching him create is mind-blowing. He still does all the construction work himself. You used to see photographers like Arthur Elgort, Bruce Weber and Ellen von Unwerth backstage at his shows because they were interested in capturing him at work. No one can do what he does, which is why whenever he announced a show, every one of us – Cindy, Christy, Linda, Iman, Yasmin, Claudia, Elle, Eva – would make sure we were there.” (Excerpt from Naomi Campbell, Taschen, 2016)


“The first time I collaborated with Azzedine on a fashion show was for SS17. He understands technically how hats are made, so I was having conversations with him that I would never have with any other designer, both physically and artistically. In one sense, I’m pinching myself that I’m making hats for Azzedine Alaïa, one of the greatest couturiers in the world; on the other side, I’m very amused that he watches the History Channel and National Geographic on a giant TV above his desk.”


“The very first expensive outfit I bought myself was an Alaïa skirt, belt and jacket. Alaïa was my uniform for many years. I would always throw in a black Alaïa dress when packing for trips because you would never know when you might need that dress – and that dress would always be the perfect dress. I have this one I call the Jessica Rabbit dress: I was going to Europe to do a cover shoot and none of the clothes the stylist had brought were right, but I had this black Azzedine in my bag – and it ended up being on the cover. It was so perfect. I always felt amazing in it.”

ALEXANDER FURY, Fashion journalist

“When I talk about Alaïa I talk about him as an inventor because I feel like he’s invented so many things: he invented knit techniques; he invented these silhouettes; he invented a different way of dressing – and that’s why he’s one of the greats. I feel like his clothes defined the ’80s but invented the ’90s. When the rest of fashion is changing so much, to have this person who is really about this slow evolution, it’s a contrast to the insanity of everything else. Ultimately, it’s in service of women; it’s not just Alaïa indulging himself and making an artistic statement with it.”


“Alaïa is the only designer that can make my husband as well as my fashionista friends happy. He is devoted to women and what he does goes beyond fashion; it’s pure style. My prized Alaïa piece is the couture gown that he designed for my wedding welcome party. We worked on it together. It was magical to wear: I felt chic, elegant and festive – it was the perfect way to kick off my wedding.”


“In fashion, there are a lot of people with ambition and talent and creativity, but Azzedine is different. He has so much passion for women: he wants them to look good and sexy and feminine, and his clothes make women happy. I was married two times and both times he made the wedding dress.”

Picture one: Tina Turner and Azzedine Alaïa under the Eiffel Tower, 1989, photography Peter Lindbergh. Picture two: Azzedine Alaïa holding his two Yorkshire terriers, Patapouf and Wabo, walking in Paris with model Frederique van der Wal who wears one of his creations, a black leather zippered dress, 1986, photography Arthur Elgort
Printed wall and images at the ‘Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier’ exhibition. Photography Mark Blower
Three display dresses at the exhibition. Photography Mark Blower

SUSANNAH FRANKEL, Editor-in-Chief, AnOther

“My parents used to buy me Alaïa for Christmas when I was a teenager and even the shop assistants there couldn’t believe my luck. Alaïa makes women look beautiful. It’s also surprisingly democratic; I think people assume you have to have the physique of a supermodel to wear it, but that’s not true at all. I love the way everyone looks so different in it. It can be hyper-glamorous and sexualized or more gentle depending on the taste of the person wearing it. There’s a huge amount of fashion in the world, but Alaïa always feels very special.”


“I have worked with Azzedine every year since 1988. He is unique in that he can do everything himself. You only have to look in any luxury department store and you will see the Azzedine influence. His aesthetic is highly personal. He’s influenced by no one. There is an emotional connection and attachment as soon as you wear Alaïa.”

MAIDA GREGORI BOINA, Casting director

“He is one of the last designers who is a true designer. He has an energy and is still very curious and connected to what’s going on, not just in fashion but in the outside world. He loves women and his clothes are directly related to the woman’s feelings. He wants them to feel beautiful. His fashion is free; no reason, no season. He shows when he is ready. He is a master. If you don’t know his work, then you don’t know anything.”

Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier runs until October 7, 2018

Linda Evangelista and Azzedine Alaïa, 1990. Photography Sante D’Orazio
Models after the Azzedine Alaïa fashion show, Paris, 1986. Photography Arthur Elgort

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