This weekend saw the loss of one of the great creative forces of our times in fashion designer Azzedine Alaïa. He was a master craftsman with an envious clientele and held a sculptor’s eye that was uniquely adapted for fashion. It is in moments like these that I am reminded of a quote from the acclaimed orator and former Notre Dame Football Coach Lou Holtz: “It’s good to be successful, but it’s great to be significant”. As the fashion industry mourns the loss of one of their own, it is clear from the forthcoming sentiments that Alaïa was both.
In statement with Vogue UK, Vogue editor-in-chief Edwards Enningful laments:
“Azzedine Alaïa was a true visionary, and a remarkable man. He will be deeply missed by all of those who knew and loved him, as well as by the women around the world who wore his clothes”. “The generosity of his spirit and genius of his designs will never be forgotten.”
The New York Times reported on the designer’s death, indicating that Alaïa had passed away in Paris from a heart attack on November 18 at 82 years of age. His gowns have been donned by some of the world’s most influential women and icons of fashion from Lady Gaga to Grace Jones, Rhianna and Michelle Obama to name a few. But he was not always destined for this life.
Born in Tunis, Tunisia in 1935 he was raised on his father’s wheat farm far removed from his illustrious fate. Through some fortuitous connections, he found himself among the Paris fashion set, working for Dior for a term, among other houses and eventually had enough of a following to go out on his own. He debuted his first collection in 1980 which trademarked him as ‘the King of Cling” for his body conscious designs that sculpted the female frame to its most flattering and erotic form.
Once a student of sculpture at the local Institut Supérieur des Beaux Arts in Tunis, he left art to make a claim on fashion, following up his skills picked up from earlier jobs under small boutiques and dressmakers. Alaïa has always exhibited signs of his independence forging his career through a strong work ethic and a dedication to his craft that seemed to live outside the industry’s rigid structure. He notoriously existed outside of the Paris runway calendar, producing collections in his own time and in doing so pulled focus for both his rebellion and his commitment to quality.
According to Business of Fashion, François-Henri Pinault the chairman and chief executive for luxury conglomerate Kering shared this:
“It is with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Azzedine Alaïa,” “In the fashion world, he was a great, a major couturier. Everything was at the top with him: couture, art, the standards he aimed at, his dedication to his work, his mastering of techniques, and all the women he dressed. He was an artisan in the noble sense of the term, and a man fiercely attached to his freedom. He was a friend.”
His love of art never flailed. Even at the height of his success he maintained his involvement; always producing, whether for the ballet or the opera or even his own private exhibitions. Following his death, actress Salma Hayek had this to say on Instagram:
“My beloved friend Azzedine Alaïa taught me he’d always wake up excited about what he would learn and who he would meet. In the many years that I knew him, his wonderment of life was contagious and inspiring. My friend wherever you are you will continue your journey with the same unstoppable spirit that touched with magic all of us who had the privilege of meeting you. You will live forever in our hearts”.
Via Instagram the good wishes continue to flow in. Alber Elbaz remarked “Shocked and speechless… No words to describe the loss of a true genius, one of the greatest of our time… Azzedine, you will be forever missed. WE LOVE YOU”. Rihanna also posted an intimate photo between herself and the designer to the caption “My dear ALAI…you will live on forever. rip”.
However, for the sake of closure in his own words we might just find the key to his longevity:
“My obsession is to make women beautiful.
When you create with that in mind, things can’t go out of fashion”.
Indeed, even beyond his years, he will always be in style.