“But this is an Alaïa!” ~ Cher Horowitz

This is the scene from Clueless-Cher, wearing Alaïa; photo courtesy of Paramount

The first time I heard the name of famed fashion designer, Azzedine Alaïa, was in a movie.  I remember it well – the year was 1995, and I was sitting in a theater in Greenwich Village – watching a funny and charming movie called, Clueless. In one scene, Cher, was being held up at gunpoint in the seedier part of LA and asked to lay on the asphalt. Protested Cher, “But, this is an Alaïa,” and she began to cry. “He’s like a totally famous designer.”

Azzedine Alaïa was a famous, uncompromising designer – known for his sculpture and silhouettes, molding his dresses to women’s forms – but he was equally famous for his rejection of the fashion system and his insistence on going his own way. Last Saturday, Azzedine Alaïa passed away at 82.

Alaïa held intimate shows in his Paris headquarters off-schedule that had nothing to do with designated fashion weeks or with following what the press and retailers demanded. He rejected the official calendar, preferring to reveal his clothing as he deemed it ready. Vanessa Friedman of The New York Times, says 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 … He used leather and knits to shape and support the body, transforming it into the best version of itself. He eschewed external decoration for internal integrity, weaving pattern and adornment into the weft of the garment itself in ways that were almost undetectable to the outside eye.”

Azzedine Alaïa was born in Tunis, Tunisia in 1935. He became interested in art and design at a young age and began his fashion career as a dress-maker in Tunis: “The owner was looking for someone to finish up the dresses,” he said. From there he moved to Paris in 1957 to work for Christian Dior, where he became well-admired in French society. He opened his first mason in 1979 and introduced his first ready-to-wear collection in 1980. He was hailed the “King of Cling” and his shows were always among the most influential.

He “changed my conception of fashion,” said Nicolas Ghesquière, the artistic director of Louis Vuitton. “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.

Ed Alcock for The New York Times

Styles from the Alaïa ready-to-wear collection for Spring 2014. Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

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