From Alaia ETE 1992 published by Assouline

Having been a Lycra-and-leather-clad fashion student in the 1980s, I’ve always had a fondness for Azzedine Alaia’s work. Oh those joyful black and white images of supermodels wearing his figure-hugging designs, always so sexy and cool. A new exhibition Azzedine Alaia: The Couturier opens at the Design Museum today. And it’s spectacular. There’s such a wonderful sense of space and calm in this lovely big, open plan room. Beautifully curated Alaia dresses stand in front of screens designed by Marc Newson, Kris Ruhs and other creatives, turning fashion displays into magnificent works of art. Curator Mark Wilson collaborated with Azzedine Alaia for over-22-years, across six exhibitions, before the designer’s death, last year. Wilson told me that, ‘90% of this was what we discussed, we planned the show last summer, it had to be what he wanted.’

Azzedine Alaia: The Couturier is the first major exhibition of the designer’s iconic work in the UK. Over 60 outfits – zipped, perforated leather; stretch, bandage dresses – span Alaia’s career from the 1980s (when he was nicknamed the King of Cling), through to garments from his final 2017 collection.


Azzedine Alaia in the 1980s
Naomi Campbell photographed by Ellen Von Unwerth
Photo: Arthur Elgort
Opening exhibit at the Design Museum with Marc Newson backdrop

The dresses have been specifically designed to fit the elongated mannequins, to striking visual effect. It’s no surprise to find that Alaia trained as a sculptor; and this is such a wonderful opportunity to look closely at his craftsmanship, the detail, the draping, the stitching, the panelling…

I got quite excited by the gorgeous, draped jersey Grace Jones dress (worn in the Bond movie A View to a Kill); and there are other instantly recognisable outfits worn by Naomi Campbell, Tina Turner and more.

Grace Jones  and Alaia in 1985. Photo via Guardian
The Grace Jones dress at the Design Museum

Even more excited when I spotted Carla Sozzani a close friend and muse of the designer at the press preview; I overheard her telling another journalist, ‘Sometimes I look at the clothes and it’s like I’ve never seen them before – it’s because of the craftsmanship, the details.’

Carla Sozzani at the Design Museum. Photo: Vogue
Alaia dresses at the Design Museum

In an interview with Italian Vogue, Sozzani said, ‘He had the image of a very strong woman in his mind, a strong silhouette that you can’t mistake. He was like an architect, and his work was like a form of sculpture. And he did everything himself. Every pattern, every sleeve, absolutely everything was physically made by Azzedine. And this was his form of art, the way he expressed himself through clothes. Actually the garments speak for themselves, because they’re genuine masterpieces.’

Alaia and Carla Sozzani photo Vogue Italia

Read the full Italian Vogue feature HERE.

Azzedine Alaia: The Couturier is on at the Design Museum until 7 October 2018.

10 thoughts on “Azzedine Alaia exhibition at the Design Museum

  1. Alyson, I tried on an Azzedine Alaia dress in 2013… The fact that I remember the year speaks volumes! It was architectural perfection. Aside from the price tag, which I couldn’t justify, plus I didn’t have the occasions to wear it, I needed to lose 10 pounds for the dress to look really great on me… and I’m slender. The workmanship was impeccable and until reading your post, I didn’t know he did everything on all of his pieces. Thank you for this insightful piece. Brenda

  2. This is fascinating — I remember hearing his name but wondering who the person was who went with it, so I appreciate seeing photos of him. I appreciate also seeing the exhibition itself, partly because I’m unable at 7000 miles or so to actually see it (!) — and as you say, it’s clearly so beautifully carried out. Also thank you for the details: 1) that he trained as a sculptor, and 2) that he did such personal work. His complete investment in creation– How inspiring! I give thanks for a person using and developing the talent innate in him/herself.

  3. Thanks Alyson for all of these photographs. I’ve been aware this was opening soon at the Design Museum and plan to catch it later this summer when I have a chance to book a ticket.
    I well remembered his work from his high point in the 80s and the gorgeous sinuous models who wore these clothes. In Paris a few years ago I saw the Alaia retrospective at the Palais Galliera Fashion Museum. At the time looking at the actual garments close up as opposed to in fashion magazine features I recall being struck by the brilliant and radical cuts.

    Reading your piece now I’m definitely going to pencil in a visit and hope to catch the Craft awards exhibition if it’s still on there at the same time.

  4. The proportions on the mannequins are so abnormal that I find them incredibly creepy! They aren’t just elongated (i.e. taller) humans; they have legs that are far, far longer compared to their bodies than any actual human. I am struggling to imagine how one can focus on the dress when it is being worn by a weird alien creature with huge long spidery legs that dwarf their bodies. Eugh!

  5. I saw this exhibition in Paris a couple of months ago. Exquisite. Gorgeous fabrics, beautiful flowing designs that create such a striking silhouette. Love the leather, soft draping fabrics and the embellishment on the dresses.

  6. Interesting, too, what a difference the context makes. I saw the Grace Jones dress in the wonderful exhibition of Alaia’s work at the Villa Borghese 2 or 3 years ago — there, the sculptural lines of all the dresses were emphasised even more by their juxtaposition with the rich architectural details and gorgeous art (painting and statues) around them — they held their own brilliantly against what had stood the test of time from previous centuries.

  7. I must make it to London for this! Alaia was a true designer in every sense of the word. I’m not sure the company will be able to continue in his absence, despite living in the age of designer musical chairs. His work came from his heart, soul and hands. I’m still devastated from his passing. There is a great documentary that I highly recommend available online, I linked it in this story: Jolain

  8. What beautiful pieces of art. Of course, they could only be worn be those (not me) whose bodies were meant for these creations. But what beautiful creations they are!

    BTW, it doesn’t bother me to see gorgeous clothes that wouldn’t work on me. I’m beautiful in ways that others are not, so I certainly appreciate the beauty in others that I don’t possess.

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