Azzedine Alaïa, Maria Johnson & Peter Lindbergh, Paris, 1984 Source: Peter Lindbergh Foundation

The Lasting Impact of Azzedine Alaïa

Azzedine Alaïa can be credited with revolutionising the modern woman’s wardrobe. Nicknamed the king of cling for his tight and form-fitting designs, Alaïa has dressed everyone from supermodels and bond girls to Michelle Obama. Since his death in 2017, Azzedine Alaïa’s designs have lived on. Let’s take you through some of the reasons why Alaïa and his designs continue to inspire the fashion world today.

To observers outside the fashion industry, Alaïa’s legacy will be his body-hugging, sensual designs that somehow blended raw sexuality and female empowerment. To industry insiders, he’ll be remembered most for his intimacy and the close-knit crew that he kept around him always. He was more than a dressmaker; he was “Papa,” the term that longtime friend and muse Naomi Campbell used for him.

The son of wheat farmers, Alaïa was born in Tunisia and first discovered his love for fashion by reading copies of vogue in his parent’s house. Desperate for artistic education, Alaïa lied about his age and was accepted into the École des Beaux-Arts in Tunisia, before training as a dressmaker in Paris. This early education in design gave Alaïa an appreciation for the craft and even in his later, and most successful years as a designer, he could be seen using a simple needle and thread.

Azzedine Alaïa, Maria Johnson & Peter Lindbergh, Paris, 1984 Source: Peter Lindbergh Foundation

So what was it about Azzedine Alaïa’s designs that had such an impact? Supermodel Naomi Campbell, with whom he had a close relationship, famously said:

No other dress can make a woman look and feel as good as an Alaïa dress because it cinches a woman’s body perfectly.

Azzedine Alaïa

Moulding his clothing to the female form, Alaïa’s silhouettes were distinctly flattering. Before Alaïa, clothing that gave a woman strength were masculine pantsuits and heavy blazers. Having found inspiration in the forms and clothing of the ancient Amazons, notably a powerful matriarchal society, Alaïa’s designs empowered women without reducing their femininity. The cinched waisted, flares and figure-hugging designs made Alaïa popular with the supermodels at the time, who would reportedly drop their other shows if Alaïa was having one.

Cindy Crawford and supermodels in Alaia dress Source: Sipa Press/Rex/Shutterstock
Image: Claudia Schiffer in 1991 wearing Alaia Source: Getty Images
Image: Grace Jones in an Alaia hooded pink dress, in A View to a Kill in 1985 Source: Photograph: Sharok Hatami/Rex/Shutterstock

Alaïa’s designs have lived on in the modern bodycon dress, with the flattering design still favoured by women all around the world. Likewise, the designer favoured the colour black in his designs. With an understanding of how clothing affects a woman and the way she is seen, he said:

“I prefer people to notice the woman and not her clothes.”

But Alaïa’s impact doesn’t just live on in the fashion world. Immortalised in pop culture, Alaïa’s designs appear in the 1995 film Clueless, when the protagonist is forced to lie down on the ground by a villain with a gun, she protests due to not wanting to get her Alaïa ruined. When the villain asks who she’s talking about, she explains “a totally important designer.”

Fiona Adorno 💙 on Twitter: "Bless Azzedine Alaia. Gone today at 77. His  dresses are incredible and his name is forever immortalised by Cher Horowitz.  "You don't understand, This is an Alaïa.
Image: Clueless (1995)

Interested in the culture of fashion? Read about Valentino Garavani and the stories behind Chanel’s Camelia and the Cartier love bracelet.

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