Before his passing, Azzedine Alaïa moderated 13 conversations on the issue of time with some of the world’s foremost cognoscenti – Carla Sozzani, Isabelle Huppert, Robert Wilson, Charlotte Rampling, Jean Nouvel, and more. In this exclusive extract from the upcoming book, Taking Time, Naomi Campbell reflects on why these meditative discussions were so important to him
“I met Papa when I was 16. It was my first day working in Paris, and another model brought me to dinner at his home, where he cooked and served us a meal. Afterward, I would stay with Azzedine every time I was in Paris. He really became like a father to me. Spending time together, I learned about architecture, furniture, and artists. We used to go look at collections of vintage designers from the 1920s and 1930s. He was passionate about literature and the arts.
Papa used to have gatherings where he would host and honor artists and writers. He had deeply personal relationships with creative people: they were friends. He wouldn’t have thrown such big dinners if he hadn’t felt a personal kinship to those he invited. It was as important to him to attend these dinners as it was to attend his fashion shows. Papa liked to mix people from different cultures. He was respectful to everyone and appreciated all the arts. He was fascinated by other people’s workmanship, whether writing, painting, designing furniture, or architecture. He had an amazing eye and was sure of what he wanted the artists and craftspeople to do when they worked with him. Some people close to Papa knew that about him, but not everyone did….”
Azzedine Alaïa and Donatien Grau in conversation
Azzedine Alaïa: I’m not criticizing acceleration in itself and the vast possibilities it offers, but I think we must reserve a space for creation and for life. The young, caught up as they are in the acceleration, have no time for themselves; they have no time to live or create. They, therefore, advance without having lived, and the time comes when they find they have nothing to show for it: no body of work, no life. They’ve spent their time chasing down ideas that aren’t theirs because they’ve been rushed. They’ve not been able to enjoy the riches that life has to offer, and they’ve not been able to create what they were capable of creating.
The past is clear, we live in the present, and the future is obscure – I often think about that phrase. This present that we’re living, we must stretch it out because that’s where we exist and where we can create. It’s interesting to delve into the past, insofar as it ties in to the present. The future we know nothing about, and we mustn’t worry about it. But the present – we’re in the present, and we can act. It seems to me a mistake to delve too deeply into the past and forget the present, or to turn toward a future that is unknown to us.
Donatien Grau: Do you feel this applies to fashion alone or to other creative fields as well?
Fashion presents the most obvious case because you sometimes have exact reproductions of recent clothes whose designers still walk among us. They might see a brand take up an article of their clothing as is, without the slightest change. And nobody makes a peep.
Still, I don’t limit my observations to fashion. It’s often said that in art or literature, an artist has become old-fashioned, even as that artist continues to develop and evolve. Much later we realize that it was in that moment, when the artist was taking a little time, far outside the frenzy of the art world and the market, that some of the artist’s most important works were created.
The same goes for literature. Certain authors exist well outside fashion; what they do is very potent and will remain so regardless of trends. Trends both exalt and exhaust us. Those who get swept up in them have the insolence of youth. They’re carried along, but at some point the trend comes to an end, and then they must find the means within themselves to keep moving forward. Above all, I believe there are creators in every domain. You can be a creator in clothes, design, literature, dance, cinema, art, even cuisine. Whatever their domain, creators are faced with the same problems. I wanted to get them talking with one another – about their life, their art, and their relationship with time – so that they could share their experiences, and together we could raise the alarm against the increasing hysteria of our times and the way it has pent up our creativity.
I don’t think there’s a difference between the lives of creators and the lives of non-creators. All are faced with the same questions and decisions. Those who create must find the space to live their own lives, and those who don’t seem to create are faced with the same problems. If there’s a lesson to be drawn from these conversations, it’s that the people who’ve delighted me with their presence ask the same questions as the rest of us: Why continue to do what we do? What matters? How should we live in this troubled world?
You seem to make no distinction between a life and a body of work, or between life and work. For many, though, there is a difference between the two.
I make no distinction. I live among people I work with, and they live with me. We work together, and we live together. If we are brought together by a common passion or task, then we cannot live our time in some other way. This doesn’t seem peculiar to what I do. My house is open to my friends. They work all the time, but they can come over. The time we spend together is at once friendship time and work time. We’re always doing things together. Sometimes people think of leisure and duty as separate: you must fulfill your duty before you can have time for leisure. But that makes “work” into a sort of prison from which you manage a brief escape. I don’t see things that way: no leisure without duty. You simply have to make a space for creation within your constraints, and make your constraints into a creation. This goes for individual life, for everyone’s particular work, and for the work of artists.
Prendre le temps/Taking Time by Azzedine Alaïa with Donatien Grau, with an introduction by Naomi Campbell and foreword by Daniel Melamud, will be published by Rizzoli in English on March 2