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Ten Iconic Fashion Moments and Milestones from Alaïa’s Archives

Tunisian couturier Azzedine Alaïa passed away on Saturday in Paris. He was 82. The designer, who was nicknamed the “King of Cling” for his form-flattering dresses that found fans in Michelle Obama, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, Lady Gaga, and Rihanna, was a legend in the industry. Here, looks back at iconic fashion moments from the Alaïa archives.

#1: Azzedine Alaïa Couture Fall 2017

The fiercely independent fashion designer didn’t conform to the traditional fashion week schedule, but rather worked at his own pace and showcased his creations when he felt the collections were ready. After a six-year hiatus, when he announced that he would be returning to the fashion week schedule to showcase his Fall 2017 Haute Couture collection, editors, retailers, and clients clamored to attend. The runway show, which took place in July at the Tunisian designer’s atelier in the Marais neighborhood, was led by supermodel and honorary “daughter” of the designer, Naomi Campbell, dressed in a short, black and white coat, with her hair wrapped in a gravity-defying, see-through turban. The show closed to rapturous applause from guests, including Vogue US editor-at-large Hamish Bowles, Vogue Arabia’s editor-in-chief Manuel Arnaut, former model and First Lady of France Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, muse Farida Khelfa, and Louis Vuitton creative director Nicolas Ghesquière.  

#2: Alaïa Joins the Legend of Shahrazad

A scene from Shahrazad, with costume exclusively designed by Azzedine Alaïa. Courtesy of Azzedine Alaïa

In October 2016, Alaïa was tasked with creating the costumes for Shahrazad, a reinterpretation of Diaghilev’s original Ballets Russes Scheherazade production from 1910. The designer was hand-picked by the choreographer, Jonah Bokaer, who regarded Alaïa as his favorite designer. Bokaer tells to Vogue Arabia, “I was very aware of his work. He is, without a doubt, my favorite designer. My father – like Mr. Alaïa – is from Tunisia, and we also share a few friends in common, including Robert Wilson, so there’s a natural fondness there.” Alaïa designed 34 costumes for 14 dancers, which featured dramatic silhouettes. It wasn’t the first time the couturier was enlisted to design garments for a ballet. In 2013, he created the breathtaking costumes for Ballet Preljocaj’s adaptation of One Thousand and One Nights.

#3: Alaïa Launches First Fragrance (2015)

Azzedine Alaïa ‘s first foray into fragrance. Courtesy of Azzedine Alaïa

The Tunisian-born designer debuted his first fragrance, Alaïa Paris, in 2015 in collaboration with French perfumer Marie Salamagne, a close friend Carla Sozzani and designer Martin Szekely. The scent was inspired by childhood memories (the smell of cold water splashing against hot brick walls in Tunisia), and features a combination of floral, musky, and powdery notes. The result is an enticing scent that’s as unique as his form-fitting gowns. The bottle echoed the laser-cut design signature he has used since 1992, topped with a gold bobbin-like cap. The couturier’s second fragrance, Blanche, was launched shortly after his Spring 2017 ready-to-wear show.

#4: Lady Gaga’s Jaw-Dropping Alaïa 2015 Oscar Dress

Lady Gaga in Azzedine Alaïa at the 2015 Oscar Awards. Getty

At the 2015 Oscar Awards ceremony, Lady Gaga displayed a lineup of headline-making ensembles from Alaïa, who had never custom-designed pieces specifically for an award show. Among them was a shimmering white, floor-trailing gown with exaggerated shoulders paired with red gloves, also designed by Alaïa. The singer, who wore the designer on numerous occasions, spent a lot of time in his Paris home to create the outfits. The couturier also dreamed up her three stage looks, which included a semi-sheer black gown with a cascading train, as well as a billowing white halter-neck dress.

#5: Azzedine Alaïa Retrospective in Paris

Rihanna in Azzedine Alaïa at the 2013 Grammy Awards. Getty

In 2013, the Palais Galliera in Paris reopened its doors after a four-year renovation with an exhibition honoring Alaïa. It was the city’s first retrospective dedicated to the couturier. Organized by fashion curator Olivier Saillard, the exhibition featured more than 70 dresses displayed in the Palais’ galleries and in the Matisse Room at Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. The pieces included archival ensembles as well as one-off, red carpet gowns, such as the red chiffon dress worn by Rihanna at the 2013 Grammy Awards.

In 2015, he was the subject of a major retrospective at the Villa Borghese in Rome called ‘Couture/Sculpture’, where his gowns held their own against juxtaposing works by some of the world’s most renowned artists, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Titian.

#6: Opened Boutiques in Three Cities by 1988

Born to humble wheat farmers in Tunis, Alaïa launched his ready-to-wear collection in 1983. As the story goes: an interior designer by the name of Andrée Putman was walking down Madison Avenue wearing a leather Alaïa coat when she was stopped by a Bergdorf Goodman buyer who demanded to know where the coat was from. By 1988, the designer had already opened his own boutiques in New York City, Los Angeles, and Paris due to increasing demand from clients seeking his superb garments made to flatter and enhance a woman’s body.

#7: Alaïa and Farida Khelfa Photographed by Jean-Paul Goude

Farida Khelfa was introduced to Alaïa by photographer Jean-Paul Goude in the 1980s. The two connected instantly, and it wasn’t long before she became one of the designer’s muses, assisting in many of his fittings, and eventually giving up modeling to work full-time at his design studio. The two, who remained close friends throughout his life, joined forces in a number of memorable collaborations – notably, a series of iconic photographs taken by Goude, which were showcased at the So Far So Goude exhibition in Milan in 2016. Shortly after news broke of the designer’s passing, the Algerian former model took to Instagram to share some of the images, which included an irreverent black and white photograph taken in 1985 of a statuesque Khelfa embracing the couturier, accompanied by a heartfelt tribute to her friend.

#8: Azzedine Alaïa and Grace Jones at the Fashion Oscars in 1984

Azzedine Alaia


In 1984, at the French Ministry of Culture’s Fashion Oscar Awards, Alaïa arrived arm-in-arm with Jamaican singer Grace Jones, who was wearing a hooded magenta rendition of the designer’s famed ribbon dresses, resulting in an iconic fashion moment. The designer, who won the award for the best creator of 1985 as well as best collection of the year, was carried on to the stage by Jones to accept his accolades.

#9: The Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur by the French Government

In 2008, Alaïa was awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur for his contributions to fashion. Established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, this is France’s highest distinction in recognition of both military and civilian merit. Other recipients include photographer Mario Testino, Karl Lagerfeld, Alber Elbaz, Giorgio Armani, and Vogue Italia’s late editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani.

#10: Naomi Campbell Makes Her Alaïa Debut

Naomi Campbell was just 16 and new to Paris when she had a chance encounter with Alaïa after her wallet was stolen. Shortly after meeting him (she was introduced by fellow model Amanda Caseley), the designer went on to catapult her career as well as become a father figure (she refers to him as “papa”). Campbell, who lived in the designer’s home during her teenage years, made her first runway appearance for Alaïa in 1986. She went on to become a fixture on the house’s catwalks and campaigns, and also opened and closed what would be the iconic couturier’s last show in July.

Related Read: How the fashion world said goodbye to the designer

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