Words Adri­an Glass
Pho­tog­ra­phy KSAVI & Grace Hay­ward

A very spe­cial exhib­it occurred whilst Cou­ture 2020 took place in Paris at the Hôtel de Ville under the l’as­so­ci­a­tion Azze­dine Alaïa, what is par­tic­u­lar­ly sig­nif­i­cant about this show­ing of Alaïa’s incred­i­ble back­log of col­lect­ed Cou­ture gar­ments, is that it is also show­cased the ded­i­ca­tion Alaïa had to the fin­ery of style, who was not only a spec­tac­u­lar Haute Cou­ture design­er him­self, he also believed in stor­ing the his­to­ry of Cou­ture, in all of its details and sig­nif­i­cance to fash­ion. Azze­dine Alaïa passed away in 2017 and if we look back at his his­to­ry par­tic­u­lar­ly when he grew up in Tunisia in the 1930s, as a young man his love and appre­ci­a­tion for the artistry of Cou­ture occurred at an ear­ly age, in his late teens he moved to France in 1957 study­ing form and sculp­ture at the famed École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Alaïa, upon grad­u­a­tion of this pres­tiges art school, steadi­ly built up a rep­u­ta­tion as a ded­i­cat­ed and focused stu­dent of fash­ion, work­ing for Chris­t­ian Dior, Guy Laroche and Thier­ry Mugler. It was­n’t until the late 1970s when he start­ed his small ate­lier from his al rue de Bel­le­chas­se apart­ment, that Alaïa real­ly began to imprint his incred­i­ble skills of Cou­ture, for over two decades he out­fit­ted the worlds elite from Hol­ly­wood actress­es to wealthy socialites. But, it was­n’t until the 1980s did Alaïa’s stature mag­ni­fy when he switched to Ready-to-Wear col­lec­tions, with his seduc­tive­ly shaped out­fits appeal­ing to the A‑listed celebri­ties of the 1980s, who became his devot­ed clien­tèle.

Yet, for the late Alaïa, we have to go back to a part of his his­to­ry that occurred in Paris to real­ly under­stand his love for Haute Cou­ture. And iron­i­cal­ly it is this sig­nif­i­cance of Ready-to-Wear, as a grow­ing indus­try in the late 1960s which was the pre­cur­sor for the famed Span­ish Cou­turi­er Cristóbal Balen­ci­a­ga in 1968, in a very reluc­tant and solemn way, he decid­ed to close his estab­lished Mai­son whilst inform­ing all of his clien­tèle that he would no longer be craft­ing cou­ture dress­es. In this process of Balen­ci­a­ga’s end of such an illus­tri­ous career, he care­ful­ly began to itemise and col­lect the many dress­es and coats that the Span­ish Mas­ter accu­mu­lat­ed over the years of his ate­lier, pro­duc­ing some of the finest and most impres­sive of 20th cen­tu­ry Cou­ture. Four years lat­er in 1972, Cristóbal Balen­ci­a­ga passed away at the age of 77 in Xàbia, Spain. Pri­or to his death, a young Alaïa was con­tact­ed by Balen­ci­a­ga’s Gen­er­al Direc­tor by the name of Made­moi­selle Renée, entrust­ing the aspir­ing fash­ion design­er with Balen­ci­a­ga’s impres­sive back­log of fab­rics and dress­es. Offered by the Direc­tor to alter and mod­i­fy Balen­ci­a­ga’s archived out­fits, to which leg­end has it, Alaïa refused, instead, he grate­ful­ly took the impres­sive array of Cou­ture dress­es offered to him back to his small Parisian apart­ment. Lay­ing them out onto his bed, he then gave an oath that he would nev­er alter these beau­ti­ful­ly hand craft­ed and styled pieces, rather Alaïa decid­ed that he would embark on a mis­sion of pas­sion to col­lect and archive as many of the Cou­ture greats, so that they may be stored and appre­ci­at­ed for the mas­tery which they reflect.

And by the 1970s, when many of his con­tem­po­raries began to invest into the art mar­kets. Alaïa rather began a process of buy­ing and col­lect­ing dress­es from the 1930s and 1950s, in fact thou­sands of pieces not just from the great Balen­ci­a­ga, but also Gres, Vion­net, Schi­a­perel­li were added to his col­lec­tions, oth­ers who were not as famous, but equal in their skill of cut­ting and align­ing the fab­rics in such pre­ci­sion, with an uncan­ny abil­i­ty to hide the seams that is of the many intri­ca­cies which rep­re­sents Cou­ture. Alaïa ensured that all of the thou­sands of pieces that have been col­lect­ed over the years under his care, that they be pro­tect­ed and stored with­in France. To which the late design­er’s wish­es have been ful­filled.

For the first time, Asso­ci­a­tion Azze­dine Alaïa, in con­junc­tion with the Balen­ci­a­ga Foun­da­tion will have 80 of Cristóbal Balen­ci­a­ga’s finest Haute Cou­ture pieces on dis­play at the Hôtel de Ville until the 28th of Jan­u­ary 2020, the pieces will also be seen on dis­play, with Alaïa own works at the ‘Alaïa Cou­ture house’. In July 2020, the col­lec­tion will then be exhib­it­ed at the vil­lage of Gue­taria, Spain where the late Balen­ci­a­ga was born.

AZZEDINE ALAÏA COLLECTOR — ALAÏA and BALENCIAGA Sculp­tors of shape is open from Jan­u­ary 20th to June 28th 2020 at Hôtel de Ville.

Find out more here: