“My obsession is to make women beautiful. When you create with that in mind, things can’t go out of fashion.” – Azzedine Alaïa
To celebrate this designer’s significant role in the world of couture and his impact on the fashion industry, this exhibition is, as Vogue wrote, “A fitting tribute to the couturier”. Prior to Alaïa‘s death in November 2017, he had been co-curating the exhibition with Mark Wilson of the Groninger Museum, who was both a guest curator and longtime friend of Alaïa’s. To me, because of Wilson’s friendship with Alaïa, the exhibition really captures a personal insight into ‘couture’s rebellious outsider’; a love of fashion, friendship and the female form permeates throughout the room.
I use The Guardian’s quote, “couture’s rebellious outsider”, because it pretty much sums up Alaïa‘s nonconformist attitude towards the cyclical nature of the fashion industry. Alaïa avoided the pressure of abiding to the collection calendar by rebelling against the rules of fashion; he produced his collections whenever he wanted, and rarely stuck to the unspoken rule of ‘spring/summer means bright and light materials’ and ‘autumn/winter means dark and heavy materials’. If a fast fashion brand released a collection full of knitwear and puffer jackets in May, there would be little sales and so little success. However, Alaïa somehow managed to do this with huge success. Perhaps it is the timeless quality that comes with couture dressing, or maybe it is Alaïa‘s designs that make seasonal dressing a thing of the past… whatever his secret is, once you see the 60 pieces exhibited in The Design Museum you will understand that every one of Alaïa‘s creations has an undeniable timeless beauty – a beauty that will hopefully carry his name through fashion for decades and continue to inspire couturiers.
The exhibition is divided into 11 different collections, with each being an example of Alaïa‘s unusual way of designing. Alaïa‘s design ideas wouldn’t form by sketching onto croquis templates, or taking inspiration from different cultures or objects, he would simply let the fabric do the sketching. By this I mean he thought with his hands, with ideas forming from draping and pinning fabric directly onto the models. This raw way of working with fabric ensured his technical skills were matched with an understanding of how women wanted to look and feel.
My favourite has to be the black gown (shown above) from the ‘Exploring Volume’ collection; I love the full skirt that hugs in at the top creating a sort of mermaid-tail, and the way Alaïa has gathered the fabric at the top to create bow-like knots is very clever, but it also would be a very flattering fit as it would expose the collarbones in a classy and subtle way.
The collection pictured above is one of Alaïa’s most iconic designs. The long, elongated silhouettes are draped with fabric in true Alaïa style; loose and flowing fabric hangs delicately from the head, at the torso and upper leg the fabric clings tightly to accentuate the waist and hips, and then returning to the flowing style to create a mermaid-tail.
I have tried my best to describe how impressive this exhibition is, but you can only really appreciate Alaïa’s mastery in couture design by seeing his work with your own eyes – so you have until the 7th of October to see it!
Jemima Plume Xx