Love and Mourning for Azzedine Alaia - Losing More Than A Fashion Designer

Azzedine Alaïa left the world on November 18, 2017. It seemed impossible that someone so important, ageless and full of life could depart so unannounced, so quickly, so soon.  The inevitable human condition of mortality took away the last of the great, authentic couturiers.

 

"I had forgotten that clothes could be this beautiful; no gimmicks, no vulgarity, no Instagrammable moments, just superb clothes superbly made, to flatter and enhance the women he loved...Azzedine, like Madame Grès, trained as a sculptor. His medium was not clay, stone, or marble, but cloth, and one saw the sculptor’s art in the way he caressed his fabrics to the bodies of his beloved mannequins." Hamish Bowles

 

Grace Jones in Iconic Alaia dress 1987

If you don't know about about Azzedine Alaia and his iconic designs, do some research and you will be astonished by his talent, original point of view, and uncompromising attention to detail.  We have been fortunate to acquire several Alaia vintage pieces during the years and are always surprised by the unique twists and details that make each one a masterpiece. 

 

But this post isn't really about Alaia's contributions to the fashion world, it's about something much more important, because, something unusual happened when Alaia died. People didn't just say the obligatory thing, they didn't just talk about his many accomplishments and successes, they did something we don't see too often anymore - they expressed genuine emotion, they actually mourned.  In today's world of me me me, the people who were touched by Alaia stopped for a minute to express genuine loss and sadness from loss of someone who impacted their lives.

Azzedine Alaia Sewing

“I like women. I never think about doing new things, about being creative, but about making clothing that will make women beautiful.” Azzedine Alaia

I have a very good friend named Valerie who makes me feel like I am the most remarkable person in the world. I always leave our time together feeling encouraged, energized, and even a little invincible.  She treats me like she has all of the time in the world for me and every time I'm around her I'm certain that I must be her favorite person.  Many years ago, I discovered something about Valerie that made me admire her even more. To my surprise, I am only one of many of her favorite people.  Everyone who is fortunate enough to know her feels elevated, truly seen, and more valuable when they spend a few minutes talking to her.  Valerie doesn't see class, status or social resumes, she sees people.  She has that unique, selfless ability to make everyone she is with feel like they are all that matter.

 

I never met Azzedine Alaia, but everything I know about his relationships with his friends reminds me a little of Valerie's relationships with hers. Well, except that Valerie hates to cook! 

Alaia's legendary dinner parties included people from all walks of life and were filled with debates, laughter, music and love.  The people who knew him speak about Alaia's sense of humor, love for animals & vodka, obsession with National Geographic documentaries, devotion to his friends, passion for interesting conversations, and his un paralleled dedication to and love for his work. 

When you read the many remembrances, social media posts, and interview excerpts from the people who knew Alaia, you start to realize that there was something very special about the man that really had nothing to do with his career in fashion. Everyone he touched felt as if they were somehow a part of his inner circle and they were made to feel like they were ... his favorites.

 

“Alaïa loved to sew and cook. He used needles and threads to sculpt around the body of the woman…transforming her into a goddess of beauty and strength…there was no one like him.…He was intimidating…but admired by all.” Diane von Furstenberg

 

"His kitchen, where he was famous for holding free-flowing lunch and dinner gatherings, for which he often cooked, was his soapbox. There he would regale guests — who could include designers, Kardashians, the artist Julian Schnabel, the architect Peter Marino and seamstresses from his ateliers — long into the night with opinions, stories and exhortations...I used to go into the kitchen via the back door — the hotel and the house share an internal courtyard — after returning from the last show of the day, and grab a plate of whatever was on the stove that night to take upstairs while I worked. Over the years I had inadvertently walked in, unannounced, on everyone from Lady Gaga to Alicia Keys; Cindy Crawford and her daughter Kaia Gerber; Franca Sozzani’s birthday party, and a whole bunch of models new to Paris that Azzedine had kept on to feed after a show casting." Vanessa Friedman The New York Times

 

"Some of my most memorable experiences in Paris happen during dinner parties at Azzedine Alaïa's house. Before he stays up all night sewing, Azzedine will cook for his friends. It's always a wild affair. One time, Grace Jones came over with her mother and son. That same night, I met Bettina Graziani, the famous model who was once married to Aly Khan. She had given her collection of fashion photographs to Azzedine to exhibit in the gallery at his atelier. Though she wasn't in very good health and was accompanied by her nurse, Bettina still looked so beautiful, wearing clothes that she probably fit into 30 years before. And seated next to me was Anouk Aimée." Bruce Weber, photographer

 

“Lunches and dinners at Azzedine’s are appropriately legendary.  Despite not speaking French nor Azzedine English, we somehow seem to understand each other perfectly about the things that matter, talking or gesturing into the night.... I so admire the purity of his work, his resolve to resist the pressure of cost or externally imposed schedules or protocols... Azzedine defines that very rarest combination of extraordinary genius with remarkable generosity and kindness. And he makes me laugh. The twinkle in his eyes as he creeps up behind someone working quietly in his atelier and whacks the work table with his wooden rule to make them jump!” Jonathan Ive, Chief Design Officer, Apple

 

"The one and only , the truest talent and the funniest, sweetest most generous man! We will never forget the dinners in the kitchen , the dogs to dance with, the tours of the Studio and the magnificent house and the cheeky pranks ( like wrapping his assistant in gaffer tape, or biting someone’s leg under the table ) and the most timeless ultra femme designs that will ever exist. Proud to have known you dear #azzedine Kisses iv" Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, photographers

 

Alaia with his dear friend Carla Sozzani

“One of my biggest memories was sitting down in that huge kitchen that he had that was such a meeting point of so many people. It could be anyone from the garbage man to some huge buyer to whatever. He mixed everybody together and somehow made it work, because he was the one in the middle. And he actually did the cooking himself a lot of the time. He was a really great person. And very, very loyal.” Grace Coddington, creative director at large at Vogue

 

"A few years after this first introduction, while vacationing in Paris with my husband, Alaïa invited us to dine...his black Chinese pajamas subbing for chef’s whites as he skillfully assembled a meal, gathering guests around his ample kitchen table. We were among luminaries that treated us as old friends: at the end of the evening, we couldn’t believe we had been conversing and sharing laughter with a famous fashion photographer, Picasso’s granddaughter, vintage couture specialists, and Alaïa’s devoted staff. All treated equally by a generous spirit and sublime designer sans pareil."  Leigh Wishner - FIDM Museum Coordinator 


"I will mourn forever the loss of my friend. A true genius in not only fashion but in his heart. He was a king and had the highest standards of design and work ethic. He was so giving, so loving, his heart so full and pure. I watched in awe as he hand made each and every piece, his fingers touching the fabric like poetry. Then he would want to feed us all, and cook with his own hands and talk for hours at the table while his dogs would run around joyfully smelling the delicious food he made us. To say he was special would be an understatement. To say he was integral, important and influential to fashion is simply not enough. There was no one who did what he did. No one knew a woman’s body like him. He should be celebrated as one of the greatest fashion designers the world has ever known. I love you, Azzedine. I am devastated I didn’t get to say goodbye. I love you." Lady Gaga

 

“Mr. Alaïa is a legend—one of the best designers and creators of our time. He is so kind and generous … and funny! A very warm soul—I’ve enjoyed every moment I have had with him. As a child, my family’s white poodle was named Azzedine Alaïa. That’s how much my mom [Kris Jenner] loved him. She introduced me to his clothes. I remember watching her get dressed. If it was a fun date night out she would put on an Alaïa. She saved them all and when I started to go to red carpet events she would let me wear them.” Kim Kardashian West

 

Marc Jacobs with Azzedine Alaia

"A true artist, genius and master. He was always kind, friendly and supportive of me. He welcomed me when I first came to Paris. We had some great adventures and many good times. His talent is unparalleled and his playful character generous, naughty and wickedly unique. The exceptional beauty he created is timeless and will without question- live forever! I pray that Azzedine will rest in peace" Marc Jacobs

 

Azzedine Alaia with stylist Charlotte Stockdale

 

"Devastated to hear about the passing of my friend Azzedine Alaïa. Mr. Alaïa was a genius and an incredibly kind man. Thank you for everything. R.I.P." Mariah Carey

 

 Naomi Campbell modeling Azzedine Alaïa - Fall 1991 Ready-to-Wear collection

"Dear papa , I was blessed in my life to meet you and for your embrace at 16 ,so many wonderful memories of you through out our journey together . I got to experience what it was like to be around a Genius !!! You taught me and opened my eyes to so many things in life , and how to strive for perfection , as you were PERFECTION and UNIQUE and will always be . No one understood the body of a woman more than you . That made us feel good about ourselves inside out . You did all the fatherly duties my unknown father should have . You ignited happiness to all whom were around you , from dancing in the kitchen to playing practical jokes . You protected me and loved me unconditionally . Im eternally , grateful to you the day you picked up the phone and called my mother to tell her you were taking me in.

 

Papa until we meet again on the other side , I know you will continue to guide me , and always be in my heart . May you Rest In Peace I love you papa Ta Fille Naomi 💔🙏🏾. Thank you for all the condolences I have received..This pain runs deep I wish I could wake up and it was all a bad dream . I love you Papa 💔💔🙏🏾" Naomi Campbell

 

I think that I'm most drawn to fashion designers that have almost supernatural talent that surpasses conventional rules and ideas.  I am obsessed with talented designers who have an unexplained vision that isn't inspired by a desire for fame, money or attention.  Azzedine Alaia was one of those designers. 

It's refreshing to see a life well lived by someone working in an industry as superficial as fashion.  

 

I would have LOVED to have been invited to one of Azzedine Alaia's dinner parties - I would have found it so refreshing to go to a party like the ones his friends have described so well;  joyful, genuine, and accepting, with no pretense.  It's probably not a coincidence that they sound quite a lot like the man himself.

Rest in Peace Azzedine. xo

 

Alaia's workshop

 

Here are a few more comments from people who knew Alaia:

"Dear Azzedine, your friends – and the entire fashion world – will miss you so." Suzy Menkes

"I am so saddened by the death of my friend, the great Azzedine Alaia. He was a genius and a legend in fashion design, who marched to his own beat at all times. On top of his immense talent, he was the sweetest human being ever. I will miss you greatly, Azzedine." Lenny Kravitz

"He was a designer of great talent, who worked on the shapes and proportions of the body as a sculptor, exalting a sensuous and almost timeless beauty. He greatly influenced fashion without ever having been part of the system or complying with seasonal trends. He was an individual voice, who followed his own aesthetic course in total freedom and for this was much loved and admired.” Giorgio Armani

“Today we lost an indisputable genius. Both my brother Gianni and myself loved him very much and admired him not only for his unique creativity, but most importantly for the person he was and his huge heart. He left an indelible mark in fashion and [my daughter] Allegra and I will miss him a lot.” Donatella Versace

“A true master who brilliantly combined technique, couture know-how, tradition and modernity. The curves of the world’s most beautiful women were sublimated by Azzedine Alaïa.” Jean Paul Gaultier

“An incomparable master of cut, his work exalted the female body. I was very touched by his support when he attended my first show at Dior, and he leaves behind him an extraordinary legacy that will inspire generations to come.” Maria Grazia Chiuri

"Bless you & all of the beauty you have shared with so Many of Us. For being a friend & a teacher. An icon with a stunning heart." Lindsay Lohan

"The great Azzedine Alaia has died...he was one of a kind. I feel like going back to bed and staying there for a week. What a sweet man, and what a talent...Goodbye and thank you for everything..." Bette Midler


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