“You don’t understand, this is an Alaïa …it’s like a totally important designer.” – Cher Horowitz, Clueless.
Fashion design meets structure and architecture at the Design Museum’s incredible exhibition, the first to be shown in the UK, dedicated to the creations of the visionary that was Azzedine Alaïa and which I was lucky enough to see on a recent trip to London.
From Greta Garbo to Rihanna, an array of glamorous women have donned Alaïa ’s sensual designs. The figure-hugging creations that accentuate the silhouette have left Alaïa as the undisputed ‘King of Cling.’
Known as the outsider in the world of fashion, the exhibition was co-curated with Alaïa before his untimely death in November 2017. On display are 35 years of couture from the Tunisian-born designer, from the 1980s to the final collection. The display is arranged into twelve sections which are divided by screens and backdrops created by artists including Marc Newson and Kris Ruhs.
It is impossible to choose a favourite item from the line-up of gowns, so instead I have chosen my three favourite sections from the show; Black Silhouettes, Wrapped Forms and Renaissance Perspective.
From a designer that would make everything himself, including cutting his own patterns, his use of all black would disguise the labour that was poured into a single dress. It is only on close inspection that the extent of work is visible.
Yet, as Alaïa said “I prefer people to notice the woman and not her clothes.” The all-black ‘uniform’ therefore shifts the focus to the wearer rather than what is being worn.
The Black Silhouettes is not simply a collection of plain little black dresses; they are all strikingly different from one another. A combination of different materials could be used in one garment; leather, chiffon, lace and beading.
Plunging necklines, buckles, straps and cut outs; the designs are exquisitely feminine and womanly. A hint of bondage combined with elegance makes these dresses sexy and sensual in the best possible taste.
My second favourite section of the exhibition that really stood out for me is the Wrapped Forms. Inspired by Ancient Egyptian mummies, Alaïa ’s bandage dresses paved the way for one of the most iconic looks of 1990s; the bodycon.
These designs made their first appearance in the mid-1980s and were unlike traditional styles of tailored couture with their use of stretch materials. Alaïa was no stranger to these fabrics and had used them for many years to shape the inside of dresses for his private clients and subsequently he began to use these stretched materials on their own.
Different from traditional fitted dresses, the bandage dress conforms to the wearer. Typically, garments are tailored at certain points such as the waist, however women are not all built the same even if they have a dress size in common. Alaïa ’s bodycon designs contours to the shape of the wearer and thus becomes a second skin.
The five dresses that make up the Wrapped Forms collection present clean lines and minimalism in their design. The simplicity of them is their sophistication which permits Alaïa ’s dresses to be understated and conspicuous simultaneously.
A trio of full-length gowns in sumptuous material compiles the Renaissance Perspective Collection. The focus firmly on materials that invite touching lie at the collection’s core.
Alluding to the nobility and past riches, Alaïa cherished, velvet and used rich tones of ruby reds and royal purples that added a jewel-like quality and referenced dresses from the Renaissance period.
This couture trinity are presented on dress forms designed by Alaïa himself. These dress forms stem from a mannequin that Alaïa famously created that was based on the figure of Naomi Campbell. Over time, these mannequins were altered and the dresses reconstructed to perfectly match the reformed mannequins. In their final metamorphosis, they resemble elongated forms of Alberto Giacometti sculptures and exaggerated proportions of fashion illustrations.
The focal point for Alaïa in his designs was always the silhouette and the female figure. To fully accentuate his view, the mannequins in the display have no anatomical forms. They create the impression of floating couture and the full attention is directed on the silhouette.
Whilst viewing the extraordinary display, timeless is the word that springs to mind. All of the items cross through different eras of time; they could be worn today, 25 years ago or 25 years in the future and not look out of place. In the words of Alaïa;“My obsession is to make women beautiful. When you create with that in mind, things can’t go out of fashion.”
Full album of the exhibition available to view on the Teacup Moment Facebook page.