Born in Tunisia in 1935, Azzedine Alaia was inspired from a young age by copies of Vogue given to him by his mother’s glamorous French friends. He studied at the Tunis Institute of Fine Arts, having lied about his age to secure a place on the programme, and went on to work as a dressmaker’s assistant. In 1957, aged just 22, he moved to Paris, working for brands such as Dior, Guy Laroche and Mugler. Alaia eventually opened his own atelier in the 1970s, which, despite its small size, served a great number of celebrity clients including Greta Garbo and Louise de Vilmorin. Mugler, Alaia and Claude Montana all became synonymous with the rise of sleek lines and structured tailoring which dominated the 1980s. Alaia’s first ready to wear collection was debuted at the start of the decade and caught the attention of some of the biggest names in fashion media, including French Elle. His collections were notoriously exclusive and held in intimate settings, which only increased the mystery surrounding the Alaia brand.
Alaia’s designs are instantly recognisable, with their tight fit, curved lines, precise seaming and preoccupation with knitwear. His clothes revealed the body rather than conceal it, often cut in more muted colour palettes to allow the structure of the garment to shine. Named Best Designer of the Year in 1984, Alaia’s career would continue to soar, with the opening of boutiques in Paris, New York and Beverley Hills. His celebrity clientele expanded to include the likes of Grace Jones, Madonna, Tina Turner, Naomi Campbell and Janet Jackson. He continued to enjoy working with private clients and producing ready to wear collections until the early 2000s, which saw him undertake a partnership with the Prada group. Alaia remained passionate about asserting his independence form the commercial fashion industry, favouring discreet luxury and maintaining an aura of exclusivity. By the time of his death in 2017, aged 82, he had established himself as not only a visionary, but also one of the most talented fashion designers of all time, whose designs can still be seen on runways and red carpets all over the world.