Photography Alastair Mclellan. Fashion director Edward Enninful. The Gods Gift Issue, 293. Nov 2008

alaïa on alaïa: the great couturier’s greatest quotes

10 lessons to be learned from the late legend.

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Nov 27 2017, 2:13am


Photography Alastair Mclellan. Fashion director Edward Enninful. The Gods Gift Issue, 293. Nov 2008

“I want to be remembered as a naughty little boy,” Azzedine Alaïa explained to Colette Roussaux in i-D’s The Gallery Issue (No. 208, April 2001). “I’m like the nomads -- I’m only passing by. When I pass through a place, that’s it. I take everything with me,” he continued. “Work is different -- it’s not intimate. I don’t have things to hide. I’m secretive about some things, but I am recognised by my work. How can people be interested in the fact that I sleep on a canopy bed or that I share a mattress with my dogs, or that I change my vests three times a day because the dogs make them dirty? If I’m judged in those terms then it’s a disaster! I have done some very interesting things; I never regret anything. I just want to be loved…”

And loved he will be. By continually challenging the boundaries of flesh and fabric, Azzedine Alaïa’s second-skin sculptures will live long be loved. As will his independent spirit.
While the industry has celebrated his ingenious craft, iconic silhouettes and infectious admiration he had for women, stories have continually revealed his generosity of spirit, sense of humour and love of life. Yes, he made exceptional clothes but he was an exceptional human being too. So who better to learn from? Here, we share 12 quotes from the i-D archive that reveal 10 lessons that will change all of our lives for the better.

Photography Alasdair McLellan Fashion Director Edward Enninful, The Wild Women Do Issue, no. 274, March 2007.

1. Fight to turn your dreams into reality. Azzedine was born in Tunisia in the 40s to wheat-farming parents and created clothes that will forever be the gold standard for the way a dress should drape, a coat construct, and a skirt lift for take-off.
“I didn’t learn the craft at all. The profession came towards me. I started off as a sculptor at art school, although I didn’t tell my father I was there. He thought I had gone off to do secondary school, which I had begun and abandoned. Every day I had to buy paper, charcoal and paint, and since I lived with my grandfather, I couldn’t tell him -- instead I’d set off with my secondary school books and pick up my stuff on the way. I needed money, and in the area was a dressmaker who wanted people to do the finishing of garments. So I’d go and see the dressmaker and tell her it was for my sister, take the garment home and sit there in bed at night with my sister sewing. It was nothing, they were just little things, but it wasn’t bad.”

2. Follow your own convictions, ignore the establishment’s expectations and create at your own pace. Alaïa refused to follow the fashion calendar, questioned the system and wasn’t afraid to call things out. Alaïa will forever be remembered as an independent force.
“I always want things to be better, there is never enough time, and I won't stop until I have it. I find those dates shocking. Women don't rush into cold, fully-stocked shops before the season starts because they are afraid they will miss something.”

“My passion? Painting, sculpture and human beings. I create fashion because it’s my work. A lot of things really bother me about fashion these days. It’s become like a court; there are rival powers. It’s gone beyond reality. You have to be either in it or follow behind it in some way. And I don’t want to go into the whole system and conform, to adapt my way of working. Fashion moves too fast now.”

3. Less is more when it comes to good design. Alaïa only created as and when he wanted and needed to.
“I think we produce too many collections. There are the pre-collections and the season’s main collections and others thrown in. I don’t see how women can consume all that. It’s better to take more time and do things better. Today a designer is never great every season. He can’t be, there just isn’t enough time. As soon as one collection is out, it’s time to start the next.”

4. Never underestimate the power of seduction. Sex, beauty and soft power were everything to Alaïa.
“I’ve always made clothes for seduction. What else are clothes made for? A woman’s not going to buy a little skirt for a lot of money if it’s not for seduction -- I mean, what’s the point?”

5. Shopping is therapy. In Alaïa’s studio, shopping splurges were practically considered as patriotic duty.
“Even I need to give my morale a boost every once in a while. So I take the girls here and say ‘Let’s go out and do something for the economy.’ If nobody spent, it would be a disaster.”

6. Why commute when you can work from home? Alaïa didn’t believe in the 9-5 and designed mostly at night.
“I’ve always lived in the same place as I work, it’s my horror to have to take the metro or walk to work. I often work late and so you can stop at the last minute, but if you live far away you have to prepare to leave and think of the journey home. Yes I could do it, but I work a lot at night.”

Photography Alastair Mclellan. Fashion director Edward Enninful. The Gods Gift Issue, 293. Nov 2008

7. Know your history and learn from your heroes. Alaïa discovered and nurtured a lifelong admiration for Paul Poiret, the unsung hero of 20th century fashion who freed women of corsets. Like Poiret, Alaïa crafted and invented -- he created fresh, radical ways of creation.
“Paul Poiret is one of the most important people in the history of fashion. We can’t ignore his body of work, he did many things, liberated the body, lots of new inventions. At the time he was really well known, more known than Coco Chanel and more important. His wife, Denise Boulet, was his inspiration, she was very modern and trés chic for the time. Even today her clothes are still remarkable. When you’re making your own designs and go into a museum and see what he was doing way back then, it knocks you out!”

8. Alaïa didn’t believe in reinventing the wheel each season. Instead, he would cut, sculpt and drape to perfection.
"It is extremely important to me that the pieces I make should work now and in all periods. I am not trying to create a revolution; it's always an evolution. Once I have the shape or the idea I just develop it. It should always work 20 years from now. That's what Chanel did and that's why Chanel is still successful and has lasted such a long time. She had one good idea and didn't try to change it."

9. Be your own master. Alaïa had a few assistants, but Alaïa was always the studio; the studio was always Alaïa.
"I do the pattern and I do all the changes. I am involved in all of the shoots, the sales. Then, when others would hand it over, I make sure that the production is absolutely correct. This is my least favourite part, but I do it, it's very important."

10. Remember, there’s more to life than fashion. Alaïa surrounded himself with good people, good conversation and good food. Alaïa wasn’t a house, it was a home, and if you were fortunate enough to have been invited in, you left all the richer. The intimate lunches and dinners in his own kitchen are fashion legend. In i-D’s The Collector’s Issue , the writer Anna Laub was invited into this inner sanctum and found friends and family were everything to this private genius.
"There is luxury, and there is luxury. For some, luxury means having lots of money and a huge car, but to me that means nothing. What is all that without a good plate of food? For me, luxury is being able to do exactly what you want every day, to have a great plate of spaghetti with great friends and family, or a delicious mozzarella, tomato and basil salad."

“Having your health is important. You can be poor but if you have your health you can still work. To be honest, even if you have no education you can still work, and you can still eat a delicious sandwich. But with all the money in the world -- you can't buy a simple plate of pasta that I cook in my kitchen. Health and friends are the two things that are most important -- the rest means nothing."

Photography Daniel Jackson Styling Marie Chaix. The Head, Shoulders Knees and Toes Issue, No. 307, Summer 2010

This article was originally published by i-D UK.


Quote credits


1. Azzedine Alaïa talking to Colette Roussaux, i-D, The Gallery Issue, No. 208, April 2001
2. Azzedine Alaïa talking to Rebecca Voight in The Survival Issue, No. 113, February 1993. Azzedine Alaïa talking to Colette Roussaux, i-D, The Gallery Issue, No. 208, April 2001
3. Azzedine Alaïa talking to Rebecca Voight, The Upbeat Issue, No. 264, March 2006
4. Azzedine Alaïa talking to Colette Roussaux, i-D, The Gallery Issue, No. 208, April 2001
5. Azzedine Alaïa talking to Rebecca Voight, The Upbeat Issue, No. 264, March 2006
6. Azzedine Alaïa talking to Sarah Hay, The God’s Gift Issue, No. 293, November 2008
7. Azzedine Alaïa talking to Sarah Hay, The God’s Gift Issue, No. 293, November 2008
8. Azzedine Alaïa talking to Anna Laub, The Collector’s Issue, The Gallery Issue, No. 208, Winter 2013
9. Azzedine Alaïa talking to Anna Laub, The Collector’s Issue, The Gallery Issue, No. 208, Winter 2013
10. Azzedine Alaïa talking to Anna Laub, The Collector’s Issue, The Gallery Issue, i-D No. 208, Winter 2013. Azzedine Alaïa talking to Anna Laub, The Collector’s Issue, The Gallery Issue, i-D No. 208, Winter 2013