“he was the most generous man, a giant, a true industry icon” – we remember azzedine alaïa
i-D founder Terry Jones and original mum Tricia Jones share a heartfelt tribute to one of the most respected and cherished designers of all time, Azzedine Alaïa.
Azzedine Alaïa by Sølve Sundsbø for i-D Magazine Winter 2013
"We have such fond memories of him, he was the most generous man, a giant, a true industry icon,” i-D founder Terry Jones explains over Skype. “With much help from his wonderful press assistant Caroline Fabre Bazin in 2001 (for The Gallery Issue, i-D no. 208) I was able to record a conversation between Colette (Sarah Andelman's mum) and Azzedine,” Terry remembers. “We were invited to lunch and his witty comments had Colette giggling throughout my recording. Azzedine thought it was hilarious that I had asked his longtime friend, who spoke no English, to make the interview and that I could only guess at what they were saying! However, my video caught the creative spirit and friendship between the two of them and the twinkling energy of Alaia’s personality for the profile in i-D. In fact, my two questions and Colette's laughter filled the hour long tape with non-stop humour!”
“He was a very special human being," Tricia Jones adds. Like the rest of us, the Jones' awoke on Saturday morning to the sad news that the great Franco-Tunisian couturier and King of Cling had passed away in Paris. While celebrating his ingenious craft, iconic silhouettes and the infectious admiration he had for women, they were also keen to remember his generosity of spirit and sense of humour.
"There was always such a humanity about Azzedine. I'm afraid my French is not much better than a schoolgirl's, so I never felt comfortable really chatting to him -- but I certainly cherished the smiles and eye twinkles! His intimate fashion shows were like being part of a very exclusive salon showing, and invariably slightly outside the normal Paris schedule, but it always felt like a big honour to be invited,“ Tricia remembers.
"Azzedine thought it was hilarious that I had asked his longtime friend, who spoke no English, to make the interview and that I could only guess at what they were saying!" Terry Jones
He was somewhat elusive and never courted press attention, always creating his sculptures for the female form on his own terms. 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. "For some, luxury means having lots of money and a huge car, but to me that means nothing,” Azzedine explained. “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." This quote summed up his outlook on life. A feeder in every sense, the world is a fuller place thanks to Azzedine.
“I personally have always felt a huge debt of gratitude to him,” Tricia explains, “because when we needed space for the i-D Soul exhibition, he offered us his own Gallerie for the international launch. Having been set to open at the Today Museum during the Beijing Olympics in 2008, at the time the authorities were suddenly dealing with huge protests in support of the Dalai Lama and clamping down very strongly. As a result there were concerns about the exhibition’s inclusion of the Dalai Lama’s contribution and we were asked if we would consider removing all references to his Holiness. We of course refused and so agreed to cancel the exhibition instead. At that point we had the Soul book being published by Taschen, but nowhere in China to show the work! So with one month to go, we had to go back to our sponsors and rethink.”
“Shortly after that, I was in Paris and at some point, Azzedine’s team mentioned their exhibition space, and amazingly offered to give Soul a home. The opening night was the day after Obama was elected President for the first time and it was such a magical moment. We had been staying at Azzedine's 3 Rooms [hotel] while we were installing the exhibition and that historic night we watched the extraordinary news upstairs in our room -- it was an electrifying time, a moment I will never forget.” Following Azzedine’s act of kindness, the i-D Soul exhibition toured the world, from Christie’s in London and New York to Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan and beyond. From one kind soul to another!
“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." Azzedine Alaïa
“He will be deeply missed by all of those who knew and loved him, as well as by the women around the world who wore his clothes. The generosity of his spirit and genius of his designs will never be forgotten,” Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful shared on Instagram. While i-D fashion director, Edward created iconic Alaïa editorials, most notably the Emma Summerton–shot Jourdan Dunn spread in 2008. Such is the timelessness of his work, though, that the dress could have been sculpted by his hands at any moment during his colourful career.
"It is extremely important to me that the pieces I make should work now and in all periods," Alaïa explained during his 2008 interview with Anna Laub. "He is an artist," Naomi Campbell explains in Joe McKenna’s affectionate mini-documentary about the fashion master. "I wore something three days ago that I wore 21 years ago," she adds. "Not many designers can do that.”
Like Naomi, Tricia frequently turns to her Alaïa pieces “My two most special occasion dresses happen to be by Azzedine,” she explains. "They were both birthday presents from Terry -- I love them -- I’ve had them for years and I still wear them because they are completely timeless.”
Such is the cultural legacy of Amy Heckerling’s Clueless, it’s impossible to discuss the infamously shy and infinitely talented designer to anyone outside of the fashion industry without somebody mentioning Cher Horowitz’s robbery reaction. “Oh, no. You don't understand. This is an Alaia,” Cher protested after being ordered to lie down on the street. The scene is one of fashion’s greatest moments in film; an Azzedine Alaïa is worth cherishing. Then, now and always, Azzedine’s life and work will be cherished and celebrated for generations to come. In among the heartfelt memories shared across social media, we were shocked to see designers and lecturers mention that their students were unaware of his work. We can only hope that his sad passing and the outpouring of love that has followed, leads to more people knowing his name. We have lost a true genius but we will all be forever inspired by the work and world of Azzedine Alaïa.