“I make garments to take advantage of women, to make them look beautiful”, Azzedine Alaïa said in an interview in 1982. That statement, which contained the arguments for her creations, stands out for being one of the few that have survived the couturier, enemy of cameras and interviews. “When he was still alive, I went to see him several times to propose making a documentary, but he always said no,” recalls Olivier Nicklaus, director of Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier Who Shaped Women. The film will open the 7th edition of the Moritz Feed Dog fashion documentary film festival (from March 22 to 26 in Barcelona).
“He grew up in Tunisia, in a very poor environment,” says Nicklaus, who dared to do this job after receiving the approval of the foundation that watches over Alaïa’s legacy, after his death in 2017. “He was a very peculiar guy, very short and also homosexual, so his childhood as a gay boy was not easy, but he had a lot of energy and passion for fashion, which made him travel to Paris in 1956. He met very important women throughout his life, who were those who encouraged him.” They promoted his talent from his first months in France and were his protectors. He became the whispered secret from one to another in tea rooms: “He began to dress rich women in Paris at the time, when it was normal for them to have their own couturier who would do their entire wardrobe. That’s how he started and it was a very good school, because he learned to work with different morphologies, taking advantage of them through clothing ”. He sewed for Louise de Vilmorin, Arletty or Greta Garbo and studied how to enhance them through patterns, some lessons that accompanied him during his career, how the bond of complicity he established with his clients was extended over time. .
The body was a field of action in all its stages: both when he sewed from an attic for high society women, as when he opened his sewing house and marked the eighties or when, after several years retired from the front line , returned to fashion in 2000. “He gave us wonderful designs. For example, he was the first to make dresses and coats out of leather, when leather garments were considered only suitable for prostitutes. He was able to convince first rock stars like Tina Turner and then all kinds of women to wear it. Today it is obvious, but before Alaïa nobody had seen the full potential of the material. And of course the same thing happened with elastic fabrics, all the fashion body conscious. It’s especially interesting because it can be a very tacky thing when worn by other designers, but the miracle of Alaïa is that even when he’s so skintight, he’s elegant.”
His identity in a hermetic society contributed to his choosing an adjacent path, but the artist’s own character also influenced that independence. “He was very ambitious and he was determined to succeed. He had a lot of ego. The good part is that it pushed him as a star designer, but at the same time it made him sometimes difficult to work with. He led him to go it alone, he didn’t feel constrained by the rules of fashion because he wrote his own. In the latter part of his career it could take years to perfect a design. He presented a dress when he thought he was ready, not when the calendar dictated, and until the last few years he only made clothes, he was slow to enter the accessories or perfume business. He was very different from everyone else, he kept up with him and did not follow the group ”.
The most amazing? For the director of the appointment, “that he was able to maintain his activity. And that after several years almost without working, in which he went through a depression after the death of his sister, he returned to the front row again and again being a success. There are few houses so aligned with the personality of his designer. But his influence goes beyond fashion, he was a Tunisian immigrant who enriched French culture, he lived up to the greatest. He can be a role model for both the Maghrebis and the French, so that they welcome those who arrive because they can contribute a lot. He is a politician and that is what he really wanted to tell in this documentary ”.
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