by LUKE LEITCH
“Ha! This is my dress!” exclaimed Carla Sozzani in London’s Design Museum, which this morning hosted the first preview of the new exhibition “Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier.” . “It was from 1988 and was photographed by Paolo Roversi. We took the picture for Elle magazine, and they fired me! Azzedine always called it Carla’s dress. It is just perfection, but I never wore it, of course.”
Planned and curated by Alaïa himself in partnership with longtime friend Mark Wilson of the Groninger Museum, the exhibition charts the designer’s career in clothing. The approximately 60 pieces include many famous Alaïa numbers. There are the bandage dresses that fit around the body like sculpted exoskeletons. There is a 2003 couture version of the long black fitted dress around which twists a seemingly endless zipper, a design memorably photographed by Arthur Elgort on Naomi Campbell in 1987. There is the amazing gold bead dress worn by Tina Turner, the purple cowled dress worn by Grace Jones, and Elle MacPherson’s wedding dress. There are new versions of canonical Alaïa pieces that he wanted to refashion especially for this show. Pausing by a series of tiered-skirted, fitted dresses from his 2011 Spanish collection, inspired by a trip to the Alhambra, Sozzani pointed out the updates to their designs authored by Alaïa only last year, and finished by his atelier team after his death last November. She said: “Lots of these pieces when Azzedine left us were in the studio next to him. This was his last project.”
According to Wilson, this exhibition as is represents “about 90 percent of what Azzedine and I talked about.” Always in the original plan was to include a series of screens designed by friends and creatives Alaïa admired to act as a foil to the thematically divided suites of his own designs. These are contributed by Marc Newson, Kris Ruhs, Konstantin Grcic, and Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec. Unplanned by Alaïa is a final screen upon which is hung a series of paintings of the designer’s work by his life partner, Christoph von Weyhe. The artist had begun working on his first-ever illustrations of Alaïa’s [creations] for this show. After his passing, Sozzani said they decided to incorporate them into a screen installation.
The artist, who was there this morning, said: “I drew them mostly at the weekends when the atelier was empty, so I would not disturb the girls. I made four gouaches in Azzedine’s studio and the others in the atelier. I am always painting, but nothing of fashion (before this). Of course, I lived with Azzedine and I admired his work. I saw him every day working on…his sculptures. You know before he wanted to be a couturier he was at arts school in Tunis and was studying sculpture…he loved Bernini especially.”
The only thing missing from this excellent exhibition is Alaïa himself, but this morning his much-missed presence was almost tangible in rooms filled with some of his greatest designs and thronged with those who loved and admired him.