Editor-in-Chief, Zadrian Smith, visits Paris by invitation from Azzedine Alaïa, the highly talented designer living in-residence within the pages of PETRIe 66.
Everyone should “arrange to be born in Paris,” the legendary editrix Diana Vreeland once told George Plimpton, the editor of her autobiography. I couldn’t agree more. Everything seems to be better in Paris - or at least on the surface. What happens behind the scenes, no one really needs to know.
It is Monday morning, an hour before midday. The bright spring sun is casting abstract shadows across the cobbled alleyways. The dark colours dance around the graffiti-scribbled walls with the quiet elegance of Mikhail Baryshnikov. Amongst the soft clatter of Parisian footsteps, there is a jovial mood. It all feels rather ‘je ne sais quoi’ as the French may say – as clear cut to seize upon as the passing dandelion parachute ball that is skirting across my cowhide Penelope Chilvers Chelsea boots.
I am stood at 7 Rue De Moussy amongst a carefully selected choir of buyers and journalists, mostly dressed in the robes of Azzedine Alaïa. They have gathered together once again to sing their praises for the designer that serves as a godsend for the woman that seeks a garment to become her second skin - a cloak of haute couture.
It is the seventh show out of eight that Alaïa has put on across a four-day period to entertain and appease this scrupulous-eyed team of authority. Elsewhere, the fashion industry has become accustomed to the ‘spectacle.’ Think the grocery stores at Chanel, rollercoasters at Philipp Plein and replicas of Courtney Love at Meadham Kirchhoff - these all work to create so much pre-show havoc and distraction that the clothes are often forgotten. The set designer takes centre stage. With Alaïa though, the show begins and ends with the clothes. It is a theatre of fabric, and I am here to enjoy the swathes of carefully cut cloth over the course of the next 1 hour, 15 minutes.
There aren’t many designers who can extract their show from the regularly scheduled four-week fashion circuit and show their collection isolated from the others. Yet Alaïa, who has always ploughed his own furrow and not conceded to the rules, opts to show his collection a few days after Paris Fashion Week has finished and once most editors, buyers, bloggers and celebrities have gone home. Those with true fashion instinct, however, know that staying those extra days entitles them to a performance of fashion that has been stripped bare; a brief interval in which craftsmanship, tailoring and design are showcased at the highest level. It is a show not to be missed.
For the Autumn/Winter 2015 collection, Alaïa has taken his women back to the late 60s and early 70s with bulky short swagger coats worn over tight miniskirts. These pieces have all the hallmarks that suggest they would have surely found their way into the wardrobe of Edie Sedgwick or even Julie Driscoll. The sleeveless leather v-neck tunics with deep armholes over roll neck jumpers are a personal favourite. The familiar silhouettes of the Alaïa collections remain present.
After the show, we are treated to a closer look at Alaïa's secret weapon. Examining the garments reveals the technology and innovation behind the fabrics. It is difficult to decipher what type of fabrics created the densely woven dresses. They are firm and malleable, perfectly able to carry the added elements such as leather fringing. In places, they have been moulded almost mathematically into a dress or folded into pleated skirts, creating a flattering movement to the still, sculptural garments.
The show comes sandwiched amongst the more gritty side to this creative sphere. I review these pieces as the business of fashion is transacted before me. It comes both prior to, and after, the show. Immediately upon arrival, each buyer has been partnered with a member of the Alaïa sales team who then walks them from rail to rail to discuss the collection. Eight silver rails line the perimeter of the Alaïa conservatory, where the runway also takes place.
Flicking through the fabrics with a tenacious tempo, the buyers make their edit for the season ahead. Right before the show begins, the clothes required are inconspicuously taken from the rails and returned backstage for the models to wear down the runway. Upon the closing of the curtain call, the pieces are rapidly hauled from the model’s hot bodies by a slew of interns and rushed back to the rails in the show space for the buyers to continue making their edit for their stories.
It is a meticulous operation and as I stand witness, it reminds me of why Alaïa is perhaps one of the most successful designers of today. He has never allowed himself to forget what he does best, which is designing clothes that offer the wearer an incredibly modern sensuality, exquisitely cut from fabrics that model, shape and form to the body. He has remembered that at the heart of every cloth is the woman – and every buyer, and in turn every shopper, wants to lace this mentality into their lives.
After seeing the circuit of shows in London, their contrast to the Alaïa show made me feel as if I had joined Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett in singing the words "I’m in Heaven…" Once again, Alaïa has exceeded all possible expectations.
Words: Zadrian Smith
Photography: Sølve Sundsbø