This article was first printed in PETRIe 66 (2014). Part three of a four-part article.
ZS: How do you deal with rejection?
MAA: What is rejection?
ZS: How have you dealt with failure throughout your career?
MAA: I don’t have any failures. Only the time when my sister Hafida passed away, I had to take a step back. Life is about bouncing back. From the moment that I began to this moment, I haven’t changed. I don’t vary. It’s always the same kind of style. That’s something that I keep very true to myself. Seasons change, but you have to keep a core that is very true. My approach to dressing women is that you dress the woman and not the style. There are a lot of designers who dress women in a certain style or fashion that is going on right now, but I always think about the woman first and at all ages at the same time.
At the mention of his only sister, Hafida Alaïa, who fought with breast cancer and subsequently died from the disease in 1992, I sense a change in Monsieur Alaïa’s emotion. He pauses and reflects for a moment. I wonder if perhaps the interview has drawn to a close. I look to Esmeralda, who looks ahead. Silence - and then, he speaks: “It was a moment when I could have looked after her, but I didn’t because I was too busy doing the shows.”
After Hafida’s death, Monsieur Alaïa stopped doing shows and presented small collections to buyers and press. This decision to rebel against the implicit rules for designers to show major collections twice a year created the infamous rift that is still maintained between Monsieur Alaïa and American Vogue.
MAA: When I stopped having big shows, there were magazines that completely forgot about me - most notably, American Vogue, which has not photographed my pieces for 15 years. This is why I have completely cut all ties with them. However, the international Vogue titles, specifically British, French and Italian, have continued to show their support... The public I design for was also very loyal, and today I sell more than I ever have in the USA.
The members of Alaïa’s public are indeed faithful, and include an impressive range of some of the world’s most stylish women - Greta Garbo, Grace Jones, Cher, Louise de Vilmorin, Arletty, Sofia Coppola, Jessye Norman, Naomi Campbell, Stephanie Seymour, Linda Evangelista, Bette Milder, Paloma Picasso, Madonna, Tina Turner, Lady Gaga and a woman whom he considers the most iconic he’s ever dressed – First Lady Michelle Obama, or as us Americans like to call her, FLOTUS.
ZS: Do you wish to repair your relationship with American Vogue?
MAA: I don’t care about being photographed for Vogue. It’s the fact that women wear my clothes. That is the most important thing and my relationship with them is important. That’s my work.
ZS: Would you consider your work as a designer to be art?
MAA: It’s very difficult. Rei Kawakubo does art. Fashion is an art, but you can’t compare it to some things. When you do an exhibition, you have to be very careful. For my most recent exhibition at the Palais Galliera, the Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris, I was given the Matisse room. I didn’t want that. I went to the hall where the Matisse paintings were and chose designs in order to fit that room, because you have to be very careful in bringing these two types of art together.
ZS: Are you heavily involved with the curators you work with, such as Olivier Saillard and Mark Wilson for museum exhibitions?
MAA: Yes. I’m very lucky I have a lot of friends in the industry. So, I can work very closely with them.
Words: Zadrian Smith
Image source: Jean-Paul Goude